Newsroom Midwest Region

Winter adventures are waiting for you at a national wildlife refuge

November 21, 2018

A fresh blanket of snow covers the Amnicon River in Wisconsin. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.
A fresh blanket of snow covers the Amnicon River in Wisconsin. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

Don’t let the cold weather keep you indoors this winter. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know how much you love to hike, bike and paddle across America’s national wildlife refuges and winter is a great time to get out and explore. Here are a few fun ways to get outside in the colder months and see some amazing sights! Check it out and start planning your trip.

Auto touring

River otter family along a snowy wetland. Photo courtesy of Kenny Bahr.
River otter family along a snowy wetland. Photo courtesy of Kenny Bahr.

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful spot for birding and all sorts of other wildlife watching. A great way to look for cool sightings is from the comfort of your car! Open year round, the refuge maintains a 10-mile auto tour route and network of hiking trails. In the winter months, you’re likely to see large numbers of visiting eagles. The peak of winter migration hits the refuge in December, with as many as 300 immature and adult bald eagles and the auto tour route is a great place to check them out. You might also catch a glimpse of overwintering snow geese, a secretive bobcat or playful otters.

Loess Bluffs was established on August 23, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and includes almost 7,500 acres of wetlands, grasslands and forests that run along the eastern edge of the Missouri River floodplain. Overlooking the refuge from the east, the loess bluffs habitat is a geological formation of fine silt deposited after the last glacial period. These unique hills stretch from about 30 miles south of St. Joseph, Missouri, to extreme northern Iowa.

Learn more about Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.

Bug-free hiking

Red-bellied woodpecker in tree. Photo courtesy of Jen Goellnitz.
Red-bellied woodpecker in tree. Photo courtesy of Jen Goellnitz/Creative Commons.

Winter is the best time to hike at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, because temperatures are cooler and you won’t have to fend off ticks and mosquitoes. Check out the Little Muddy Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail of Discovery along the Missouri River in central, Missouri. Watch for tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees and red-bellied woodpeckers as you walk this one-mile trail to the Missouri River. Keep an eye out for bald eagles flying overhead and if the weather is cold enough, you may even see pancake ice floating down the Missouri River. These round formations happen as the edges of flat ice are rounded off from bumping into each other.

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Missouri encompasses more than 17,000-acres of riverine habitat along the Missouri River and is home to beaver, turkey and all sorts of migrating songbirds like the American redstart. The Missouri River was nicknamed the “Big Muddy,” because it ran murky with sediments it carried. This dynamic river system has been carving through its floodplain and creating side channels, wetlands and oxbow lakes since the retreating of the glaciers more than 10,000 years ago.  

Learn more about Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Ice fishing

Ice fishing on Tamarac Lake. Photo courtesy of Caleb Svendsgaard.
Ice fishing on Tamarac Lake. Photo courtesy of Caleb Svendsgaard.

Winter in Minnesota wouldn’t be complete without ice fishing. Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge offers a pristine ice fishing experience on Tamarac, Pine, Two Island and Wauboose lakes. Anglers catch walleye, northern pike and bass through the winter months. In order to keep the ice fishing experience pristine, no vehicles are allowed on the ice and shelters must be removed at the end of each day.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in 1938 as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The landscape is characterized by rolling, forested hills interspersed with shallow lakes, rivers and marshes. Towering red and white pine intermingle with aspens, majestic old growth forests, jack pine barrens and tamarack-spruce bogs.

Learn more about Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

Skiing and snowshoeing

Snowshoeing among the snowy pines. Photo courtesy of Jack Cook.
Snowshoeing among the snowy pines. Photo courtesy of Jack Cook.

Traditional winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing are alive and well at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re adventurous, you can break trail and head into the wilderness, backcountry or even ski the Marshland Wildlife Drive. Looking for a groomed nordic ski experience? Try the Northern Hardwoods Trail which is great for both skiers and snowshoers alike. We just ask that you refrain from stepping in the groomed ski trail tracks if you are not wearing skis. Leashed dogs are welcome to participate in winter sports anywhere except the groomed trails.

Even though it is remote, this beautiful refuge on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is both welcoming and wild. Seney was established in 1935 and is located in the east-central portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Halfway between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, the refuge includes Seney Wilderness Area.

Learn more about Seney National Wildlife Refuge.

Winter birding

Tundra swans on river. Courtesy of Herbert Lange/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Tundra swans on river. Courtesy of Herbert Lange/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The Brownsville Overlook of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Minnesota is a hotspot for winter birding. All fall and winter, people come to witness a wildlife spectacle along the river as thousands of overwintering waterfowl reach the open water of the river. Usually by mid-November migrating tundra swans blanket the river with a sea of white. Listening to the song of the swans echo off the bluffs is an experience not to be missed.

The waters of this mighty river and the lands that edge it run south through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Established in 1924 as a refuge for fish, wildlife and as a breeding ground for migratory birds, this refuge encompasses one of the largest blocks of floodplain habitat in the lower 48 states.

Learn more about Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.