by Mike Denny, MerryLynn Denny, Andy Stepniewski

revised by Keith Carlson

The extreme southeast corner of Washington is a paradise for those who love arid, hot slopes and grand scenery. This may be the Golden Eagle capital of the state. Other birds of cliffs and rocky slopes are well represented as are birds of prey. In the breeding season, riparian corridors host many neotropical visitors, especially along tributary streams of the main rivers. Geology buffs and rockhounds will find much of interest, too. A swarm of feeder dikes (fissures formed as the earth’s crust stretched) here and in nearby Oregon was the source of the succession of intermittent lava flows that covered the entire Columbia Basin with layers of basalt, ending around 13 million years ago. More recent uplift of the Blue and Wallowa Mountains resulted in Hells Canyon—one of the deepest gorges in North America (8,000 feet), carved by  the Snake River a few miles south in Oregon. The depth of the Snake and Grande Ronde canyons in Washington is only modestly less. Both rivers retained their courses, downcutting through the thousands of feet of Columbia Platrau basalts as the mountains gradually rose. The incised meanders of the lower Grande Ronde River are a particularly striking testimony to its origins as a slow-moving stream on a level plain.


Begin this all-day trip on US-12 at 23 miles east of Pomeroy. Look for Chief Timothy Park as you reach the Snake River at the bottom of Alpowa Grade. The park is operated by a concessionaire offering camping, boating, and picnic sites May 1–October 31. Along with the bay at the mouth of Alpowa Creek, the sheltered waters attract waterfowl, loons, grebes, and Bald Eagles in winter. During the closed season, you can enter the park on foot. It’s worth a hike to look for Great Horned, Barn, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Continuing east on US-12 for 1.7 miles, find the entrance to Chief Timothy Habitat Management Unit (HMU) on the north side. There is an easy walking trail of about a half-mile past a Great Blue Heron rookery and a riparian area that is home to Bewick’s Wren, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, nesting Yellow Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat. Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Lesser Goldfinch are common. Continue east on US-12 toward Clarkston. In three miles, at Evans Road, a small pond and marsh east of the road is worth a check for Virginia Rail, Wilson’s Snipe, and Marsh Wrens. In another three-quarters of a mile, check the cliffs for nesting Peregrine Falcons and, in winter, roosting Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches.

In a half-mile, turn left at the traffic light at SR-128 and then left to Hells Canyon Resort Marina, where there are often good looks at waterfowl, grebes, and gulls. Leaving the marina, turn left onto Port Drive; turn left on 13th Street, then right on Port Way, and continue to Granite Lake Park (parking and restrooms). The park offers good winter viewing for waterfowl. Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, both scaups, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, all three mergansers (Red-breasted is uncommon), and rarely, but annually, Surf and White-winged Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks may be seen.

The Clarkston Greenbelt Trail starts here and offers great birding for those who want to walk, jog, or bike. The trail continues up the Snake River to Asotin (11 miles). The birding is best in migration and winter, when waterfowl and gulls gather. To reach Swallows Park, go left on Ninth Street to Port Drive and turn left. Port Drive merges into Fifth Street; continue south on Fifth a half-mile to Diagonal Street. Veer right one block to Sixth Street (SR-129), taking it south 2.3 miles to the park entrance. There are public restrooms at the north and south parking areas. Check the lawns near  the north parking area for Eurasian Wigeon among the many American Wigeons. During migration, check the ever-present flocks of Canada Geese for Greater White-fronted, Snow, Ross’s, and Cackling Geese. At the south parking area near the boat launch, scope the mud and sand islands for resting gulls. During winter, one may find unusual gulls among the many Ring-billed, California, and Herrings. Mew, Thayer’s, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous-winged, and Glaucous Gulls are seen annually. The mud islands also provide the area’s only reliable shorebird habitat during migration. Willet, Marbled Godwit, and Ruddy Turnstone have been seen.

Continue south from Swallows Park on SR-129 for 4.2 miles. Here, SR-129 bends 90 degrees right, but you should continue straight through Asotin on First Street, curving onto Snake River Road (Asotin CR-2090). A patch of riparian woodland along Snake River Road 0.9 mile south of the SR-129 junction, the Asotin Slough Habitat Management Unit, is attractive mainly during migration. Three miles from Asotin, two pulloffs to the left overlook gravel bars in the river that often hold resting gulls. Check the trees for kinglets and Lesser Goldfinches. Continuing south, look for Bald and Golden Eagles and Peregrine and Prairie Falcons.

Travel 20 miles south along Snake River Road to the bridge over the Grande Ronde River. Here, go left, crossing to Joseph Creek Road on the other bank of the winding Grande Ronde. In 3.1 miles, turn left into 9,735-acre Chief Joseph Wildlife Area (Discover Pass required). Park at the closed, gated road. Look for Wild Turkeys, particularly in morning or late afternoon. Say’s Phoebes and Western Bluebirds nest here. Scan the surrounding cliffs for Bald Eagle (winter), Red-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, and Prairie Falcon. Bighorn Sheep, Elk, and Mule Deer are seen regularly. Spring and summer are particularly good in riparian areas along Joseph Creek.

Bird from the road as you continue two miles upstream to the Oregon state line. Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole are common. Winter brings Common Redpolls (irregular) and Pine Siskins. In fall and winter, many Townsend’s Solitaires, Hermit Thrushes, American Robins, Varied Thrushes, and Evening Grosbeaks come to feed on the fruits of the gnarled hackberry trees.


