Directions to Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge: From the town of Monte Vista, drive south on State Hwy 15 (Gunbarrel Road) for 6 miles to the entrance of the Refuge. The small office and visitor contact station at the Refuge is located at the start of the Wildlife Drive. The visitor contact station is operated by volunteers and may not be open on a regular schedule. All brochures and refuge information will be posted in the kiosk located near the entrance of the Wildlife Drive.
Location and Contact Information
Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is located in the San Luis Valley, a high mountain basin located in south-central Colorado. It’s one of three national wildlife refuges in the Valley that provides crucial feeding, resting, and breeding habitat for over 200 bird species and other wildlife. Alamosa and Monte Vista Refuges are located at the south-central end of the Valley and Baca Refuge is located at the north end.
The Valley, sitting at 7,800 feet, extends over 100 miles from north to south and 50 miles from east to west. Three mountain ranges surround the Valley – the Sangre de Christo to the east, the San Juan to the west, and the Saguache to the north. At sunset, the highest peaks of the Sangre de Christo range take on a blood red glow which inspired the Spanish explorers to name them after the “Blood of Christ.”
The surrounding mountains feed the arid valley with precious surface water and replenish an expansive underground reservoir. The mountain snow melt and artesian wells provide needed water to the agricultural community and to the rivers, creeks, and wetlands that thread across the valley floor.
The Refuge’s wetlands are artificially made and intensively managed to provide habitat for a variety of waterfowl and other water birds. Water from irrigation canals and wells maintain this important wetland habitat. Mallards, pintails, teal, and Canada geese are common, as are American avocets, killdeer, white-faced ibis, egrets, and herons.
This Refuge is one of over 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network of lands set aside and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically for wildlife. The Refuge System is a living heritage, conserving wildlife and habitat for people today and generations to come.
What We Do
Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It drives everything on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and waters managed within the Refuge System, from the purposes for which a is established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Using conservation best practices, the Refuge System manages Service lands and waters to help ensure the survival of native wildlife species. Refuges deploy a host of scientifically sound management tools to address biological challenges. These tools span active water management to wilderness character monitoring, all aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach to benefit both wildlife and people.
Each year, thousands of Sandhill Cranes descend upon the wetlands and agricultural fields of the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge during their biannual migration to rest and fuel up for the next leg of their journey. During the spring migration, the refuge will host ninety-five percent, 18,000-21,000, of the Rocky Mountain population of the Greater Sandhill Cranes and another 5,000-6,000 Lesser Sandhill Cranes. This stop-over at the Monte Vista Refuge is critical for the cranes during their migration. At this time of year, most food sources and quality crane habitat are either under snow or are frozen. However, on the refuge, wetlands are filled, and grain fields are mowed to provide the cranes the two elements needed for their migration… food and roosting cover. The peak migration period of cranes on the Monte Vista Refuge is around the first week of March and again around the second week of October.