From Interstate 5, take exit 578 and head east on highway 20 toward the town of Colusa. Travel a little more than 5 miles to the entrance sign. NOTE: there is little warning that you are approaching the turn off from the highway onto a good dirt road, so be vigilant and careful; you will have to slow down quickly to make this turn-off. Between the interstate highway and the refuge are large rice fields and agricultural lands which will likely contain egrets and herons. After you exit highway 20, drive for a minute before actually entering the boundary of the park. There is an informational sign, brochures, and the one and only comfort station, so take a break here before you begin the auto tour.
You will immediately notice that the road hugs water areas and meanders through cattail marsh grass. There are a couple of small stopping points where you can leave your car and walk short distances into the woodland and marsh areas.
What makes this a particularly special place is the predominance of larger birds like great blue herons and snowy egrets. Like any refuge, you are rewarded if you apply the three essential rules of wildlife observation: be silent, be still and be patient. Since water is more of a feature of this specific wildlife refuge, the road brings you a bit closer to those creatures whose life centers around water.
Along the driving tour, you will find yourself riding on the tops of levees -- ground berms that separate agricultural lands from one another and water channels. Oftentimes, water is moved from one area to another depending upon need and water availability. As a consequence of riding higher, you must exercise a bit more caution when driving; there are no barriers between your car and the water. Be assured, the road is safe and wide enough for cars to pass each other just fine. There are many places where you can pull over and park to observe wildlife. Remember that all creatures are wary of visitors and tend to stop and hide when they hear cars approaching. To play the game well, stop, listen and wait as they return to the business of hunting and resting. Approach feeding birds ever so slowly as they will fly off to another place to hunt if you approach too quickly. Incidentally, I recommend applying these principles of wildlife observation to your own backyards and surrounding parks. To successfully watch wildlife requires a measure of cunning and stealth. Pick a comfortable place to wait. After a while, the creatures will come to you.
After about a half mile, the road defines a loop. Here's where the passenger seat has the best vantage point as the water canal appears on the right-hand side of the car. You can drive on these roads as long as you want and as many times as you wish. I highly recommend you allow enough time to drive through all refuges at least twice; you’ll increase your odds of seeing something amazing. And, consider returning to these wildlife locations at during different seasons.
You can get a sense of the environment of these areas from the photos. Stopping in at the Sacramento WFR visitor center first is an advantage because the rangers can explain the habitats and creatures and offer tips on observation.
Originally founded by a Chinese monk, Colusa is a small town just east of the Colusa Wildlife Refuge and along the levee-protected Sacramento River. I highly recommend a side trip to this lovely town. The streets are wide and surrounded by trees, lovely older homes, classical turn-of-the-century architecture and a wonderful downtown that might remind some of you of what America looked like in the 1950's. If you prefer a slightly slower pace and view of rural farmlands, you might consider taking highway 45 between Colusa and Princeton (just east of the Sacramento WFR). Bring a good map or use one of the brochures found at the entrance kiosks for each refuge. I use www.TripAdvisor.com to research places to stay and good restaurants. Happy traveling.