National Wildlife Refuges are great places to see, enjoy, and learn more about wildlife. Waubay National Wildlife Refuge is no exception. Opportunities for the public to enjoy the Refuge occur throughout the year, but it's important to remember that the needs of wildlife come first.
The Refuge is open during daylight hours every day.
Headquarters Visitors Center - This is a great place to start your visit. The displays and exhibits focus on the wildlife and history of the Refuge. Refuge staff can answer questions to make your visit safer and more enjoyable. The visitor center is open Monday-Friday 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, except Federal holidays
The following activities are encouraged on wildlife refuges: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation. Hiking is allowed on designated trails. Trails are up to 1 mile in length. Check out the visitor activities page for additional information on all recreational opportunities at Waubay.
Any time of year is a good time to explore the Refuge, but spring and fall migrations will provide more wildlife activity and better weather. "Ice out" usually occurs in early to mid-April and most chances of snow are gone after April, though later snowfalls can occur. Spring (April-June) can be quite pleasant, though it is often rainy. Summers can be hot and humid, ticks and mosquitoes can be annoying, but the prairies are often at their best and most colorful from June to August. Fall brings cooler and drier conditions, color to the trees and native grasses, and remarkable sights of migrating birds. "Ice up" can occur anywhere from early November to mid-December.
A great place to start your visit is our visitor 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.
Headquarters Hiking Trail - About 1.5 miles of trails encircles the island around the headquarters building. The trails 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 1930s, 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.
From Aberdeen: Go 62 miles east on US-12 until it intersects with County Road 1, one mile past the town of Waubay. Follow this road north for 7 miles until you see the main sign for the Refuge on a gravel road. Traveling an additional 2 miles will bring you to the headquarters/visitor center.
From Minneapolis: Following US-12 out of Minneapolis, continue west for 220 miles. At the intersection of US-12 and County Road 1 on the eastern edge of the town of Waubay, South Dakota and turn right. Follow this road north for 7 miles until you see the main sign for the Refuge on a gravel road. Traveling an additional 2 miles will bring you to the headquarters/visitor center.
From Watertown: Take I-29 north out of Watertown for 30 miles. At the Summit/Aberdeen exit (#207), travel west on US-12 for 12 miles to the County Road 1 intersection. Follow this road north for 7 miles until you see the main sign for the refuge on a gravel road. Traveling an additional 2 miles will bring you to the headquarters/visitor center.
Other Facilities in the Complex
Rules and Policies
Biologist and author Rachel Carson urged the public to watch for "the sign of the flying goose - the emblem of the National Wildlife Refuge System...
Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization."
There are lots of fun, interesting, and educational things you can do on the Refuge. Keep in mind, if an activity is not wildlife related and doesn’t help in the protection or understanding of wildlife or their habitat, there are probably rules governing this activity. Please check with Refuge management before participating in an activity that could harm the environment or yourself. There are plenty of activities at Waubay for you to enjoy. Be safe and have fun!
Certain regulations are necessary for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat, and for the safety of visitors. Observance of these rules will help make the Refuge a better place for visitors and the wildlife they come to enjoy. The Wildlife Refuge Manager reserves the right to close all or part of the Refuge to hunting and/or public access at any time. Specific regulations will be posted. The Refuge is also subject to Federal, State, and local laws and regulations.
The Refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday except during Federal holidays.