Visit Us

National wildlife refuges offer us all a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings. Spending time outdoors is good for both our spirit and health, nourishes the imagination, and fuels curiosity and awe. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is truly an unique gem situated on the cusp between the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and the southwestern corner of the Great Plains, attracting more than 26,000 lesser sandhill cranes, more than 50,000 snow geese and ducks during fall migration, as well as the wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds such as great blue herons, white faced ibis, snowy plovers, least terns, black-necked stilts, and avocets, all amid a backdrop of red-rimmed bluffs running along the Pecos River.  

More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (odonates) have been documented on the refuge. The refuge is home to what is considered one of the most diverse populations of odonates in North America. Most of the dragonflies can be seen during the summer months, flitting about and dipping their eggs into the water.  

Driving Directions

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located 7 miles northeast of Roswell, in Chaves County, New Mexico.

The coordinates are 33.456038, -104.401680. The elevation level at the refuge is 3,526 feet. 

From Roswell (south side):

Take US 380 (Second Street) east about three miles to Red Bridge Road. Follow Red Bridge Road north to Pine Lodge Road and travel east to the refuge entrance gate. 

From Roswell (north side):

Take US 285 (Main Street) north to Pine Lodge Road. Take Pine Lodge east about 6 miles to the refuge entrance.

Fees

There is no charge to visit.

Restrooms

Restrooms are available inside the Visitor Center during business hours. Primitive toilets are located on the southwest portion of the refuge Wildlife Drive at the Desert Upland Trailhead.

Points of Interest

Let our staff and volunteers at the visitor center help you plan your visit! This is a great starting point for visitors to become more familiar with the refuge and the wildlife that live here. Visitors can watch a 20-minute refuge orientation video, see live protected fish on display, browse nature and wildlife exhibits, and obtain maps and brochures. While there, visit the Friends of Bitter Lake Nature Shop for field guides, t-shirts, jewelry, and other educational items. 

What to Do

If you have 15-minutes: 

  • Watch the refuge orientation video in the refuge auditorium or step out onto our viewing deck at the visitor center and look over the wetlands and Comanche Bluff that line the Pecos River.  

If you have one hour:

  • Check out the 6.5 mile Wildlife Drive. You will see moist soil units, wetlands, slow moving springs, shrubs, and grasslands. Feel free to stop and hike one of our six trails adjacent to the visitor center and Wildlife Drive!  

If you have half a day or more: 

  • In addition to stopping at the visitor center, driving around on the Wildlife Drive and hiking the trails, bicycle riding is permitted on the wildlife drive or the refuge’s four-mile (round trip) bike trail. Visitors can also stop at Pajáro Bird Blind, a permanent photography and birdwatching blind located off the Wildlife Drive on the southeast side, for a sneak peek at some wading or dabbling birds that may be present in the wetland unit.  

Know Before You Go

We recommend visitors to bring plenty of water to drink, sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellant. We suggest for visitors to plan for the weather and dress accordingly and to wear comfortable walking shoes if you walk the trails. Some visitors bring their own hiking sticks or trekking poles for the trails. It is always a treat to bring your own binoculars or camera to capture the sights you may see!  

Visitor Tips

There is wildlife year-round at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Popular times of the year for visitors to see wildlife at the refuge is during fall migration, which typically starts in September and continues through spring migration in May. The sandhill cranes start migrating and showing up at the refuge in October and continue through December, with the peak around Thanksgiving. The neotropical songbirds start migrating through in the spring around March and April and continue through May. Snowy plovers, least terns and other shorebirds and wading birds are seen throughout the summer. Dragonflies and damselflies are seen throughout the summer through September, with the peak in July and August. Please watch for wildlife crossing the road and avoid them.  

Activities

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. Keep your eyes peeled, relax, and enjoy your national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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Trails

Butterfly Trail  

Open Season:  Open year-round from sunrise to sunset. 

Length:  0.25 mile  

Location of trail: Near the Visitor Center. Trailhead starts by the end of the Visitor Center parking lot or by the steps north of the Visitor Center, and loops down to the observation deck adjacent to a wetland.  

Surface: A mix of milled asphalt near the parking lot and gradual wooden steps (no railing) and grass down below. Observation deck, partial ADA compliance. 

Difficulty:  Easy 

Learn about monarch butterflies and landscaping to attract these beautiful insects. This is a perfect location to view native vegetation to the Chihuahuan Desert, including cacti, wildflowers, and shrubs. The trail loops down to an observation deck where you can view the wetland below the Visitor Center. You can see dragonflies dipping into the water or small native fish darting through the spring waters. Keep an eye out for the quiet, elusive sora rail.  

Oxbow Trail 

Open Season: During fall migration starting October 15th through the end of February, this trail is closed in the mornings on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays until 1:00 p.m. Otherwise, it is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. 

Length: 2 miles 

Location of trail: Located 4 miles from the Visitor Center, southeast on the Wildlife Drive. 

Surface Grass, dirt, and sand 

Difficulty: Easy 

This trail encircles an old oxbow that was disconnected from the Pecos River. It is an excellent location to watch for waterfowl and wading birds. During fall migration, the trail runs along a wetland that is flooded, where more birds can be spotted. There are two benches available to sit and rest.  

Desert Upland Trail 

Open Season: Open year-round from sunrise to sunset. 

Length: 1 mile 

Location of trail: Located 3 miles from the Visitor Center, southwest on the Wildlife Drive.  

Surface Grass and dirt, slightly uphill 

Difficulty: Easy 

Visitors can walk through an area that hosts an assortment of native desert plant species. Shrubs and thicket areas provide excellent quail, pyrrhuloxia, and songbird viewing. 

Dragonfly Trail 

Open Season: Open year-round from sunrise to sunset.  

Length: 0.25 mile 

Location of trail: Less than one mile south of the Visitor Center on the Wildlife Drive. 

Surface Grass and dirt 

Difficulty: Easy  

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is famous for supporting one of the most diverse populations of dragonflies and damselflies in North America. You can enjoy dragonfly watching on this trail.  

Pajáro Bird Blind 

Open Season: Open year-round from sunrise to sunset.  

Length: 0.2 miles 

Location of trail: It is on the east side of the Wildlife Drive 

Surface: Concrete with an aluminum ramp 

Difficulty: Easy  

Bring your binoculars or camera and sit in an enclosed viewing blind and watch for different species of shorebirds and waterfowl preen or feed in the wetland.  

 

Rules and Policies

There are a lot of fun and interesting things to do on the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Keep in mind, the refuge is managed for the benefit of wildlife. Please follow the refuge’s rules and regulations while on the public trails. These directives are for the safety of wildlife and you! Be safe and have fun! 

Locations

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge
4200 East Pine Lodge Road Roswell, NM 88201-9220
Driving Directions

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located 7 miles northeast of Roswell, in Chaves County, New Mexico.  

From Roswell (south side), take US 380 (Second Street) east about three miles to Red Bridge Road. Follow Red Bridge Road north to Pine Lodge Road and travel east to the refuge entrance gate.  

From Roswell (north side), take US 285 (Main Street) north to Pine Lodge Road. Take Pine Lodge east about 6 miles to the refuge entrance.  

The coordinates are 33.456038, -104.401680. The elevation level at the refuge is 3,526 feet. 

Hours
Visitor Center Hours
Mon - Fri (First Saturday of June through August 31)
9 am - 4 pm
Mon - Sat (First Saturday of September through First Saturday of June)
9 am - 4 pm
Auto Tour
Daily
Sunrise - Sunset
Hiking Trails
Daily
Sunrise - Sunset