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Information iconAroostook National Wildlife Refuge, Maine (Photo: Keith Ramos/USFWS)

A Most Wonderful Time of the Year

American poet Robert Frost wrote: “You can’t get too much winter in the winter.” That’s not true for everybody, we know, but if you enjoy clean, crisp air and the great outdoors, winter is a special time of year at national wildlife refuges in northern latitudes.

J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge
J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota. (Photo: Colette Guariglia/USFWS)

This photo essay touches on a few of the things that make winter wonderful at national wildlife refuges: Invigorating recreation … a chance to glimpse wildlife … a serene respite from the daily grind.

Ridgefield -- Western Painted Turtles (Jim Leonard)
(Photo: Jennifer Jewett/USFWS)

Snowshoeing can be a blast at national wildlife refuges from Alaska to Oregon to West Virginia to Maine and lots of places in between, including Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (above) in North Dakota.

Tualatin-River -- May 2015 visctr-bioswale-lupine (Bill OBrian-USFWS)
(Photos: USFWS)

Ice fishing is fun for kids and adults at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (left and top right) in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, at Selawik National Wildlife Refuge (bottom right) in Alaska and at other refuges across Alaska, the northern Plains, the Great Lakes states and New England. Here are some refuges popular for ice fishing.

Ankeny Eagle green-winged teal (Jim Leonard and Bill OBrianUSFWS)
(Photos: Dorey Rowland, David Sagan, USFWS, Dennis Mudderman)

Get your heart pumping, your muscles stretched and your lungs refreshed with some cross-country skiing at dozens of refuges, including Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge (top) in Idaho,  Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (bottom left) in New Jersey, Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge (middle) in Maine and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge (right) in Minnesota. Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia also is a particularly outstanding place for cross-country skiing.

Sacramento Refuge Snow Goose 45 adult (Steve Emmons-USFWS)
(Photos: USFWS)

You can build a snow fort, if you feel like it, as these girls did at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (above left), or you can explore the interior of the refuge (above right), about 50 miles north of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Stone Lakes -- monarch feeding on milkweed, Blue Heron Trails (Amy Hopperstad-USFWS)
Eight North American bald eagles perch in one tree at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in California. (Photo: Dave Menke/USFWS)

You can see iconic North American bald eagles at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges along the California-Oregon border, Camas National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho, Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland and numerous other refuges across the country. Check out “Winter at Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges” (video)

San Luis Tule elk bulls (Courtesy Brad R. Lewis)
(Photo: Kenny Bahr)

You might see curious river otters like these at Missouri’s Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (above), about 90 miles north of Kansas City, and at many other refuges.

Kern -- Redhead ducks_October_24_2016 (Miguel_Jimenez-USFWS)
(Photo: Steve Gifford/USFWS volunteer)

You might glimpse a brilliant cardinal at or near Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge in southern Indiana, as accomplished amateur photographer Steve Gifford did (above). “For me, being able to get out on the refuge calms my heart and restores my soul a bit, and helps me put things in perspective,” says Gifford. More about photographing wildlife at Patoka River Refuge.

San Diego Bay Ridgways rail (Joanna Gilkeson-USFWS)
(Photo: Bob Weaver/USFWS volunteer)

You might see diving harlequin ducks at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. The harlequin ducks, which get their name from their bright clown-like plumage, are rare along the Atlantic Flyway, but impressive numbers of them gather off the rocky shores of Sachuest Point near Newport, RI.

San Luis Tule elk bulls (Courtesy Brad R. Lewis)
(Photo: Lori Iverson/USFWS)

To get fully into the winter spirit, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride among Rocky Mountain elk at National Elk Refuge near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

San Luis Tule elk bulls (Courtesy Brad R. Lewis)
Waubay National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. (Photos: Laura Hubers/USFWS)

We’ve shown just a tiny sampling of the fun that can be had on national wildlife refuges in winter. For more ideas, enter your Zip Code here to discover a refuge near you to visit this winter.

San Luis Tule elk bulls (Courtesy Brad R. Lewis)
A young ice fisherman displays his catch at Montana’s Bowdoin Wetland Management District, one of 38 wetland management districts in the Refuge System. (Photo: USFWS)

And remember to bundle up! As the adage often attributed to Scandinavians goes: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."

Compiled by Bill   | December 19, 2018
Information iconMoosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Maine (Photo: Keith Ramos/USFWS)