Head Outdoors and Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week

There are hundreds of national wildlife refuges across the country like the one pictured below in New Mexico and now is the perfect time to visit for a day of fishing, hiking, or wildlife watching

October is a great time to visit a national wildlife refuge and next week might be a peak time to observe all the migrating birds you can find at a refuge—plus, it just happens to be National Wildlife Refuge Week.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled wildlife conservation network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts that provide vital habitats for thousands of species of birds and other wildlife and plants. It also provides access to world-class recreation opportunities ranging from birding to hiking, nature study, photography, and environmental education.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s National Wildlife Refuge Week—an annual celebration of the United States’ massive network of public lands dedicated to conservation. Walk, run, or stroll in nature during National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 8-14, 2023. Enjoy great outdoor recreation in America’s largest network of public lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Founded in 1903, national wildlife refuges offer access to a host of popular activities while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species.

National Wildlife Refuge Week occurs yearly during the second full week of October.

The Refuge System offers many healthful outdoor activities including fishing, wildlife viewing, and wildlife photography while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species including sandhill cranes, American alligators, bison, and sea turtles.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge System helps many species recover and thrive:

  • About 340 California condors fly free today thanks to efforts by Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, and many committed partners. In 1982, there were just 22 known condors in the wild. Refuge-led tidal marsh restorations in San Francisco Bay in California and Willapa Bay in Washington are providing new feeding and rearing areas for salmon and migratory birds while also protecting nearby communities.
  • There is a national wildlife refuge in all 50 states including refuges located within an hour’s drive of 100 major cities. Almost all refuges provide FREE entry year-round along with great birding opportunities.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Theodore Roosevelt established the Refuge System in 1903 at what is now Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The refuge includes the island and more than 5,400 acres of protected waters and lands in and near Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic coast.

The Blue Goose, originated by the late cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, is the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said: “Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving for themselves and their children as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National wildlife refuges contribute $3.2 billion per year into local economies and support more than 41,000 jobs, according to the Service’s report Banking on Nature. Visits to refuges have doubled in the last 10 years reaching nearly 65 million visits in 2021. National wildlife refuges also make life better by conserving wildlife, protecting against erosion and flooding, and purifying our air and water.

More than 101 million Americans—40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older—pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.

In celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week I’ve compiled a list of seven of my favorite national wildlife refuges.

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Located in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge conserves over 15,000 acres of once vast lower Mississippi alluvial bottomland hardwood forest and bald cypress tupelo swamp habitats. The Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge’s mix of scenic bayous, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forest is a great place to hunt, fish, boat, bird watch, paddle, or just plain enjoy the scenery.

Get more tips for visiting Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331 acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover site for migrating waterfowl. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and ducks who winter here each year. Over 30,000 acres of Bosque del Apache are designated wilderness. Celebrate the return of the cranes at the annual Festival of the Cranes.

Get more tips for visiting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Located in Southwest Arizona, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was originally established in 1939 as a game range to conserve and develop wildlife and other natural resources.

With 803,418 acres of designated wilderness, Cabeza Prieta offers great opportunities to explore the wild Sonoran Desert, home to at least 60 species of mammals, more than 350 bird species, 20 amphibians, some 100 reptiles, and about 30 species of native fish. In addition, more than 2,000 species of plants have been identified in the Sonoran Desert. In 2004, biologists stepped in to rescue the eendangered Sonoran pronghorns by creating a captive breeding program at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 for the protection of migratory birds.  Consisting of 140,000 acres, the refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, managed impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. These habitats provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 15 federally listed species. 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp and is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers.  The refuge provides habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and wood stork along with a wide variety of other wildlife.  It is world renowned for its amphibian populations. More than 600 plant species have been identified on refuge lands. There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee.  From the open prairies of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to the forested cypress swamp accessed through Stephen C. Foster State Park. Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

Get more tips for visiting Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Get more tips for visiting Stephen C. Foster State Park

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge established in 1937 occupies the marshes between Calcasieu and Sabine lakes in southwest Louisiana. This area contains a diversity of habitat including freshwater impoundments, wooded ridges and levees, canals, ponds, lakes, and bayous. Located approximately 26 miles south of Sulphur, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge has numerous recreation areas where you can fish, crab or take a hike. Whether you are looking for an alligator to photograph or just a place to stretch your legs, the Wetland Walkway is always an adventure.

Get more tips for visiting Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America. Though small in size, Santa Ana offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies, and many other species not found anywhere else in the U. S. beyond South Texas. Santa Ana is home to resident species like green jays, chachalacas, Altamira orioles, and great kiskadees making it one of the top birding destinations in the world. 

Get more tips for visiting Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

An Isolation Itinerary: Places to Get Lost and Find Yourself

Looking for a road trip destination this summer? You will feel safe with this ‘isolation itinerary’.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we travel in 2020. The more we read, the more obvious it becomes that outside is better than inside.

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the road trip. Unlike a plane, train, or other public transport your RV is your personal space and allows you control the level of cleaning and sanitation and who you share the space with. Plus, fuel prices are low this year while airline availability has been greatly reduced. In an RV you can go where you want and stay in a campground, an RV park, or boondock on public lands.

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone want to get outside after months of the “stay at home” and for all these reasons natural sites like national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other wide open spaces have seen a huge spike in interest.

The National Park Service states that more than 300 million people visit more than 400 national park areas in the U.S. each year. Since summer is typically the prime time for travel, it makes sense that many parks fill to capacity during these warmer months. 

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, national parks may be even harder to access than usual. Phased reopenings are occurring in many popular locations such as Arches, Zion, and Joshua Tree. Because national parks provide an ideal road trip destination, it’s safe to say they’ll be popular in the coming months. 

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks can be a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Even better, they usually aren’t as busy as national parks. If you don’t want to take a chance on crowded national parks this summer visit one of more than 8,000 state park areas instead. State parks are often underrated destinations, but they can provide wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opportunities for outdoor recreation also draw people to national wildlife refuges. Many visitors enjoy fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, nature photography, and hiking with 2,100 miles of public walking trails and boardwalks available. All these activities offer visitors a chance to unplug from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their natural surroundings.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, we’ve put together a list of incredible state parks and natural wildlife refuges from coast to coast. You will feel safe with our researched “isolation itinerary.”

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Located along the southern coastline of Alabama, Gulf State Park provides a beautiful escape to the seashore and nearby lakes. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge preserves thousands of acres of diverse habitats and archaeological sites alongside the Columbia River. Taking a stroll from the parking lot, the pedestrian bridge allow you to stand over the railroad tracks and gaze westward over the mosaic of seasonal wetlands, permanent wetlands, grasslands, upland forests, riparian corridors, oak woodlands, and croplands that become home to thousands of ducks, geese, and swans that winter on the Refuge.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

The 4,127-acre Babcock State Park is 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville  and the New River Gorge Bridge. You can hike, fish, and mountain bike in this scenic park though a huge attraction is seeing the Glade Creek Grist Mill. This is a fully functioning replica of Cooper’s Mill which once stood in the same area. The mill attracts photographers from all around to capture idyllic scenes along the creek. Campsites are available for overnight stays.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the deser. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Brasstown Bald State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia

Plan a trip to Georgia’s tallest mountain for amazing views and quality time with Mother Nature. As the state’s highest peak—4,784 feet above sea level—Brasstown Bald is among the first to display fall colors. Even in summer, you’ll find the mountain a worthy escape thanks to its picturesque location amid the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and its refreshing temperatures. Nearby, take a scenic drive through the national forest via the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. From the byway, stop at Vogel State Park which offers ample camping, plus fishing, hiking, and lake swimming.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court