11 National Wildlife Refuges to Visit and Explore this Spring!

Happy Spring! It’s finally here, after a long and cold winter- thank goodness! And after all that you’re probably ready to get outside and explore all the great recreational opportunities nature has to offer. Look no further, we have recommendations for some the best wildlife refuges to visit during the spring months.

1. Go birding at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas

Located near the southern most edge of the Rio Grande, this wildlife refuge is home to bird species like green jays, chachalacas and great kiskadees- making it one of the most visited birding destinations in the world. In the spring, hundreds of migrating raptors like broadwing hawks, northern harriers, and peregrine falcons fly overhead. A great place to visit if you’re looking to check off a couple of lifers off your bird list!


Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

2. Climb at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma

Hidden in the rolling plains of Oklahoma, is a rocky paradise, with a beautiful backdrop of the Wichita Mountains. The refuge offers a wide variety of climbing opportunities for beginners (Upper Mont Scott or Elk Slabs are recommended) to advanced climbers (Lost Dome) throughout the refuge. There’s something for everyone. Even if you’re not a climber, a day hike through this refuge offers incredible views and untouched nature experiences.


Wichita Mts NWR| Carl Evans
Photo credit: Carl Evans

3. Walk the nature trails at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge to White Point in South Carolina

At this beautiful and charming South Carolina refuge, there are over 14 miles of hiking and biking trails, overlooking scenic water views and marshes. You can also see a variety of wildlife from wading shorebirds, brightly colored painted buntings and in the spring, nesting is in full swing. If you’re up to the challenge, the walk to White Point (7.8 miles round-trip) has a small beach with beautiful views!


Pinckney NWR | Annie Oeldorf-Hirsch
Photo credit: Annie Oeldorf-Hirsch

4. Catch a sunset at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada

This photo pretty much says it all…but if it’s not enough for you, there’s also a lot of really cool shorebirds there in the spring, like White-faced Ibis, Avocets, Stilts, Dowitchers, Curlews and Sandpipers.


Stillwater NWR Dennis Doyle
Photo Credit: Dennis Doyle

5. Fish at Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee

With over 144 species of fish, Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge is a hotspot for fishing and has the greatest diversity of fish of any inland wildlife refuge in the U.S.! In early spring, Kentucky Lake has some of the best crappie fishing, and in late spring, bass and catfish are aplenty.


Tennessee NWR, Kentucky Lake | Janet Powell
Photo credit: Janet Powell

6. Bike at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland

There is a wide variety of biking trails at this refuge, whether you’re a novice or a pro cyclist. There is a 4 mile or 7 mile loop along the paved Wildlife Drive, or there are also 20-25 mile routes along country roads. Either route you choose, you will see a great variety of wildlife including white-tail fawns, first broods of waterfowl, eaglets fledging and songbirds nesting all with the beautiful backdrop of the Chesapeake marshlands.


Blackwater NWR | John McTarnaghan
Photo credit: John McTarnaghan

7. Piping plover peeping at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing quite as cute as a piping plover chick. This adorable plover is federally threatened and state endangered in Maine, making spotting this small shorebird even more worth the while. They can be found at most of the beaches in and around the refuge, nesting from May to August.


Rachel Carson NWR | Sarah Fensmore
Photo credit: Sarah Fensmore

8. See bison calves at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado

Spring is the perfect time to spot those newly born bison calves wandering throughout the refuge. In the warmer weather, prairie dog pups are starting to venture out of their burrows, which are also always fun to see. Located just outside of Denver, this is a perfect day trip to escape the city, spend time during your layover or just visit for the day.


Rocky Mts NWR| Rich Keen
Photo credit: Rich Keen

9. Go turkey hunting at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin

Just a short drive from Madison, you can find a beautiful refuge, full of wildlife and great hunting. Necedah offers 44,000 acres of hunting grounds for hunters to explore and pursue the resident turkeys during the spring season.


Necedah NWR | USFWS
Photo credit: USFWS

10. Get that perfect landscape shot you’ve always wanted at Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuges in Oregon

This wildlife refuge spans over 1,853 islands off of the coast of Oregon, and is home to many different species of seabirds and seals. But, what you really want to visit this refuge for is for Coquille Point. It’s one of the only mainland units of the refuge and is breathtaking, so make sure you bring your camera!


Oregon Coastal NWR | Mason Marsh
Photo credit: Mason Marsh

11. Wetland walk at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California

This two mile trail walk meanders through beautiful wetlands, marshes and creeks. In the spring, you can hope to spot an array of shorebirds like sandpipers, dunlin, avocets and black-necked stilts wading through colorful vernal pools and lots of migrating neo-tropicals activity.


Sacramento NWR
Photo credit: USFWS

When you’re out there visiting a national wildlife refuge, don’t forget to tag the Refuge Association in your photos on Instagram! Use the hash-tag #wildliferefuge and we can’t wait to see you out there!

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2017/05/11-national-wildlife-refuges-to-visit-and-explore-this-spring/

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