Start this wonderful half-day loop at either Asotin or Weissenfels Ridge Road, 4.4 miles south of Asotin, depending on the season. In spring and summer, the loop is best started from Weissenfels Ridge Road to take advantage of the morning sun at your back. In winter, take SR-129 from Asotin toward Anatone (pronounced Anna-tone).

Weissenfels Ridge Road leaves Snake River Road and follows Ten Mile Creek for 1.2 miles through riparian habitat that hosts nesting accipiters, Red-tailed Hawks, and Great Horned Owls along with Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos and warblers. As the road leaves the creek, it climbs quickly through sage, rock, and grass, offering splendid views of the Snake River Canyon. Look for Chukar and Rock and Canyon Wrens. After a long three miles, the road tops off at a corral and fencelines, where there are Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks. Near the ranch at the top (10km sign), a long stretch of utility poles and fenceposts have served as perches for Gyrfalcon in winter. This also is a good area for Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons.

The next 4.5 miles of mixed stubble, grass, and grazing land is very productive. Western and Mountain Bluebirds nest in the boxes along the road, and Sage Thrashers have been seen here. In early morning and late afternoon, look for Short-eared Owls. Vesper, Lark, Savannah, and Grasshopper Sparrows are regular. In about eight miles, Harbin Grade Road joins from the right. This road is called Kiesecker Gulch Road on some maps, but the road signs read Harbin Grade. This road goes through riparian areas with House Wrens, a variety of warblers and Chipping Sparrows. Avoid this road in winter or when the temperature is below freezing: it can be treacherous. Both Harbin Grade and Weissenfels Ridge Road intersect with Montgomery Ridge Road, where you should turn right.

On Montgomery Ridge Road, you can either continue ahead to connect with SR-129, or you can take an interesting side trip onto Shumaker Grade Road, a graded, gravel road that switchbacks 3,000 feet down to the Grande Ronde River. Check for Common Poorwill, Warbling Vireo, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Western Tanager on the upper canyon sides, and for Chukar, Golden Eagle, Cliff Swallows, and Yellow-breasted Chat lower.

Return to Montgomery Ridge Road and turn left to reach SR-129, where you can turn left to go two miles to Fields Spring State Park or turn right to continue the loop (see below) back through Anatone to Asotin.

A mile after leaving Anatone, turn left onto Davis Road and proceed four miles north to Onstot Road, turning right to return to SR-129 in two miles. Known locally as Anatone Flats, this area is excellent in winter for Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Prairie Falcon, and Northern Shrike. During irruption years, it’s been very good for Snowy Owls. Sort through flocks of Horned Larks for Lapland Longspurs (rare) and Snow Buntings. When Onstot Road intersects with SR-129, turn left to return to Asotin in 13 miles. You may see Short-eared Owls in the fields and on the fenceposts. On the way down the steep, curving grade to Asotin, watch for Chukars.


If you are arriving from the Blue Mountains via West Mountain and Mill Roads, watch the nest boxes along the road for Mountain Bluebirds. In the town of Anatone, turn right (south) onto SR-129, go 3.7 miles, and turn left onto Park Road. It is a half-mile to the entrance to Fields Spring State Park (Discover Pass required).

Perched near the rim of the Grande Ronde Canyon at the base of the Blue Mountains, the 445-acre park offers up a long list of birds in the relatively open forests of Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Western Larch. Look for Ruffed and Dusky Grouse, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Rufous Hummingbird, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Hairy, White-headed (uncommon), American Three-toed, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond’s, Dusky, and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Cassin’s Vireo, Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Townsend’s Warblers, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, and Cassin’s Finch.

A mile-long trail to Puffer Butte (elevation 4,500 feet) yields a spectacular view of Oregon, Idaho, and the Grand Ronde River. The trailhead is a few yards west of the main bathrooms in the campground. The trail climbs through a moist forest with an understory of shrubs and wildflowers to the broad, forested summit. Hike south on a rocky trail into the steppe vegetation below, where the birdlife includes Gray Partridge and Vesper and Lark Sparrows. Check for raptors such as Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Prairie Falcon.

Beyond the state park, SR-129 twists down Rattlesnake Grade to the Grande Ronde River, losing 2,700 feet of elevation in nine miles. Look for Golden Eagle, Rock and Canyon Wrens, and Brewer’s Sparrow on the way down. Elk may be seen on the far ridges. As one goes lower, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos and Yellow Warblers are common in the riparian woodland of White Alder along Rattlesnake Creek. Everywhere in this region, Lazuli Buntings can be heard in brush patches on the dry, rocky slopes.

Where SR-129 crosses the river, Boggan’s Oasis offers food, lodging, and restrooms, but no fuel. A WDFW launch site (Discover Pass required) by the bridge is a good spot for Western Tanager and Bullock’s Oriole. Back across the bridge, turn left (west) onto Grande Ronde Road. In 4.6 miles, take Cougar Creek Road to the right. Red-eyed Vireos are present in the streamside to the creek crossing (1.7 miles). Return to Grande Ronde Road and continue birding west, looking for Bald Eagle nests along the way. Stop at the bridge over Menatchee Creek to look for American Dippers nesting under the bridge. Retrace the route, returning on SR-129 to Anatone. The road continues on to Asotin and then to US-12 in Clarkston. (See the side trip to Anatone Flats on page 515.)