Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region

Welcome to Valentine National Wildlife Refuge

General Information

Welcome to Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).The Refuge was established in 1935 to protect a portion of the Sandhills and their wildlife. The unique nature of the Refuge was recognized in 1976 when the Sandhills prairie was designated as National Natural Landmark.

Valentine NWR is one of over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network or lands set aside specifically for wildlife.  Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Refuge System is a living heritage, preserving wildlife and habitat for people today and for generations to come.

The financial base for the Refuge System was firmly established in 1934 through the passage of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, more commonly known as the “Duck Stamp” Act. This Act requires waterfowl hunters to annually purchase a migratory bird or duck stamp. Funds collected from duck stamp sales have been used to purchase numerous refuges that provide habitats necessary to sustain a variety of wildlife for both hunters and non-hunters to enjoy.

The Sandhills - A Unique Prairie

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge lies in the heart of a vast area of undulating sand dunes which stretch across north-central Nebraska. The region, called the Sandhills, is the largest remaining tract of mid and tall grass prairie in North America.

Eons ago, receding waters exposed the bed of a huge inland sea located west of Nebraska. West winds attacked the sea bed and transported the sand to north-central Nebraska. Here the sand was deposited in the dunes which comprise the Sandhills.

Indian grass, big and little bluestem, prairie sand reed, and sand love grass blanketed the dunes and meadows. The grasses shielded the dunes from the force of the wind and provided a degree of stability to the shifting sands. Numerous lakes formed throughout the Sandhills and spring rains caused the water table to rise and flood additional lowlands. In other areas, the water table rose to within several feet of the surface, providing natural underground irrigation. The sub-irrigated meadows produced the heaviest growth of grasses.

The Sioux Indians, great buffalo hunters and warriors, controlled large portions of the Great Plains including the Sandhills. In the 1870's, the hills became ranching country with open range, cowboys, and Texas longhorn cattle. Settlers followed quickly, encouraged by the Homestead Act and later the Kincaid Law. "Kincaiders" attempts to farm the sandy soil were unsuccessful. Most small landowners sold out to cattle ranchers or let their land go to the county for unpaid taxes.

During the 1930's, conservationists recognized the need to protect a portion of the Sandhills and their wildlife. In 1935, the 71,516 acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge was established for this purpose. Again in 1976, the unique nature of the Sandhills prairie was recognized when the Refuge was designated as a National Natural Landmark.

Marshes, Meadows, Hills, and Wildlife

Numerous lakes, productive marshes, and tall grasses on hills and meadows provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife. Blue-winged teal, mallards, pintails, gadwalls, redheads, ruddy ducks, and shovelers nest on the Refuge in large numbers. During fall and spring migrations, many other species of ducks stop to rest and feed. Sometimes as many as 150,000 ducks can be found on the Refuge, with peak numbers occurring in May and October.

More than 260 species of birds have been sighted on the Refuge. Herons, terns, shorebirds, pelicans, and many songbirds nest on and migrate through the Refuge. Long-billed curlews and upland sandpipers call from hill and fence post. In early spring, prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse gather on dancing grounds for their elaborate courtship display. Sandhill cranes pass over in spring and fall in great numbers filling the sky with trailing V's and musical rattling calls. Winter storms and cold weather bring the bald and golden eagles to hunt the snow covered prairie.

White-tailed deer prefer the marshes and small woodlots, while mule deer can be found in the open hills. Muskrats and beaver inhabit the lake and marsh, meadows, and hills. The variation of habitat and the variety of wildlife each habitat supports make Valentine a unique Refuge.

Managing For Wildlife

Refuge grasslands and wetlands are managed for the benefit of the wide variety of wildlife found on the Refuge. Prairies and marshes evolved under wildfire and grazing, today cattle and carefully controlled prescribed fire are used. Grazing can be used to encourage the lush growth of grasses, returns nutrients to the soil, and removes old litter which can cause a grassland to stagnate. Long term spring grazing is also used to control non-native grasses which are not as desirable for nesting cover. Fire can also be used to remove decadent grasses, control non-native grasses, and recycle nutrients.

As wetlands across the Nation have been drained and converted to cropland, it has become more important to manage and preserve those that remain. New ponds have been created on the Refuge and water levels are regulated on some to provide the wetlands needed by many birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. In other lakes, carp, which had uprooted vegetation and reduced waterfowl food plants, were controlled and the basic productivity of the lakes restored. A combination of sound wildlife management practices enhances the Refuge habitat for wildlife.

Visitors Are Welcome

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is located 20 miles south of Valentine, Nebraska, along Highway 83. The Refuge is administered as part of the Fort Niobrara-Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Complex with the main office located 5 miles east of the city of Valentine. The Hackberry Headquarters on Valentine Refuge is located along State Spur 16B.

Birdwatching, wildlife observation, and photography are encouraged. To best observe wildlife, come early n the morning or before sunset. Bring binoculars and quietly walk the Refuge trails. Service trails are open to public hiking, but vehicles must stay on designated public roads. Public roads are generally passable to two-wheel drive vehicles except in snowy or wet weather. In the spring, observation blinds are provided for viewing the prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse courtship displays. Fishing and upland game, deer, and waterfowl hunting are provided. Regulations concerning hunting and fishing are available at Refuge headquarters or from dispensers on the Refuge. The Refuge is open during the daylight hours. Camping and fires are prohibited. State and private campgrounds are located nearby. Hotels, restaurants, and stores are available in the town of Valentine.

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is one of a network of over 500 refuges across the United States. Refuges are vitally important. They provide habitat, food, water, cover, and space for hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and plants. National Wildlife Refuges are managed to protect endangered plants and animals, for migratory birds, to preserve natural diversity, and to provide places for people to understand and enjoy wildlife.

Accessible Opportunities

A wheelchair-accessible boat dock is located at Watts Lake. People with a special Nebraska Game and Parks Commission permit may shoot game from a vehicle on Refuge public use trails in areas open to public driving.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to provide persons with disabilities full accessibility or reasonable accommodation.  Contact Refuge staff for information or to address accessibility needs.  For visitors using TTY, contact the Nebraska Relay Service at 1 800 833-7352.

General Regulations

State of Nebraska Regulations

State hunting and fishing regulations, seasons, bag limits, and license requirements apply.  Additional refuge-specific regulations are outlined here.
Hunting hours are the same as those set in State regulations.  Fishing is permitted from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.  Sportsmen are allowed a reasonable time before and after hours to enter and exit the Refuge.
Motor vehicles are permitted only on public use trails as shown on the map.  Driving on the ice or off-road is prohibited.  Four-wheel drive is recommended.
Camping and Fires
Camping and fires are both prohibited on the Refuge.  Camping is available at Alkali Fish Camp, Ballards Marsh, and Merritt Reservoir.

Hunting and Fishing Regulations

Refuge Signs and Their Meaning

These signs allow or restrict certain activities, providing maximum freedom for visitors while protecting Refuge wildlife from undue harm.

Refuge Boundary Sign
Areas are open to permitted activities only.
Regulations and further information are available at Refuge Headquarters.
No Hunting
Areas around offices and residences are closed to hunting.
Sanctuary Area
Off-limits to the public unless otherwise specified.


Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  Two other refuges in this complex are Fort Niobrara and John and Louise Seier National Wildlife Refuge.

Last updated: November 29, 2012