South of Cheney, the Columbia Plateau Trail follows a 130-mile abandoned rail corridor between Cheney and Pasco, passing through a section of the 18,000-acre Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge that is otherwise inaccessible to the public. The trail boasts abundant wildlife - birds, waterfowl, deer, elk and moose; and is rich in history and geology.
To see wildlife, a good place to begin your exploration is the Cheney Lake trailhead. Amble south through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, staying on the trail. This area is known for its migrating trumpeter swans, and more than 200 species of birds have been identified. Spring and fall are the best viewing seasons. Kiosks along the way will let you know about the wildlife and the rich geology of the area.
For a longer day hike, start at the popular angling waters of Amber Lake, amble north through aspens and plateau shrubs—dogwood, sumac and currant. Moose have been sighted near Amber Lake, and the route south from the trailhead travels through some lovely desert country — wildflowers, sagelands, and channeled scablands. The level smooth route makes it easy to make some mileage, but do watch out for bicycles.
In contrast to much of the rest of its length, the Columbia Plateau Trail here passes through the ponderosa pine belt of Eastern Washington; these spicy-scented evergreens provide cover for mule deer and a large population of elk. Moose frequent the shallow marshes of the refuge’s interior, as do a variety of waterfowl.
At seven miles south of the Amber Lake trailhead, you'll reach the end of the trail — for now. There are long-range plans to develop the entire 130-mile rail corridor into a trail. The other developed portion is at the south end of the railbed near Pasco, a 15-mile section runs along the Snake River before it joins the Columbia River.