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298. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Cheney, Washington

This refuge protects nearly 30 square miles of bird-rich ponds, wetlands, and marshes south of Spokane.

Around 15,000 years ago, a series of cataclysmic mega­floods swept over eastern Washington, scouring away the soil, leaving buttes, basins, potholes, and networks of channels etched in the underlying basalt. The floods, caused by rapid draining of huge glacial lakes, formed what are now known as the Channeled Scablands. It’s an ecosystem that is unique within our national wildlife refuges.

Established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge protects nearly 30 square miles of the region south of Spokane. The terrain features a variety of habitats for birds, including numerous ponds, wetlands, and marshes for migrating and breeding waterfowl.

The Pine Lakes Loop Trail and Winslow Pool, about a 10-minute walk from the headquarters, are particularly productive. You can see everything from quail to Canvasbacks to waxwings in the area.

In addition to birds, Turnbull provides excellent opportunities to see mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. A recent butterfly inventory identified 51 species on the refuge. During a recent summer trip, I was fortunate enough to spot a moose along the auto route. That was right before seeing juvenile Great Horned Owls and foraging Black Terns, among many others.

298. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Cheney, Washington


Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge covers more than 18,600 acres approximately a 40-minute drive from Spokane, Washington. Take I-90 west to the Cheney/Four Lakes Exit (exit 270). Travel west on Hwy. 904 for approximately 5 miles to Cheney. Turn left on Cheney-Plaza Road and drive south until you see the refuge entrance sign.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
47°24’52.16″N 117°31’54.21″W


Lakes, ponds, wetlands, ponderosa pine forest, riparian areas, grasslands.


Several trails lead to a variety of habitats. The office is wheelchair-accessible, as are several paved trails.


Year-round: California Quail, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Red Crossbill. Summer: Trumpeter Swan, Blue-winged, Green-winged, and Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Redhead, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, Osprey, Virginia Rail, Wilson’s Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Black Tern, Common Nighthawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Western Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Yellow-headed Blackbird.

When to go

Year-round. Spring, summer, and fall are best seasons. Most productive birding in early mornings and evenings.


Trails, boardwalks, observation platforms, and 5-mile auto-tour route. Hiking trails open daily from sunrise to sunset. Friends of Turnbull bookstore open on weekends 11-4 during summer.


National wildlife refuge. $3/day fee or Refuge Annual Pass, Federal Duck Stamp, and Interagency Access, Senior, and Volunteer Passes. Refuge office open 7:30-4, Monday through Friday; closed on federal holidays.


Refuge accessible via Columbia Plateau Trail.

For more info

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

Photography tips

Waterfowl photography
Turnbull is a great place to find waterfowl, and that means lots of opportunities to photograph them. To create compelling photos of ducks or other waterfowl with great eye contact, it’s important to get low and place your camera close to the surface of the water. This often means wearing waders. If you want to capture reflections in the water, you may want to raise the camera higher.


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Jason A. Crotty

Jason A. Crotty is birder, lawyer, and contributor to BirdWatching,, and other outlets. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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