At least one national wildlife refuge is located in every U.S. state and territory. These areas are set aside primarily to protect wildlife and habitats, but they are also created for the use and enjoyment of the public. These landscapes belong to all of us, and we each have the right to explore refuges responsibly, with an eye to safeguarding them for future generations to enjoy.

Among the the opportunities for recreation and enjoyment at our national wildlife refuges are: birding, fishing, hunting, hiking, driving and photography. Although some refuges are remote, many are within an hour’s drive of cities across the country, so NWRA urges you to get out and explore these natural treasures.


Birding and wildlife watching are among the most popular activities on refuges. An estimated 81 percent of the 40 million refuge visitors annually engage in some wildlife watching. Birds are not only interesting and easy to observe, but birdwatching is a pastime that is accessible to everyone. There are only three requirements:

  • A bird guide
  • Binoculars
  • Curiosity

To learn more, sign up for the monthly Birding Community E- Bulletin


Young boy fishing at annual fishing derby in Hadley, MA
Young boy fishing at annual fishing derby in Hadley, MA

Opportunities for fresh or saltwater fishing are available at more than 270 refuges nationwide. To find refuges in your areas that allow fishing, and connect with other fishers, please visit the  US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fishing guide 



Hunters get a warm welcome at more than 300 hunting programs on refuges and on about 36,000 Waterfowl Production Areas. To learn more about hunting opportunities and regulations please visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hunting page


There are thousands of trails throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. Hiking through a refuge gives you a unique opportunity to experience landscapes, plants and wildlife up close. Often you will also get the chance to experience the rejuvenation that comes with solitude in nature. To find trails in your area visit US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Trails page

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | Evan Hirsche
Hikers pause to enjoy a remote vista in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska | Evan Hirsche

Scenic Byways

There are thousands of miles of beautiful roads through our national wildlife refuges. More than 150 of these distinctive routes have been designated as scenic byways for their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. The National Scenic Byways Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, recognizes, preserves and enhances important routes throughout the country.  To learn more, visit the US Fish and Wildlife Serve’s Scenic Byways page.


One of the best ways to remember your experiences with nature is photography. This is one of the most popular pursuits at our refuges. Not only is it rewarding to capture beautiful images, but the patience and stillness required to take a good photo provides the opportunity to see and learn more than you were expecting.

A few tips for capturing a great shot:

  • Go early: Wildlife is most often active and visible early in the morning when the world is quiet and there are few visitors in the refuge.
  • Lighting is important: Lighting is best early in the morning or in the late afternoon and evening when the sun is not directly overhead and casting shadows.

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