Starting out at the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, the 2-mile long Willard Springs Loop Trail is the best way to experience the wonder of the 7,071-acre nature preserve by foot.
First, dive into history and explore one of the state's oldest wooden structures, the Whitcomb-Cole Hewn Log House, built in 1877.* Then, walk along the Cold Springs Ditch, where garter snakes (not dangerous) lurk in the reeds and Oregon spotted frogs bask amongst pond lilies. Finally, hike into the refuge's high desert transitional forest. Once in the forest, the Douglas firs that dominate the western portion of Washington give way to Ponderosa pines, lodgepole pines, and sagebrush that flourishes in the region's drier climate.
In total, the Willard Springs Loop Trail is roughly 2 miles round trip (1 mile out to the viewing platform), but there are also several shortcut trails that return to the refuge headquarters in less time.
* Originally located on the south side of Conboy Lake, the rustic pioneer cabin was relocated to its current, publicly accessible location in 1987 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cabin itself was built by Stephen S. Whitcomb, one of the first European-descendant settlers to the Camas Prairie, who served as the postmaster for the Fulda Post Office from 1877 to 1881. After moving to nearby Gilmer (the town with the namesake of his new wife), Whitcomb sold the cabin and land to John N. Cole, who then sold it again in 1911. The cabin was eventually abandoned in the 1950s.