Chief Joseph Wildlife Area


Why? Wildlife and views

Season: Year-round.

Ease: Moderate to difficult. There are 10 miles of old road to walk, with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. But since it’s an out and back hike, you can do as much or as little as you want.

I hike to see wildlife. I enjoy views, dawdle over wild flowers, and get high on the solitude I sometimes find. But even the worst, most boring hike in the world is special to me if I see wildlife, especially big furry wildlife.

I don't think I'm unusual. Even friends who claim to hike for other reasons always tell me about the bear or moose they saw -- or almost saw -- before they tell me anything else.

The Chief Joseph Wildlife Area is a fine open spot between the Snake and Grand Ronde Rivers and above Joseph Creek. Trees are few and far between and mostly in the draws the hold moisture during at least part of the year. Outside those spots, you’re in an area of vast open rimrock grasslands that slope far above and below you. You'll see the usual basalt outcrops and timbered Northern slopes and you'll see Craig Mountain to the East. If you walk a lot farther than I did, you might catch a glimpse of the Snake River; I saw parts of the Grande Ronde, including the bridge I'd crossed driving in.

The trail starts just before the cattle guard at the entrance to the wildlife area headquarters. After a short bit of open field, it heads up Green Gulch, an area of small trees, mostly hackberry and cottonwood, with some alder. It heads uphill immediately and for some time before a bit of level shows up to offer relief – brief relief, for the pattern of uphill and a bit of level repeats.

Uphills notwithstanding, it's a glorious place to be -- open, wild feeling, solitary. I loved it, even though I’ve actually never seen much wildlife there, something I attribute to the time of day I’ve hiked. I’ve seen a couple of mule deer and some turkeys, plus I‘ve seen and heard a small sample of the 120 species of birds that visit the area's various habitats during the year: canyon wrens, quail, flickers, meadowlarks, Hungarian partridge, red-tailed hawks and harriers. Across the road, I’ve seen the small herd of elk that frequents the slope across Joseph Creek. On the drive to and from, I’ve seen big horn sheep.

Directions: To reach the refuge, head south from Asotin, following the Snake and then the Grande Ronde Rivers. When you're almost to mile marker 29, you'll see the signed turnoff for Chief Joseph Wildlife Area on your left. Be sure to look up to the southeast as you cross the Grande Ronde and check the road cut above; you'll be hiking there in an hour or so.

Information: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, (509) 758-3151. Unless you find one of the designated camping areas along the road to Chief Joseph, you should not expect to stay overnight.

The refuge has two short hunting seasons during the year, one from April 15 for a month, the other in late September.

Maps: USGS maps Black Butte and Limekiln Rapids, Washington, contain the wildlife area. Since the trail is an old road, the maps are probably not necessary, and the trail is not shown on the 1968 Limekiln map.