Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region

Public Use/Recreation

The needs of wildlife comes first on National Wildlife Refuges. Public uses, however, may be allowed when they have been determined to be compatible with the purposes for establishment of the refuge. Lacreek NWR allows a number of wildlife dependent recreational activities on designated portions of the refuge. Priority public uses include hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education, and environmental interpretation. The non wildlife dependent activities of boating, picknicking, and camping are only allowed at the Little White River Recreation Area. The possession of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on the entire refuge, including the Little White River Recreation Area. The refuge is open from dawn to dusk, except for the Little White River Receation Area which is open 24 hours.


Hunting And Fishing Regulations

Hunting: The following types of hunting opportunities exist on portions of the refuge;

Archery Hunting: is permitted in specific areas of the refuge (see deer hunting map). Legal species are white-tailed deer and mule deer. A South Dakota state archery license and a free special refuge permit are required.  The state license must be applied for through the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department located in Pierre, South Dakota.. The free refuge permit is available at refuge headquarters during daily business hours (7:00am-3:30pm MST).

Muzzle-Loader Hunting: is permitted within specific areas of the refuge. Legal species are white-tailed deer ONLY. Participants in this hunt must have a state license for refuge muzzle-loader deer. Information about this and other state license requirements can be obtained at the South Dakaota Game, fish and Parks Department web page.

Upland Game Hunting: is permitted within specific areas of the refuge (see upland game regulations and map).  Legal species are ring-necked pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse.

Fishing: Fishing is allowed within designated pools on the refuge. Fishing for rainbow trout is available at the Trout Ponds. These ponds are generally stocked once in early spring and once in the fall with catchable size rainbow trout. Boats with motors are not allowed on the Trout Ponds. Access is on a minimum maintenance road and caution should be used when travelling after recent rain or snowmelt. The Little White River Recreation Area (LWRRA) was drained in 2006 to allow for needed repairs to the emergency spillway, dam, and water control structure. The LWRRA was brought to full pool levels in late 2007after completion of repairs. The site was restocked with gamefish in 2008, including catchable sized channel catfish, yellow perch, and black crappie and fingerling or fry sized walleye, large mouthed bass, and northern pike. It is anticipated that good fishing will return for a time, as many of the carp were killed in the drawdown and abundant vegetation had grown in the lake bed. This will significantly improve the habitat for the gamefish that were restocked at the LWRRA. Fishing is also allowed in Pools 3, 4, 7, and 10, although few game fish are available in these areas. Primary management emphasis is for migratory birds, and most pools are partially or fully drawn down during some portion of the year. The use or possession of baitfish is prohibited on Lake Creek, which includes Pools 3, 4, 7, and 10. A no wake zone exists on Pools 3, 4, 7, and 10 within 500 feet of the shoreline.

Bowfishing is allowed on all refuge waters open to fishing, according to bowfishing regulations listed in the South Dakota Fishing Handbook. The harvest of snapping turtles is also allowed in all areas currently opened to fishing and within 300 feet of all refuge roads and service trails that are open to public travel. The use of seines, nets, and traps are not allowed. There are no Refuge permits required for fishing, bowfishing, and harvest of snapping turtles. A valid South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks fishing license is required, however. Visit the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks web site at for specifics on seasons, bag limits, license requirements, and other related information.



Lacreek NWR offers excellent opportunities for wildlife observation and photography. Abundant habitat, water in an arid landscape, and light visitation provies an opportunity for a good sighting around every corner throughout the year. During the winter, large concentrations of trumpeter swans, Canada geese, and mallards can be found utilizing the open water provided by the spring flows and the natural foods grown in the wetlands during the growing season. Many visitors are surprised to find large numbers of waterfowl remain, when the rest of the northern Great Plains has completely frozen over. Large numbers of migratory birds return in the spring on their migration north. Some stay to nest here, including blue winged teal, mallards, American white pelicans, great blue herons, snowy egrets, long billed curlews, burrowing owls, short eared owls, northern harriers and bobolinks to name a few. For a complete list of bird species, check out our bird list. During the heat of the summer, most wildlife restricts their activities to the cooler morning and evening hours. You might find an American bittern, great blue heron, or black crowned night heron slowly hunting the shallows looking for a meal. As summer fades into fall, shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, and other species of birds begin their migration south. Many stop in at the refuge to spend a day or a month. Some will spend the winter here.

The entire refuge is open to wildlife observation and photography. A few developed roads and trails exist, and you can often spot wildlife by driving the auto tour route slowly or taking a quiet walk on one of the designated trails. For visitors interested in exploring the rest of the refuge, a number of refuge dikes used to control water levels provide great opportunities for hiking. Vehicles are restricted to the designated roads.

Auto Tour Route

A popular component of our public use program is a four and one half mile auto tour route that originates at the visitor center. You are welcome to explore places of interest on foot. Large numbers of trumpeter swans and other waterfowl may be observed from October through March. You will also likely see white tailed deer, ring necked pheasants, and many other species depending on the time of year. The main refuge road from headquarters to the northeast entrance also passes several wildlife observation hotspots, including a large prairie dog town, the pelican nesting islands, and two of the refuges largest wetlands. The refuge roads that travel to the Trout Ponds and the west side of the refuge to the Brown Ranch are open to public travel and provide additional opportunities for wildlife viewing from a vehicle. All of these roads are gravel and the conditions for travel deteriorate quickly after rainfall or snowmelt events. Check with refuge headquarters if in doubt of the road conditions.

Walking Trails

Mule Deer at Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge

Although less common than white-tailed deer, mule deer are often spotted along the tour route and other refuge roads.
Photo: Tom Koerner, USFWS

The Pelican Island Trail is located 2.5 miles north of the visitor center. The trail is a short (0.25 miles) easy hike. This walking trail provides visitors with the rare opportunity to view American white pelicans nesting on two islands within Pool 9 on the refuge. During late April and early May, visitors will see thousands of white pelicans located on these islands. There are great blue heron, snowy and cattle egret, double crested cormorant, and black crowned night heron rookeries on the islands as well. By late August, all of the young will have fledged and moved on. In addition, visitors will likely see many different species of waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds, both resident and migrants in season.

The Bird Trail, starts at headquarters and makes an easy 0.25 mile loop around the display pond. Large willows, cottonwoods, and other shrubs often provides the opportunity to observe warblers and other birds species not commonly found in our grasslands and wetlands.



Visitor Contact Room

A new visitor contact room is currently being developed. It will include new interpretive displays and a mural depicting typical habitats and wildlife of Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge. Completion is planned for 2008. It will be open to the visiting public during normal business hours.


A kiosk is located just north of headquarters and one at our northeast entrance. Refuge brochures and bird lists are available here, as well as at the front entrance to headquarters. An orientation map along with current events may be posted here.


Although we have a small staff, we will be glad to help you with arranging your visit. If a staff member is available, we may be able to accomodate and have them accompany your group to answer questions and provide information about the refuge. Contacting us well ahead of your visit will increase your chances of a staff member being available.

School Group looking at the bald eagle nest

This school group stopped to look at the bald eagle nest.
Photo: Tom Koerner, USFWS


Last updated: November 17, 2012