What is a 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.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is one of more than 560 units within the wildlife refuge system. National wildlife refuges are federally managed conservation areas that protect native species dependent on particular habitats found at that location. This means that visiting a national wildlife refuge can feel different than a park or other outdoor recreation site. At a refuge, wildlife come first. Therefore, certain activities and areas are restricted to ensure that wildlife have the best possible chance not just to survive, but to thrive. Refuge employees use science-based research to manage refuge lands and ensure a balanced conservation approach that enables wildlife and people to enjoy these very special places. 

Do I have to pay to visit the refuge?

Yes, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge charges an entry fee. There is a daily fee of $5 per car, or $2 per walker or biker. Only cash or checks are accepted at the refuge gatehouse. A variety of passes are also accepted at the gatehouse. A complete list can be found by visiting the main page of our website, and scrolling down to the heading 'Pass Types & Fees.'

How do I purchase an annual or lifetime pass?

Passes can be purchased in person at the refuge gatehouse, and the visitor center located at 6 Plum Island Turnpike. Due to variability in staffing, we recommend you call ahead to ensure someone is available to sell you a pass. Only cash or checks are accepted at both locations. Many passes can be purchased online through RecAccess, USGS, and MassWildlife.

What if I want to hunt, fish, shellfish, forage, or beach comb?

Hunting, fishing, shellfishing, and foraging are excellent ways to recreate at the refuge, provided you have the proper permits. You can learn more about available opportunities and how to acquire necessary permits by visiting the linked pages, or contacting the refuge at parkerriver@fws.gov.

Unless you hold a special refuge permit, removal of natural items - including plants, animals, shells, rocks, driftwood, and bones - is prohibited. While you are welcome to walk the beach in search of interesting artifacts, you may not collect or take anything you find home. Thank you for helping us keep the wildlife refuge wild.

When are the best times to visit the refuge?

Depends on what you want to do! Spring migration brings hordes of song birds and warblers through the refuge from late April through early June. Fall migration brings vibrant foliage, migrating shorebirds and ducks, and opportunities for berry picking as well as waterfowl and deer hunting (permits required). Winter is an excellent time to catch a glimpse of owls, including barred owls, snowy owls, and short-eared owls. Summer is the busiest season at the refuge, providing an excellent opportunity to view a menagerie of wildlife, surf fish, shellfish, bike, hike, and enjoy the refuge beach.

I came all this way and the refuge is closed! Now what?

The refuge frequently closes for vehicle capacity during the busy summer months. The best way to avoid closures is to call ahead, or visit during non-peak times. This includes weekdays or weekends before 10am or after 3pm. Bikers and walkers are allowed to enter the refuge when it is closed for vehicle capacity, another great way to avoid closures!

A list of alternate recreation areas and beaches, including many that are dog-friendly, can be found here.

Why is so much of the beach closed in the summer?

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge provides critical feeding, breeding, and nesting habitat for piping plovers. Piping plovers are a federally threatened species of shorebird that need our help to rebound. The majority of the refuge beaches are closed from April 1st into August to protect nesting plovers. Plover nests, and chicks, are small and hard to see in the sand. This makes them extremely vulnerable to human disturbance. Beaches gradually reopen as chicks fledge during the later summer months.

You can visit our beach outreach program at Lot 1 during the summer to learn more about sharing the shore with wildlife. If you are interested in volunteering to help protect the piping plovers, please e-mail us at parkerriver@fws.gov.

What parts of the refuge are accessible to people with mobility constraints?

Accessibility at the refuge is a top priority. If you or someone in your party require an accommodation, please contact the refuge headquarters at parkerriver@fws.gov. A beach wheelchair is available upon request, and wheelchair accessible locations include:

  • Hellcat Interpretive Trail (boardwalk)
  • Pines Trail (crushed stone & earth)
  • Lot 1 beach overlook (boardwalk)
  • Lot 3 beach overlook (boardwalk)
  • Lot 7 beach overlook (boardwalk)
  • Salt Pannes (paved pulled off)
  • North Pool Overlook (unpaved lot)
  • Bill Forward Blind (earth & boardwalk)

The refuge accessibility guide, including detailed information about trails and refuge facilities, can be found here.

Can I bring my dog to the refuge?

No, although we love our furry friends too, dogs and other pets are never allowed at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife who call the refuge home cannot distinguish between a friendly dog and a predator. This causes our protected wildlife and birds to flee nesting, burrowing, feeding, and resting sites, using up critical energy intended for survival and raising their young. Even the lingering scent of a dog can signal the presence of a predator long after the dog is gone. Dogs and other pets can carry diseases that threaten the refuge's wildlife population.

A list of alternate recreation areas and beaches, including many that are dog-friendly, can be found here.

What about service animals?

Service animals are allowed, but must be on leash control at all times. The definition of a service animal is any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The crime deterrence effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition. Emotional support, therapy, or comfort animals do not qualify or meet the definition of a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Are ceremonies allowed at the refuge?

Ceremonies, including weddings and memorials, are allowed on the refuge provided all refuge conditions and regulations are met. Failure to comply with refuge rules regarding special events may result in being asked to relocate, leave, or assessed a fine. Ashes may be spread on the refuge only with pre-approval by the Refuge Project Leader, but we do not allow the placement of memorials. Rules and regulations for ceremonies can be found here.

Can I place a memorial for a loved one?

We know the refuge is a special place to so many people, and a source of comfort to friends and families who have lost loved ones. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of requests, we do not allow members of the public to place plaques, benches, or other memorial items on the refuge. Exceptions are made for long time refuge staff, volunteers, and Friends members who have significantly contributed to the conservation of Plum Island, and must be approved by the refuge by e-mailing parkerriver@fws.gov.

I love it here! How can I volunteer or get a job at the refuge?

We love it here too! You can learn more about volunteer and employment opportunities by visiting the 'Get Involved' page on our website, or e-mailing the refuge at parkerriver@fws.gov.