Facility Rules and Policies
The refuge is known for providing great opportunities for waterfowl hunting, fishing and wildlife observation. Refuge hunting and fishing seasons generally follow state seasons and regulations. To conserve this special place and safeguard the experience for all, please refer to specific rules and policies before you visit. Areas throughout the refuge are designated as closed or restricted use areas, usually fall to spring, to protect migrating waterfowl or for public safety. These areas are marked with orange-topped special regulation signs and list the restrictions and effective dates or seasons. Please contact the refuge if you have questions.
Welcome to Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Established in 1924, the 240,000-acre refuge provides for the needs of fish, wildlife and millions of annual visitors. To conserve this special place and safeguard the experience for all, we ask you to observe these regulations.
Persons under 21 may not possess or use alcohol in accordance with state laws. Entering or remaining on the refuge when under the influence of alcohol, to a degree that may endanger oneself or other persons or property or unreasonably annoy persons in the vicinity, is prohibited. Providing alcohol to minors is prohibited. Use or possession of alcoholic beverages while hunting is prohibited.
Searching for or removing objects of antiquity, such as arrowheads, is prohibited.
Boats may not be moored, beached or stored on the refuge without being used at least once every 24 hours. Mooring within 200 feet of refuge boat landings is prohibited. Boats moored in violation may be impounded at the owner’s expense.
Collecting for sale or barter is prohibited. Collecting edible fruits, nuts, or mushrooms for personal use is allowed with a limit of 2 gallons per person, per day. Wild rice harvest is prohibited. Cutting or removing plants or their parts for ornamental use is prohibited unless specifically authorized by permit. Collecting of plant and animal specimens, natural objects, rocks, stones or minerals is also prohibited. The digging of plants and the harvesting of aquatic plants is also prohibited. Shed deer antlers may be collected for personal use.
Unreasonably disturbing other visitors by the inconsiderate operation or use of any audio devices, power equipment or lighting devices, as well as interfering with, disturbing or molesting other visitors engaged in authorized activities on the refuge, is prohibited.
No dogs are allowed to disturb or endanger wildlife or people while on the refuge. All dogs while on the refuge must be under the control of their owners and handlers at all times or on a leash. No dogs are allowed to roam. All dogs must be on a leash when on hiking trails or other areas so posted. Working a dog in refuge waters by tossing a retrieval dummy or other object for out-and-back exercise is allowed. Owners and handlers of dogs are also responsible for disposal of dog droppings on refuge public use concentration areas such as trails, sandbars and boat landings. Field trials, as well as commercial or professional dog training activities and other unconfined domestic animals are prohibited on the refuge. Horses and all other domestic animals are prohibited unless confined in a vehicle, boat, trailer, kennel or other container.
We prohibit the discharging of firearms, including dog training pistols and dummy launchers, air guns or any other weapons on the refuge. Licensed hunters or trappers who are engaged in authorized activities during established seasons, in accordance with federal, state and local regulations are exempt. Target practice is prohibited.
Possession or use of fireworks or explosives is not allowed on the refuge.
Fishing is allowed in accordance with state and federal regulations. Ice fishing shelters may be placed and used in accordance with state regulations.
Please consider using non-lead alternatives for fishing tackle. Lead is a toxic metal that effects the nervous and reproductive system of mammals and birds. Help the refuge wildlife by switching to lead-free tackle.
The use or possession of glass food and beverage containers on lands within the refuge is prohibited. Vehicles and watercraft are exempt.
A refuge permit is required to hold public meetings, assemblies, demonstrations, parties, organized group events and other public gatherings.
Portions of the refuge are open to hunting and trapping in accordance with federal, state and local regulations with the most restrictive regulation applying on the refuge. Hunting is prohibited from March 16 through August 31, except spring wild turkey seasons and squirrel hunting, on the Illinois portion of the refuge. Please reference to the refuge hunting brochure for more details.
The construction or storage of private structures is not allowed on the refuge without a special use permit. Please reference to the refuge hunting brochure for more details about temporary hunting blinds.
Cutting, removing or damaging any tree or other vegetation is prohibited without a permit. Nails, screws or other hardware may not be attached to trees. Cutting willow, up to a diameter of two inches, for trap stakes, commercial fishing gear and hunting blinds on the refuge is allowed. Dead wood on the ground may be cut and used for campfires on the refuge.
All vehicle use on or across refuge lands is prohibited, except on designated routes of travel or on the ice over navigable waters that are accessed from boat landings. Parking beyond vehicle control barriers or on grass or other vegetation is prohibited. Vehicles are not allowed to obstruct or impede any road, trail, fire lane, boat ramp, access gate or other facility. Parking in a manner to create a safety hazard or endanger any person, property or environmental feature is prohibited. Any vehicles left parked in violation may be impounded at the owner’s expense.
