Not so much a lake as a shallow marsh with thick stands of cattail-bulrush, Grays Lake hosts the world’s largest breeding population of Sandhill Cranes. A gravel road circles the lake and provides the best viewing at this 18,300-acre refuge; interior areas of the refuge are closed during summer to minimize disturbance for nesting birds. Visitors should stop by refuge headquarters and climb the adjacent observation platform for an excellent view, with 9,803-foot Caribou Mountain forming a lovely backdrop; a spotting scope and educational displays are available on the platform.
The refuge hums with activity in May and June. Shorebirds such as Wilson’s Phalaropes, Common Snipes, Long-billed Curlews, and Willets probe the shallow waters and mudflats for food; Franklin’s Gulls nest in great raucous colonies that may number 40,000. Large numbers of Canada Geese also nest here, and visitors are treated to the sight of parents tending their downy broods. Grays Lake’s wildflower bloom peaks around mid-June.
A program at this refuge to reintroduce endangered Whooping Cranes ultimately failed, and the large white cranes can no longer be seen here. Whooping Crane eggs were hatched by Sandhill Crane foster parents, but the resulting offspring, having imprinted on the Sandhill Cranes, failed to mate with other Whooping Cranes.
Have you been to this park? How many stars would you give it?