Biking at Wildlife Refuges
For a stress-free bike ride and the chance to see wildlife such as elk, bald eagles or sandhill cranes, pick a trail in a national wildlife refuge.
Many of the country’s national wildlife refuges offer great outdoor recreation, such as fishing and hiking, in sometimes-breathtaking terrain. Bicycling may be permitted where it is consistent with a refuge’s statutory purpose. Call ahead to check that a refuge is open to bicycles. Yield to pedestrians; many refuge routes are multi-use trails.
At some sites, refuge naturalists or volunteers lead occasional bike tours. At others, rides are led by private groups, or you can pedal on your own.
Refuge bike routes range from flat to hilly, coastal to desert, oak savannah to tropical mangrove. Here are some of the best refuge bike routes by region.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore, offers about 8 miles of flat, mostly paved trails. The Wildlife Loop Trail (3.2 miles) is closed to cars until 3 p.m. Look for snow geese, bald eagles, ponies and Delmarva fox squirrels.
Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, MA The mostly flat, 5.6-mile Perimeter Loop trail is generally open April through November. Pick up a map at the kiosk by the visitor center parking lot. Look for painted turtles and Blanding’s turtles, beavers, coyotes, migratory birds and waterfowl.
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA, has more than 20 miles of bikeable trails. The Mallard Slough Trail offers stunning views of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project — the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast. The 3.3-mile loop trail passes a variety of wildlife habitats and hundreds of birds resting on man-made islands, and provides views of the refuge’s ghost town, Drawbridge. The trail also connects to the Alviso Slough Trail, a 9-mile loop trail, making possible a 12.3-mile loop. Look for snowy plovers, American avocets, long-billed curlews, mallards and other migratory waterfowl.
San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA The 24-mile paved Bayshore Bikeway along San Diego Bay includes 7 miles in the refuge’s South Bay unit and 2 miles in the Sweetwater Marsh unit). Look for seabirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors. You can also bike at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 25 miles inland from the bay.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK The Mt. Scott Bicycle Trail (5.8 miles) is a mountain bike trail made from a hilly, single-track rock and dirt fire road. The trail connects to a 9-mile bike route along a National Scenic Byway between Medicine Park and Cache. Look for bison, elk, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs and red-tailed hawks. You may also see Texas longhorn cattle. A visitor center is located mid-route.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, WI section
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, WI The 24-mile Great River State Trail includes 10 miles along the boundary of Upper Mississippi River Refuge and 2.5 miles through Trempealeau Refuge. The crushed limestone trail, owned and managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, follows an old rail line through bottomland forest, sand prairie and riverbanks. Look for sandhill cranes, osprey, wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, beaver, deer and coyote. The trail, a popular piece of the Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trail, is a favorite for bird-watching.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO The mostly flat Perimeter Trail (21-mile loop) weaves through refuge and Commerce City land. Roughly 15 miles is paved; the rest is dirt road or prairie. Look for bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, hawks, cottontail rabbits, mule deer and burrowing owls.
National Elk Refuge, WY The North Highway 89 Pathway (20 miles) is a paved, flat to rolling trail that leads north from Jackson, up the refuge’s west boundary, and across the Gros Ventre River to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. The refuge section of the trail is open May 1 through October 31. Dates for the park section depend on snow conditions. Look for trumpeter swans, waterfowl and other birds.
Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, MI The dike-top Ferguson Bayou Nature Trail, a 4.4-mile loop, is geared to family biking. The narrower Woodland Trail (4 miles) appeals more to mountain bikers, unfazed by mud and blind curves. These trails are open to biking year-round except during deer hunting season. Trail closures are posted on the refuge website and at the trailheads. Look for great blue herons, egrets and wading birds along the Ferguson Trail; deer, raccoons, songbirds and raptors along the Woodland Trail.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, WA The flat gravel 5.5-mile Columbia River Dike Trail runs along the dike separating the Columbia River from the refuge and other landowners to the north. Look for herons, raptors, deer, ducks and Canada geese. Note: A restoration project may limit trail access in 2020-21.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL The refuge’s 8 miles of wide, flat, paved bike-accessible trails through a mangrove estuary are part of Sanibel Island’s 22-mile system of shared-use paths. Inside the refuge, pedal a 4-mile or an 8-mile loop. Look for wading birds, shorebirds, river otters and alligators. Naturalists lead bike tours through the refuge a few times a week in January, February, March and most of April. Bikes are available for rent. For details, call 239-472-1100.