Known as Washington’s ‘bayou country’, and with a lowland lake as its source, this river meanders through a vast swamp, ultimately becoming a free-flowing river and joining up with the Chehalis River. This 320-acre preserve is identified as one of the most important fish and wildlife habitats in Washington. This preserve supports runs of chum, chinook and coho salmon as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout and its banks have the most extensive riparian environments in western Washington. The Nature Conservancy has assisted the US Fish and Wildlife Service with the protection of several land parcels within the Black River region, and is included in forming a nearly two-mile corridor of protected river.

Trees such as red alder and Oregon ash, along with red-osier dogwood and willow create a thicket that provides homes for swamp dwellers such as river otters, beavers and mink. Stilt legged waders such as the American bittern and the great blue heron can be seen at the river’s edge while native songbirds flit among the branches of the trees on its banks. Bring your sense of adventure and your canoe or kayak as the best view of this beautiful preserve is from the water! Spend a day on the Class I river with the family,but as there are no pets are allowed on the preserve, please leave your canine companions at home.

For more information on the Black River preserve, please click here.


There are two rough places to launch canoes and kayaks into the Black River Refuge, both at bridges that cross the river on 110th Avenue Southwest and 123rd Avenue Southwest. To reach them (from Olympia):

  • Head south on I-5 past Tumwater, taking the Littlerock Exit (95).
  • Head west a short distance to the first stop sign in Littlerock and take a right on Littlerock Road Southwest.
  • Follow that north, taking lefts at 123rd or 110th.
  • Both boat launches are operated by the Washington Department of Wildlife for access to its management area. 

Written by Noelle van deer Straaten, Volunteer