National Wildlife Refuge System

For the Holidays, There's No Place Like National Wildlife Refuges

Visitors to the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming ride enjoy a holiday-season sleigh ride near a herd of elk.
Visitors to the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming ride enjoy a holiday-season sleigh ride near a herd of elk.
Credit: Lori Iverson/USFWS

Maybe you can’t beat home for the holidays, but for a welcoming, family-friendly spirit, it’s hard to top national wildlife refuges. Refuges nationwide spread seasonal spirit by hosting wildlife-centered holiday events and free or low-cost activities from Halloween though the New Year. See what holiday treats are planned at a wildlife refuge near you. Check here for added listings as the holidays draw closer.


Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
Work off those Christmas-season calories by cutting your own tree at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

  • Moosehorn Refuge lets visitors cut two balsam fir or pine trees per person, starting at the end of November. Without the public harvest, the trees would have to be cut to maintain road visibility. Pick up a free permit from the refuge office before you cut.
  • Rydell Refuge has set aside two days for Christmas tree cutting: Saturday, December 1 and Sunday, December 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Kenai Refuge lets visitors cut one tree by hand per family between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No fees or permits are required.

Holiday Nature Crafts
Saturday, December 1, 9 a.m. to noon — Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, MS 
Get in the holiday spirit by making evergreen swags, ornaments and birdfeeders with natural materials that the refuge provides or that you have collected to share with others. 

Wildlife Holiday Bazaar
Saturday, December 1, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
Shop for wild and not-so-wild new and gently use treasures at the National Wildlife Visitor Center. Find unique gifts and support the refuge and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Make origami ornaments and hand-crafted cards. For more information:

Winter Open House
Saturday, December 1, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. —  Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, WI
Enjoy free nature crafts, wildlife touch table, nature scavenger hunt, music, snacks, and discounts at the Coot's Corner Bookstore.

Holiday Open House
Thursday December 6, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ─ Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, IL
Celebrate the holiday season with staff from the Cache River Wetlands Joint Venture.

Holiday Howl
Saturday, December 8, 4 to 6 p.m. — Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC
Give yourself a holiday treat and hear endangered red wolves in the wild. See a short video about the wolves and hear them howl.

Anniversary Open House
Saturday, December 8, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ─ Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, MD 
Help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the refuge.

Christmas on Chesser Island
Saturday, December 8, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. — Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, GA
Celebrate the holiday season at the Chesser Island Homestead with a hayride, luminaries, caroling and live music. Tour a swamp homestead adorned with traditional homemade decorations.

Christmas Bird Count
Friday, December 14, 2012 – Saturday, January 5, 2013
Scores of refuges will take part in the National Audubon Society’s 113th annual holiday season bird count, one of the country’s longest-running citizen science projects. Join tens of thousands of volunteers in counting birds and furthering bird conservation. To find a bird count near you, check the righthand side of this page starting in mid November.

Participating refuges and event dates include:

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, MO − Saturday, December 15, 8 a.m. ­to 3 p.m.

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, MD − Sunday, December 16, all day   
Counting teams will cover about a third of Kent County on this day, including the refuge. Registration is required: 410-778-9568. 

Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, IL − Monday, December 17, 6 a.m. to sunset ­

Santee National Wildlife Refuge, SC  − Saturday, December 22, all day  

Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, TX − Thursday, December 27, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Birdwatchers of all levels are welcome. Meet at the Valero Gas station at the intersection of Hwy 105 and Hwy 321, about 6 miles southeast of Cleveland. Some folks will bird the “bottoms” so bring a sack lunch, rubber knee boots and other appropriate outdoor clothing. A wrap-up dinner will be held at the Plantation restaurant in Cleveland.

Take a Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride in Elk Country  
Monday, December 17 through Saturday, April 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Christmas — National Elk Refuge, WY
Hour-long horse-drawn sleigh rides, led by Double H Bar, Inc., have a bonus:  a close-up view of the refuge’s great elk herds. Tickets ($18 adults; $14 ages 5-12; under age 5 free) are sold at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center. Learn more about the rides here

Last updated: November 13, 2012