- Camping is defined as erecting a tent or shelter of natural or synthetic material, preparing a sleeping bag or other bedding material for use, parking of a motor vehicle or mooring or anchoring of a vessel, for the apparent purpose of overnight occupancy. Camping is also defined as occupying or leaving personal property, including boats or other craft, at a site anytime between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.
- Camping on land or on boats at any one site on the refuge for a period longer than 14 days, during any 30-consecutive-day period is prohibited.
- After 14 days, you must move all persons, property, equipment and boats to a new site located at least 0.5 mile away from the previous site. Campsites must be occupied daily.
- Leaving tents, camping equipment or other property unattended at any site for more than 24 hours is prohibited.
- Any property left unattended in violation may be impounded at the owner’s expense. If tables, fireplaces or other facilities are erected, they must be removed before departure.
- Camping within 200 feet of refuge boat landings, access areas, parking lots, structures, roads, trails or other facilities is prohibited.
- During waterfowl hunting seasons, camping is prohibited within areas posted Area Closed or No Hunting Zone or on any sites not clearly visible from the main commercial navigation channel.
Fires are allowed only in conjunction with camping, day use activities or on the ice while ice fishing using only dead wood on the ground or materials brought onto the refuge such as charcoal or firewood. For more information, please refer to the firewood section below. Any unused firewood brought onto the refuge must be removed upon departure due to threat of invasive insects. Building, attending, maintaining or using any fire without sufficient clearance from flammable materials adequate to prevent its escape is not allowed. Building fires at any developed facility is prohibited. Developed facilities include, but are not limited to, structures, boat landings, access areas, parking lots, roads and trails. Burying live fires or hot coals is prohibited. Burning, or attempting to burn, any nonflammable materials or any materials that may produce toxic fumes or leave hazardous wastes is not allowed. These include, but are not limited to, metal cans, plastic containers, glass, fiberglass, treated wood products, wood containing nails or staples, wire, floatation materials and other refuse.
Firewood pests such as emerald ash borer pose a threat to the river’s forests! In cooperation with other agencies, firewood originating more than 50 miles from the refuge is not allowed unless certified as pest-free when purchased.
All refuge lands must be kept clean during the period of use or occupancy. All refuse, trash and litter must be contained in bags or other suitable containers, and not left scattered on the ground or in the water at any time. Human solid waste and associated material must either be removed and properly disposed of off-refuge or be buried on site to a depth of six to eight inches and at least 50 feet from water’s edge. Burying or burning of all other refuse, trash or litter is prohibited. All personal property, refuse, trash and litter must be removed immediately upon vacating a site.
Electric Motor Areas
These areas are closed year round to all motorized vehicles and watercraft, except watercraft powered by electric motors or non-motorized means. The possession of other watercraft motors is not prohibited, only their use. For example, anglers could switch from using an outboard motor to an electric trolling motor when entering these areas. These areas are: Island 42-Pool 5, Snyder Lake-Pool 5A, Mertes Slough-Pool 6, Browns Marsh-Pool 7 and Hoosier Lake-Pool 10.
Slow, No-Wake Areas
From March 16 through October 31 in these areas, watercraft must travel at slow, no-wake speed. No airboats or hovercraft are allowed during same time period. Respective state definitions for what constitutes slow, no-wake speed or operation apply. These areas are: Nelson-Trevino-Pool 4, Denzers Slough-Pool 5A, Black River Bottoms-Pool 7, Blue / Target Lake-Pool 8, Root River-Pool 8, Reno Bottoms-Pool 9, Nine Mile Island-Pool 12 and Princeton-Pool 14.
Slow, No-Wake Zones
Watercraft are required to travel at slow, no-wake speed at all times. Respective state definitions for what constitutes slow, no-wake speed or operation apply.
Areas throughout the refuge are designated as closed or restricted use areas, usually autumn to spring, to protect migrating waterfowl or for public safety. These areas are marked with orange-topped special regulation signs and list the restrictions and effective dates or seasons. Please read and adhere to the regulations identified by these signs.
This is a listing of the most commonly referenced regulations. Additional regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 50, Subchapter C, The National Wildlife Refuge System and available at refuge offices.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Hunting and trapping have a deep history and tradition on the refuge. Most hunting opportunities are in wetlands, on islands and in the floodplain forest that is accessible mainly by boat.
