Humboldt Bay is one of the most important stopover areas along the Pacific Flyway. The Bay is the winter home for thousands of migratory ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds. More than 200 bird species, including 80 kinds of water birds and four endangered species regularly visit the Bay. The Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge currently includes 2,200 acres of seasonal wetlands, salt marshes, grassland, open bay, and mudflats, with an ultimate goal of 8,935 acres.
The peak viewing season for most species of water birds and raptors is September through March. The number of water birds peaks from mid-March to late April. Summer visitors will see many gulls, terns, cormorants, pelicans, egrets and herons. Waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, harbor seals and river otters are visible throughout the year. Wildlife observation and waterfowl hunting are the principal public uses of the Humboldt Bay Refuge. The total number of visitors averages 15,000 to 17,000 per year.
The refuge has two interpretive trails. Peak viewing season for most species of water birds and raptors is September through March. Black Brant and migratory shorebird populations peak from mid-March to late April. Summer visitors will see many gulls, terns, cormorants, and pelicans; as well as resident egrets and herons. Waterfowl, raptors (including osprey), and harbor seals are visible throughout the year.
One trail is open seven days per week during daylight hours (Hookton Slough Trail), and one is open seasonally during refuge office hours (Shorebird Loop Trail). The Hookton Slough Trail follows a tidal slough 1.5 miles out along the south edge of Humboldt Bay. The 3-mile distance (round trip) passes along grasslands, freshwater marsh, mudflats, and open water. Look for herons and egrets, as well as shorebirds, waterfowl, and harbor seals. The 1.75-mile Shorebird Loop Trail passes near some of the refuge's best shorebird viewing areas. The trail affords a good overview of the diverse seasonal wetlands; an optional side trail takes you to the refuge's largest permanent freshwater pond. Interpretive panels along the way illustrate the refuge's wildlife resources and habitat management practices. Look for shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds, tree frogs, and river otters. Waterfowl, snipe, and coot hunting occurs on five of the seven units of the refuge. Only the hunting within the 330-acre hunt area of the Salmon Creek Unit is tightly controlled, with hunting allowed only two days per week until 1 p.m., with 12 hunting blinds/sites, a lottery draw, and a paid permit process. An estimated 1,000 hunters utilize the refuge annually.
Wildlife viewing from a boat can be excellent. However, boaters should be aware that tides, wind, and weather change rapidly on Humboldt Bay. There are currently four public boat launches on the Bay; the refuge is currently in the process of building a dock for launching small, non-motorized boats at the Hookton Slough Trail parking area. The protected sloughs are excellent for canoe trips when the Bay is too windy.
Humboldt Bay and tidal sloughs are open to fishing year-round. Areas separated from the Bay by land, such as creeks and flooded areas behind levees, are closed to fishing. The Hookton Slough Trail is open to shore fishing; access to other areas is by boat. Guided walks are provided on the Lanphere Dunes Unit on the first and third Saturdays of each month.
The 170 foot cliff above the Pacific Ocean at Table Bluff has an excellent view of Humboldt Bay to the north and of the Eel River Delta to the south. The wildflowers here are beautiful in the spring. You can hike along the beach to the south through the 2,000-acre Eel River Wildlife Area. Take the Hookton Road exit on Highway 101 and follow it west 5 miles to the Park.