Hiking & Running Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

By Jonathan Johnson

Enter at the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge main gate, 4 miles south of Cheney on S. Cheney Plaza Road (free Nov. 1-Feb. 28; March 31-Oct. 31, $3 per day or use various annual National Wildlife Refuge/Parks passes). Drive approximately 1 mile in and park at the paved lot with toilets (check Turnbull’s website for possible coronavirus-related bathroom and other facility closure updates). Both of these hikes or runs leave from here. 

Pine Lake Trail/Stubblefield Trail (1.3-5 miles)

Directly across from the bathroom, follow the paved Pine Lake Trail alongside Winslow Pool and around Middle Pine Lake. This is the best place in the refuge for spotting swans, and the music of numerous songbirds fills the air above the cattails from early spring through late fall. This loop trail is 1.3 miles of level terrain. To add out-and-back distance to this loop, leave the paved trail onto the dirt two track near the far side of Middle Pine Lake. This dirt two track soon comes to a T-junction; take the right. This two track soon comes to a Y junction and a sign for Stubblefield Trail. Take the left uphill into the prairie for longer-range views and spring wildflowers. 

Photo of jogger running across bridge in Turnbull.
Turnbull has boardwalks and wildlife viewing blinds. // Photo by Jon Jonckers

Auto Tour Route (6-12+ miles)

From the parking lot, run back towards the refuge entrance. Take the first right to run the Auto Tour Route loop dirt road clockwise (cars go counterclockwise and are very infrequent). This loop passes numerous wetlands, ponds, and little lakes. From the parking lot around the loop and back is 6 miles of level terrain. Watch for moose, fox, coyotes, ducks, muskrats, and numerous migratory waterfowl. There are clean, year-round toilets every 1.5 to 2 miles (check Turnbull’s website for closure updates). Because of the toilets, level terrain, relative solitude, varied scenery, and accessibility to auto support from friends and family, this loop is ideal for long-distance training or even personal long-distance events at six miles per lap. Five laps plus one around Pine Lake Trail makes a fine 50K, for example.  

Jonathan Johnson running in Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. // Photo by Jon Jonckers

Cautions: Moose can be dangerous and should not be approached. Ticks are numerous in the spring and early summer; use insect repellant and stay on the wide, dirt road Auto Tour Route (toward the middle, away from grass and shrubs) during tick season.

Read Jonathan Johnson’s essay about running the trails of Turnbull.

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