Visitor Activities


One of the main missions of Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Refuge system as a whole, is to provide the public with safe, quality wildlife-dependent recreational and educational opportunities that focus on the wildlife and the environment in which they live.

  • Hunting


    Hunting is an important wildlife management tool that we recognize as a healthy, traditional outdoor pastime, deeply rooted in America’s heritage.  Hunting can instill a unique understanding and appreciate of wildlife, their behavior, and their habitat needs.

    As practiced on refuges, hunting, trapping and fishing do not pose a threat to wildlife populations, and in some instances are necessary for sound wildlife management.  For example, because their natural predators are gone, deer populations will often grow too large for the refuge habitat to support.

    Hunting programs can promote understanding and appreciation of natural resources and their management on lands and waters in the Refuge System.

    To find out more about hunting opportunities, seasons and regulations on Mackay Island, contact the refuge manager.

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  • Fishing


    In addition to the conservation of wildlife and habitat, the Refuge System offers a wide variety of quality fishing opportunities.  Fishing programs promote understanding and appreciation of natural resources and their management on all lands and waters in the Refuge System.  Every year, about 7 million anglers visit national wildlife refuges, where knowledgeable staff and thousands of volunteers help them have a wonderful fishing experience.

    Quality fishing opportunities are available on more than 270 national wildlife refuges.  Visitors can experience virtually type of sport fishing on the continent.  From inconnu and grayling in remote Alaska, to snook hovering by mangroves in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, national wildlife refuges offer anglers adventure and diversity.

    For a great place to reconnect with a favorite childhood activity or to try it for the first time, make plans to fish at a national wildlife refuge soon.  Find more information with our on-line Guide to Fishing on National Wildlife Refuge.

    Fishing is allowed from March 15-October 14 unless otherwise stated.

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  • Boating


    Boating is allowed on refuge waters from March 15 to October 14. The Great Marsh provides an excellent area for canoeing and kayaking. A small boat ramp, located near the dike gate on Mackay Island Road, is also available for access into the marshes.

  • Hiking


    Hiking can be enjoyed year-round from certain areas adjacent to the Marsh Causeway (SR615). Hiking is allowed March 15-October 14 unless otherwise stated.

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  • Wildlife Viewing


    If you enjoy getting outdoors and looking for wildlife, consider a visit to your nearest national wildlife refuge!  From birding to whale watching, from viewing speedy pronghorn antelope or slow-moving box turtles, wildlife observation is the most popular activity for refuge visitors.

    From every state and all parts of the globe, about 40 million people visit each year, especially for the chance to see concentrations of wildlife and birds.  The National Wildlife Refuge System’s extensive trail system, boardwalks, observation decks, hunting and photography blinds, fishing piers and boat launches encourage visitors to discover America’s best wildlife spectacles.  For more information about wildlife observation opportunities at Mackay Island NWR, contact

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  • Interpretation


    Refuge System interpretation programs provide opportunities for visitors to make their own connections to the natural world.  From self-guided walks to ranger-led programs, many national wildlife refuges help visitors learn more about the wildlife and habitat behind the landscapes.

    In addition to staff and volunteers presenting programs to audiences, refuges use a variety of exhibits, signs, brochures, and electronic media to communicate natural history stories to visitors.  Printed and virtual information is often available on many topics, including plants and animals, seasonal migrations, habitats, refuge management strategies, and endangered species.

    Through Refuge System interpretation programs, you can learn why nearly all of the critically endangered Whooping Cranes spend the winter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, about the beneficial role of wildfire to encourage native vegetation to grow at Necedah Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, and thousands of other interesting and informative stories.

    Wildlife interpretive displays and literature, to help the visitor better understand the refuge and its objectives, may be found at the refuge Visitor Contact Station/Office, the Kuralt Trail Overlook, the Mackay Island Road entrance, and the Great Marsh Trail.

  • Environmental Education


    The refuge does not have a developed environmental education program. Staff has taken groups out on the refuge to teach them about the marsh ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabit the marsh.  There are currently about 100 students that use the refuge annually.  Organized tours and programs are available upon request. If you are interested please contact the refuge office for more information.  

    In addition, the refuge has developed a 0.3-mile-long interpretive trail, located off the south side of North Carolina Highway 615. At the head of the trail is an interpretive kiosk. There are also interpretative kiosks at the wildlife observation platform on the north side of North Carolina Highway 615 and along Knotts Island Road on the refuge. The wildlife observation platform and kiosk are part of the Kuralt Trail system that connects the eleven national wildlife refuges in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. 

  • Photography


    Perhaps the fastest growing activity on national wildlife refuges in the past ten years has been wildlife photography.  That’s not surprising – the digital camera population explosion and cell phones with ever-improving picture-taking abilities are increasing the number of nature photographers at a rapid rate.  You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or have any experience to get started.  A small camera or basic cell phone will do just fine for most visitors.

    Nearly 12 million people visit outdoor areas each year to photograph wildlife, and national wildlife refuges naturally are at the top of the list.  Refuges provide enhanced opportunities to photograph wildlife in natural habitats by providing platforms, brochures, interpreters, viewing areas, and tour routes.  Wildlife photography is a high-priority activity in the Refuge System.  We welcome beginning and expert photographers alike to record their outdoor adventures on film, memory card or internal hard drive!