The Nisqually River is fed by meltwater from five glaciers on Mount Rainier and flows into south Puget Sound through the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the site of the largest estuary restoration project on the Pacific Coast. The Nisqually is the only river in the United States with its headwaters in a national park and its delta in a national wildlife refuge, giving it an exceptional degree of protection at two of its most vulnerable points. It is located within an hour’s drive of three metropolitan areas, yet remains one of the healthiest and least developed of the major Puget Sound rivers.
Along its 78-mile course, the river traverses forested, mountainous terrain and rolling farmlands in three counties, several small towns, the Nisqually Indian Reservation and Joint Base Lewis McChord before it enters Puget Sound near the site of the region’s first European settlement.
Recognized as a “River of Statewide Significance” under the 1972 Washington State Shorelands Management Act, the Nisqually River and its tributaries are home to five native salmon species: Chinook, coho, chum, and pink salmon and steelhead trout. Threatened and at-risk species found in the watershed include Chinook salmon, steelhead, northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, bald eagles, northern goshawks, pileated woodpeckers and peregrine falcons.
The Nisqually River directly influences the water quality of south Puget Sound. It provides more than half of the fresh water flow entering the south Sound and is the primary source of drinking water for the City of Olympia and many watershed communities.