In early June of 2012 (approximately), a small portion of the refuge headquarters building was dedicated to serve as a small refuge visitor's center. Inside, volunteers staff the facility and offer advice to travelers to those that arrive here.
Unfortunately, as of yet (late March of 2012), the room is still a little on the vacant side. The most interesting feature in it are stuffed birds that allow visitors to get an up close look at what they are missing when they are unable to get a good close look at the birds otherwise.
However, at least the Visitor's Center is now open and volunteers are available to talk to those that visit about what is going on at the refuge.
On the eastern side of the refuge, along the west side of BZ Corner Glenwood Road, there is a gravel parking area. This area is the primary parking spot for hunting and fishing, which are allowed during certain seasons on the refuge.
However, other than the parking area and a refuge information kiosk, there really isn't much of anything here. There is a closer view of the water west of the road in the spring, and there may be some water birds on the water. However, this is a highly seasonal body of water and it just doesn't stay around long enough for the birds to really establish themselves there.
However, it may be worth stopping there just to see what might be in the water.
While there is only one two mile trail in the entire refuge that is walkable by the public, there are several roads which pass through various other parts of the refuge, which allow for public viewing of these areas from your car or from the road.
Please be careful when you do visit these areas. Most of these roads are shared with working farmland that is interweaved with the refuge land, and thus please do not wander onto the farmer's or rancher's land. Also, many of the roads are open range land, which means you may run into cows at any time.
Also, while you can pull to the side of the road to watch wildlife, please make sure you get as far out of the way as possible. This is working land in many locations, and the people who work and live here still need to get around too. Many of them still do not expect to see people watching the wildlife, and it is not unusual to see people come down these narrow gravel roads at a fairly impressive clip.
Kreps Lane Road is south of the refuge headquarters, and to get there from the refuge headquarters you need to go west on Trout Lake to Glenwood Road and after about 1 mile (1.6 km) turn south onto Laurel Road, which is gravel. Kreps road is the next significant gravel road on the left side. There is also a direct entrance to Kreps Lane Road off of BZ-Glenwood Road, where there are a few signs indicating the presence of refuge land.
As to what you might see along this road, that depends entirely on what sort of mood the wildlife is in, and how good you are at spotting it. The big stuff that comes down from the Cascade Mountains include Elk and Deer, but you most likely will not see them. (You may, however, see normal cows wondering in the fields or even in the middle of the road).
Watch the fence posts and trees for various birds, and sometimes you will see the unexpected. For example, the Great Blue Heron in this photo at the top of a pine tree - normally you will see them on the ground looking for snakes, insects and other food. Western Meadowlarks seem to have taken quite a liking to the fences around an old ranch house that sits along this road, and they may be seen in various other fields and on the fences, as well as bluebirds. The fields themselves where cattle are grazing may also contain various bird life, including sandhill cranes. Once in a while you will see woodpeckers and nuthatches on the tree trunks as well.
Just don't wander off the road into private lands, and remember that the refuge land is also not publicly accessible along these roads as well. Again, if you stop, please be careful to not block the road from other traffic, and be aware of vehicles coming down the gravel road at high speed - the local ranchers don't stop to look at bird life!
This refuge is remarkable not near much of any major city. However, there are several paved roads that go nearby, and in fact one of those roads goes past the refuge headquarters.
Please note that any of these routes may be closed by wild fires in the summer months and snow and/or floods in the winter months. None of these roads, even the numbered highways near the refuge, are considered vital routes, and in fact highway 141 simply ends 10 miles west of the refuge at Trout Lake. You can get from there to Highway 131 and then US 12 near Morton, but it requires good familiarity with all the Forest Service roads that link the two highways. So, really, it is best to find someone with good local knowledge of the current conditions on the various roads before going into this area if there is any sort of unusual or potentially dangerous condition.
If you are using a GPS or Google Maps to get directions from Portland, unfortunately those directions will probably lead you in the wrong direction. They will get you here, but typically the method involved from there involves taking highway 141 north from White Salmon to BZ Corner, then taking BZ Corner - Glenwood Road northwest to the refuge. This is a fairly slow, windy road. Once you arrive at the refuge you must then spend four miles (6 km) on rough gravel roads to go north to Trout Lake - Glenwood Road, then go northwest to the refuge headquarters.
It is a longer distance, but you will actually get there faster from the south if you take highway 141 all the way to the Trout Lake area, and then take Trout Lake to Glenwood Road. This route can be made shorter by using several paved shortcut roads between the Trout Lake to Glenwood Road and highway 141, but it is actually easier to retrace your steps coming back south. When you come down the long steep hill before getting into Trout Lake, take what looks like a main road to the south. Eventually this turns to the west - the main through route on the various local roads is somewhat obvious going this direction as it is a series of roads that are wider than those surrounding them. There is a sign as you approach Trout Lake that points you to the refuge on Trout Lake - Glenwood road, so this is your easiest way to get here for your first visit.
From elsewhere in the Columbia River Gorge you should start at White Salmon or Bingen and follow the instructions above.
From Hood River or the Oregon side of the river, cross at the Hood River bridge, turn left onto highway 14, then take "Alternate 141" on the right. After several miles, turn left onto the real highway 141 going to Trout Lake. Then, follow the above instructions from Portland.
From the Seattle area, there are not many good options. The best route for those not familiar with the area around Goldendale is probably to take Interstate 90 to US 97 to Goldendale, then highway 142 going west. If the weather is decent, you should then be able to take Goldendale Road northwest to Glenwood. From Glenwood go west towards Trout Lake, and within 1 mile (1.6km) you will see the entrance to the refuge.
Check the refuge web site and call to find out about local road problems, as sometimes such things are posted on the web site.
Much of the area around Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge is classified as "open range land". This means cows may be allowed to wander any where they please, except if they are specifically fenced out of the area.
Thus, don't be surprised to see cows in the road.
This is not an area through which you should be driving fast - especially at night!
As seen here, the rear of a Black Angus Cow is sticking out of the grass beside the road. It would not be out of the question for a cow like this to startle and run out in front of your car. If you are going too fast for the conditions in open range land, it means you are responsible for paying the rancher for his cow. After all, the open range land is regarded as belonging to the cows.
Hunting is allowed at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The exact season varies with the state of Washington hunting season. Hunters must comply with state and federal regulations. Hunting for deer, geese, ducks, coots, and common snipe are allowed and all other species is off-limits. The refuge is open to archery, muzzle loader and rifle deer hunting.
Thankfully, the allowed hunting areas are quite far away from the refuge headquarters and the Willard Springs Trail. Therefore, you should be safe if you are on the trail or at the refuge headquarters.
The area open to hunting is east of where Lake Road and Hansen Road intersect, and west of Lakeside Road. A single parking area along BZ-Glenwood Road serves the hunting areas. Areas of the refuge near Laurel and along Kreps Lane Road are also off-limits to hunting.
However, the refuge is interwoven with private lands, which have no such limitations.
Check the local hunting season (it changes from year to year based on the weather and the amount of game animals and birds available) and be sure to wear hunter's orange if you plan to get near the hunting areas.
Also, get a map of the refuge from the web site (select the hunting boundaries PDF) or from the kiosk near the refuge headquarters.
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