Wooden boardwalks are one solution to giving people access to the wetlands. However, they can also be extremely slippery, and therefore use caution when walking on them.
When leaves fall on the boardwalk and partially decay, and are then rained on, the mixture produced seems a lot like ice when you step on it. It is extremely slippery. Most of the time this is a problem in autumn, but the leaves can fall at any time and partially decay.
Also, when cold weather hits, the shadows of the forest on the boardwalk mean that ice forms and stays on some areas of the boardwalk long before and long after it is no longer a problem elsewhere.
- Hiking and Walking
Tides and Currents are Fast and Unforgiving
If you go out to the Nisqually Reach Nature Center it is possible to get down and dirty in the tidal flats that border the northern edge of the refuge. Some people hunt for clams there, and others just explore the huge expanse of sand. Note that you are not supposed to walk into the refuge on the tideflats, but the Washington State lands you can access from the Nisqually Reach Boat Ramp is legal to access - but be very careful what you do around the water, and know the tides for that day!
Be careful where you go, make sure you are able to get back to land, and be sure to be headed back when the time comes for the tide to come in. Don't get yourself into a position where you can't get out of when the tide comes in - you don't want to be stranded on a mud flat a mile from shore when the water starts to rise. If you notice a lot of the locals suddenly start heading for dry ground, it is probably time to follow them before the water gets too deep. Many of the low to high tide fluctuations can be as much as 14 feet (4.3 meters) or more (October 10, 2010 will be a 16 feet 4 inch tide change, or 4.98 meters, for example) and a lot of land can appear and disappear with that change in water level.
Here's the thing: tides in the Nisqually Reach can come in at a ferocious pace and rise quite quickly. During the peak incoming tide at the Nisqually Reach center, the tidal current can reach some 15 or more miles per hour, and the rate of increase is nearly five feet per hour. All it takes is to be distracted for 15 minutes, and suddenly you can no longer wade across McAllister Creek as it is too deep and swift to do that safely.
At the same time, the tides going out can also be impressive. If you are paddling about in a kayak in the area around the nature center, and the tide starts to go out, you could suddenly find yourself at Point Defiance park some 20 miles downstream before you had a chance to realize where you were going and how fast you were going there. Local kids play in McAllister Creek all the time and float on air mattresses and otherwise play on the water. However, they are local and are familiar with the tides. If someone isn't familiar with the tides and is swimming or floating in the water, it wouldn't take much for them (either kids or adults) to be quickly overpowered by the current, and wind up very far into Puget Sound.
At the same time, local kayak users have learned how to use the tides to their best advantage. It is amazing to watch how quickly they are able to depart and get out of sight, and return again half a day later, simply by using these fast tidal flows to carry them where they want to go.
However, if you are a regular boat user, you can also be stranded if the tide goes out from underneath you. See my Bainbridge Island Warning Photo for an example of what this problem looks like. Also, keep in mind that if you launch your boat from the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, the boat ramp is only usable by trailers at high tide.
According to the people at the Nisqually Refuge, the best tide tables available are for the DuPont, Washington Warf. However, the most reliable tide chart is available from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and finding DuPont Wharf on their system can be a bit of a pain. River levels and other unpredictable effects of Puget Sound may also create unusual tidal patterns that are not included in the high and low tide predictions - read the fine print on the tide chart, as it says it is an estimate only!
Please note that there are frequently two low tides: a minor tide and a very low tide. The minor tide may fool you into thinking that it is safe to get into some places when the high tide will soon be right back at its peak.
This web site below gives the tides for DuPont Warf, but declares itself to be inaccurate and not to be relied upon for life and death situations. Even so, it should at least give a reasonable impression as to what to expect and when to expect it.
To get to the NOAA tide chart for DuPont Wharf, you can not get there by entering "DuPont Wharf, Washington" or "DuPont, Washington" into the web site, below. Instead, it will give you Tacoma, Washington, which has a bit different tide schedule than Nisqually. Instead, you have to enter "DuPont Wharf" into the search function. The station ID number is 9446828. You can get there by putting this into the search function at the top of the page, but not into the City, State or Zip Code search window slightly lower down on the page.
This URL should get you there, but the web site functions may change and make it impossible to use:
The severe tide swings have their good points as well, as it changes what can be seen and where it is seen. See my Tide Favorites tip for a bit more on the non-dangerous aspects of this.
The Photos and What They Show:
Photo 1: Nisqually Reach at Low Tide: at high tide, everything you see here will be covered in approximately 8 feet (2.5 meters) of water.
Photo 2: The same approximate location, approximately one hour later, but still not high tide yet.
Photo 3: Tide chart from NOAA on March 12, 2011. This shows a high tide, a low tide, and a false low tide - a low tide that is only a small dip and not a true low tide.
Photo 4: Tide Chart from NOAA on March 19, 2011. This is a radical difference in peaks and lows from the previous week, with lots of variations happening fairly quickly. Tides can be very strange in the southern Puget Sound, and it if you plan to be near the water, you need to know what the water is going to do so you don't get into trouble.
Photo 5: This is the deck at the Nisqually Reach Nature Center at high tide. As you can see, they don't have much of a beach at high tide! Compare that photo to the deck at low tide (see photos at my Nisqually Game Area Tides Tip), it is possible to see the huge change. Furthermore, this change sometimes happens in as little as a 6 hour time frame, meaning you don't have a lot of time once the tides start to change.
Eastern Grey Squirrels are Aggressive
Sometime in late April of 2012, a child was bitten by an Eastern Grey Squirrel at the refuge. Most likely the child and parents / guardians were attempting to feed it.
These are wild animals, not pets.
It should be understood that Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is, in fact, a wildlife refuge. Wild animals live here even though the area is rapidly becoming surrounded with suburban development.
This means that no matter how domesticated the animals here may appear to be, treating them as domestic animals is dangerous and really isn't the best for the future of the animal.
Unfortunately, due to the problems with the squirrels, there are now signs posted in many locations throughout the refuge that indicate the problem and warn people against this.
While signs were posted at a few locations in the refuge before (see photo 2, taken in April of 2011), the most recent unfortunate event has now made the refuge post signs in dozens of locations, including throughout the parking lot (see main photo).
- Family Travel
Don't Leave Anything Valuable in Your Car
Interstate 5 is very close to the refuge, and it doesn't take much for thieves passing through to do a quick smash and grab of anything that might look valuable. I have only once seen someone standing in the parking lot reporting the theft of items to law enforcement. However, that doesn't mean that there is a low chance of stuff being stolen. Most likely, it just means people are used to taking everything with them so there isn't much to steal.
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