Portions of the refuge are open to hunting and trapping in accordance with federal, state and local regulations, with the most restrictive regulation applying on the refuge. All regulations should be checked before hunting. Local ordinances may restrict hunting near populated areas. Contact one of the refuge offices for information regarding special regulations that apply in your area of interest. Please be aware that individuals involved in other recreation on the refuge may not be aware of on-going hunting seasons.
General Hunting Regulations
Hunting is not allowed on the refuge from March 16 through August 31, except for wild turkey during the spring season and fox squirrel on the Illinois portion of the refuge.
Only one bag limit of migratory game birds may be taken by a hunter in one day’s time, even if the hunter hunts in two different states.
- The construction of permanent hunting blinds is prohibited.
- Natural material may be used for seasonal blinds, with the following restrictions:
- You may gather grasses and marsh vegetation from the refuge for blind-building materials. However, phragmites, also known as giant cane, may not be cut or brought onto the refuge.
- Tree or other plant parts, including dead wood on the ground, greater than two inches in diameter may not be gathered or brought onto or used for blind-building.
- Constructing hunting blinds from rocks placed for shoreline protection, also known as rip rap, is prohibited.
- You are allowed to leave only seasonal blinds that are made entirely of natural vegetation and biodegradable twine on the refuge. All such blinds are considered public property and open to use by any person on a first-come basis.
- Manmade material may be used for temporary blinds, with the following restrictions:
- No lumber, pipe, posts or timbers greater than two inches in diameter
- At the end of each day’s hunt, you must remove all manmade blind materials, including boat blinds.
- Any blinds containing manmade materials left on the refuge are subject to immediate removal and disposal. Manmade materials include, but are not limited to, wooden pallets, metal fence posts, wire, nails, staples, netting or tarps.
- Invasive plants should not be brought onto the refuge or used for blind-building.
- In the Illinois portion of Pools 12-14, waterfowl hunting parties must maintain a 200-yard spacing distance.
You must immediately make a reasonable attempt to retrieve downed waterfowl unless the bird lies in plain sight of you, is clearly dead and there is no risk of the bird drifting off due to wind or current. Retrieving dead or wounded game birds from a Waterfowl Hunting Closed Area or a No Hunting Zone is allowed, provided the hunter does not attempt to chase birds from the area. In areas also marked No Motor Use, you may not use a motor to retrieve game. Hunters may not retrieve birds or other game from No Entry Sanctuaries.
Pool 11 Open Water Hunting
Special open water hunting regulations are in effect for a portion of Pool 11, in Grant County, Wisconsin, in accordance with general Wisconsin open water hunting definitions. Please refer to pool maps that are available at refuge offices and ask for clarification from refuge staff if you have questions.
We prohibit the discharge of firearms, including dog training pistols and dummy launchers, air guns or any other weapons on the refuge. Licensed hunters or trappers who are engaged in authorized activities during established seasons, in accordance with federal, state and local regulations are exempt. Target practice is prohibited.
Hunting Equipment - Decoys, tree stands and boats
Hunting equipment can only be set up the day of the hunt and must be removed at the end of each day. Hunting equipment and decoys may be placed and left on the refuge only during the time one hour before the start of legal shooting hours, until half an hour after the close of legal shooting hours. The use of nails, wire, screws or bolts, to attach a stand to a tree or hunting from a tree into which a metal object has been driven or screwed to support a hunter, is prohibited.
Shining a light to locate any animal is prohibited on the refuge, except at the point of kill for species specified in respective state night or artificial light hunting regulations. Lights may also be used to find your way. The distribution of bait or feed and the hunting over bait or feed is prohibited. The use or possession of any drug on any arrow for bow hunting is prohibited. All other hunt method regulations of the respective state are in effect on the refuge.
Licenses and Permits
Hunters must possess a hunting license valid in the state in which they are hunting. They must be in compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations and requirements. Hunting areas cannot be reserved, except at Potter’s Marsh Managed Hunt Area, Pool 13, near Thomson, Illinois.
Hunters may only use or possess approved non-toxic shot shells while in the field, including shot shells used for hunting wild turkey.
The main channel of the Mississippi River is not the state boundary line in all areas. For verification of the state boundary line, contact any one of the refuge district offices, state Department of Natural Resource offices or refer to the pool maps which are available at refuge offices.
Portions of the refuge are open to trapping. State-licensed trappers must obtain a refuge special use permit and refuge trap tags. Refuge trapping seasons may differ from state seasons. You may cut willow up to two inches in diameter for trap stakes. All trappers must submit a fur catch report following the season. The special use permit contains additional regulations.
The building or use of warming fires while hunting is prohibited.