Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

If scenic landscapes, breathtaking hikes, and unique animals roaming the wilderness are something you enjoy, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a must-see for anyone in the Spokane area. Turnbull is located 5 miles southwest of Cheney, WA, just a short 30-minute car ride from downtown Spokane. If you are looking to experience the best outdoor views, birdwatching, or simply need a quick respite from the city, then Turnbull is a must-have on your Eastern Washington itinerary!

About Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1937 and has since existed as a critical breeding habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds. The scenic refuge covers approximately 18,200 acres of the Channeled Scablands with a unique and varied ecosystem that sets this National Wildlife Refuge apart from all others.

The 3,000 acres of wetlands and floodplains within the refuge are one of last available breeding grounds for Eastern Washington waterfowl and has significant importance for migratory birds traveling through the region.

Turnbull features breathtaking views of ponderosa forests, sweeping landscapes of floodplains and lakes, and unique geologic formations that make this place a sight to behold.

Wildlife and Landscapes of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

The beautiful landscapes of Turnbull NWR are as diverse as they are vast. Spanning across more than 18,000 acres, the scenery changes from dense pine forests, to rolling hills covered in aspens, to expansive wetlands, all in just a few short miles.

Each of these different areas provides crucial habitats for much of the wildlife across Turnbull, bringing thousands of different animals and species from across the country to this area.

Birds are among the most numerous vertebrates to frequent this refuge, but it is not uncommon to see elk, moose, badgers, cougars and more moving about their day in this paradise. Here are just a few of the species that call Turnbull National Refuge their home.


Huge in size and stoic in nature, the majestic moose is truly a sight to behold on your trip to Turnbull. The first moose in the area was not seen until 1994, due to a prescribed fire in 1992 that brought a favorite meal for moose back to the area, the willow.

Moose are finicky eaters and won’t just eat whatever grows in a local forest. They have an affinity for only certain plants, with the willow being their meal of choice.

Since 1994, moose have become more and more commonplace across the refuge, now with over 15 moose sightings on average per year.

Rocky Mountain Elk

Due to lack of hunting inside Turnbull until recently, large elk have become concentrated in the area. The regal animals have become a popular viewing attraction for those visiting the habitat, as large groups of elk moving across the refuge is commonplace during the fall and winter months.

Due to their growing numbers, elk have caused imbalances in the habitat of the refuge, often eating more plants and shrubs than the ecosystem can handle. Due to this, hunting has been reintroduced into Turnbull NWR in the last few years

Birds And Waterfowl

The wetlands of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge are crucial for the survival of migrating birds and waterfowl and is one of the primary reasons why Turnbull was created in the first place. The wetlands of the area are one of the last nesting sites for migratory birds and have been protected extensively since the creation of the refuge.

Now, over 25 species of waterfowl and 200 species of birds can be found in the area. Due to this, Turnbull has become a hot spot for bird watchers across Washington and the surrounding area.

Birds and Waterfowl Found in Turnbull:

  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Redhead
  • Black Tern
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Western Bluebird
  • American Wigeon

Amphibians and Reptiles

Several rare and unique herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) call Turnbull home. Numerous species of frogs, salamanders, snakes, and lizards can be found slithering through the tall grass of the area. If you want to catch a glimpse of these species, visit the refuge in the spring months which is the breeding season for many of these herptiles.

Endangered Species

Two unique endangered species can be found in Turnbull, the Spaldings Catchfly and the water howellia.

The Spaldings Catchfly is a perennial plant covered in tiny, sticky hairs that can catch insects right on the leaves. The plant was listed on the endangered species list in 2001, with the majority of the plants found only in Eastern Washington.

The water howellia is an annual flowering plant that grows only underwater and is often found in freshwater wetlands. The Turnbull wetlands have become a primary place where this rare plant can be found.

Hiking in The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

No trip to Turnbull NWR is complete without a scenic hike through the diverse landscape or a view of the local wildlife. The area is complete with an extensive trail system that features both arduous hikes through tough terrain and beginner-friendly leisurely walking trails.

No matter your hiking abilities, Turnbull has a trail for you. Here are just a few of the best hikes to try on your visit to the refuge.

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge FAQ

Can you hunt in Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge?

Yes, during certain seasons you can get a Turnbull Refuge permit to hunt elk and youth waterfowl in the area.

Historically, hunting has been prohibited across the region, but due to the growing elk population and ecosystem imbalance, hunting has been allowed during special seasons in the SW area of the refuge. To learn more about hunting seasons and permits, visit the Washington Fish and Wildlife website.

Are dogs allowed inside the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge?

Yes! Dogs are allowed on many of the hikes and natural areas inside Turnbull, provided they are kept on-leash at all times. However, it is recommended to keep a close eye on your pet during your visit to ensure they do not disturb the sensitive habitats of the area.

Is there hiking in the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge?

Yes, many scenic hikes of varying difficulty can be found throughout the refuge and can be a great way to view the landscape while getting a little exercise!

Can you fish in Turnbull?

Many of the lakes and wetlands inside Turnbull are fishless and are not open for fishing. The refuge does not plan to introduce any non-native fish species into the local ecosystems at this point.