Grays Lake NWR was established in 1965 to protect and restore habitat for waterfowl and sandhill cranes. The early Native Americans that inhabited this area were the Shoshonean-speaking people who probably hunted in this area as early as the 1650s. The lake or marsh is named after John Grey, a member of an early trapping expedition that exploring the vicinity of Grays Lake in 1818.
The towering, Caribou Mountain which overlooks the valley on the
east side is named after a colorful prospector (Carribou Jack). This
mountain has a rich history through the later 1800s of mining towns
and gold and sliver mining. The Lander Cut-off of the Oregon Trail
passed along the south boundary of the refuge. Emigrants traveled
it, from the 1860s to the early 1900s.