Visitor Activities

Aerial view of the Visitor Center in fall. Photo by USFWS

A great place to start your visit is our Headquarters Visitors Center. Displays and exhibits focus on the wildlife and history of the refuge. Refuge staff can answer questions to make your visit safe and more enjoyable. Open Monday-Friday 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, closed holidays. The Refuge is open during daylight hours every day.




  • Hunting

    White-tailed deer buck. L. Hubers/USFWS

    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 appreciation 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.

    Archery, muzzleloader, and rifle deer hunting permits are issued for Waubay through the South Dakota lottery for special seasons. No other hunting is allowed on the Refuge.  For more information contact the Refuge manager or SD Game, Fish & Parks.  Click on this link for current refuge hunting regulations. 

  • Fishing

    Ice fishing at Waubay NWR. L. Hubers/USFWS

    In addition to the conservation of wildlife and their habitats, the Refuge System offers a wide variety of quality fishing opportunities.  Every year, about 7 million anglers visit National Wildlife Refuges, where knowledgeable staff and volunteers help them have a wonderful fishing experience.

    Fishing opportunities are available on more than 270 National Wildlife Refuges.  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 Refuges.

    Fishing at Waubay is restricted to winter months to protect breeding waterfowl. Walk-in ice-fishing is allowed from December after refuge deer seasons to ice-out with a valid South Dakota fishing license. Walleye, perch, and northern pike are popular game fish. You can pick up current ice fishing regulations when you arrive on the Refuge or follow the link above. Please check a current sunrise/sunset table for allowable times or check postings at  Refuge kiosks or Headquarters.

    State fishing regulations apply to Refuge waters. Consult the South Dakota Fishing Handbook for species limits and fishing regulations.

  • Wildlife Viewing

    Visitors climbing stairs of the tower. L. Hubers/USFWS

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

    Headquarters Hiking Trails - About 1.5 miles of trails now encircle the island around Headquarters.  Trails vary in length from less than 400 feet to about 1 mile long. They wind through forests of bur oak, basswood, and green ash, past wetlands, a restored prairie, and follow the lake shore. You'll have a chance to see a variety of songbirds, waterfowl, and perhaps spy a white-tailed deer. The boardwalk and a portion Wood Duck Way are accessible for all visitors.  The Ed Fromelt Memorial Fund was used to develop trail signs, maps, and interpretive pamphlets.

    Observation Tower - Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's, this 110-foot tower offers stunning views of Refuge lakes and the surrounding area.

    Spring Lake Overlook Trail - This short trail to the overlook offers a panorama of four different habitats. Prairie wildflowers paint the trail sides with a constantly changing palette of colors.

    Wildlife Observation - Spring (mid-April – May) and fall (Sep-Oct) migration are the peak times to observe large varieties and concentrations of birds. Waubay NWR offers novice and experienced birders opportunities to see wetland, woodland, and grassland species. Visitors can borrow binoculars, a spotting scope or field guides while they are visiting the Refuge.  Check Seasons of Wildlife or contact the Refuge for a current bird list for more detailed information.  

  • Interpretation

    Interpretive panel at the Visitor Center. L. Hubers/USFWS

    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.

    At Waubay, interpretive exhibits are located in the Visitors Center as well as at outdoor kiosks.  There are also interpretive signs on Pearly-Eye Path and Wood Duck Way. A second grade class from Webster Elementary even tried their hand at interpreting part of Bur Oak Boulevard.  Pick up a Kid's Guide Trail brochure to see what they found.

  • Environmental Education

    Refuge employee teaching boys about water.Photo by USFWS

    National Wildlife Refuges serve many purposes, and one of our most important roles is as outdoor classrooms to teach about wildlife and natural resources.  Many Refuges offer environmental education programs for a variety of audiences.  Refuges provide unique and exciting outdoor environments – excellent locations for hands-on learning activities.  

    Every year Waubay NWR hosts about 200 first, second, and third graders from area schools for a day of learning we call 1-2-3 to the Refuge. This event was started in 2000 so the first grade students that attended back then have now graduated and hopefully continue to spend time outdoors.

    Is your school, youth, environmental or other group interested in learning more about the wildlife, plants, habitats and ecology of your National Wildlife Refuge?  Contact or visit Waubay to check on program availability and reservation policies.  Refuges are wild places, and we want to teach you more about them!

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  • Photography

    Regal fritillary butterfly on coneflower. L. Hubers/USFWS

    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.  

    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, photo blinds, viewing areas, and tour routes.  

    At Waubay great photography can happen almost anywhere on the trails or roads.  Photographers should take care when stopping on roads and should not park in front of gates or access areas.  Commercial photography requires a Special Use Permit.

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