Protected for the birds, but welcoming to humans, Summer Lake Wildlife Area was founded in 1944 as one of the many wetland-focused wildlife areas in Oregon.
The lake is tucked away in the Great Basin, and the refuge is a mixture of extensive mudflats, wetlands, and a lake fed by the spring-fed Ana River. It was named by explorer John C. Fremont during his Central Oregon expedition in 1843. Today it provides an essential resting place for migrating birds.
This is an amazing area for bird lovers to come and watch their feathered friends in a wild setting. It’s estimated that over 250 species can be found in the basin area, and that over 100,000 birds flock here during the fall migration season. You can spot eagles, geese, swans, cranes, owls, hawks, herons, and many species of ducks in the wetlands, as well as incredible numbers of American avocet. It’s also one of the rare regional locations where black-crowned night-herons breed.
All 18,941 acres are managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The refuge is accessible year round, but bird watchers and bird hunters usually visit at different times of the year. There’s an 8.3-mile driving loop that bisects the area that’s closed during hunting season (October through January) for safety reasons. Fans of observing waterfowl are best off checking out the refuge during March and April, while songbird fanatics may have the best luck April and May.
Note that a $7 daily parking permit (or a $22 annual parking permit) is required. You can purchase one from any ODFW license agent or through the ODFW website. Or, if you’re in the area, you can grab one from the Summer Lake Store, 1.3 miles north of the refuge headquarters.
Bird checklists and maps are available at the parking lot check station.
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