National Wildlife Refuge System

Have a Holly, Jolly Season at a National Wildlife Refuge

At National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, visitors take a sleigh ride past wintering elk.
Credit: Lori Iverson/USFWS

Walking in a winter wonderland? Check. At some national wildlife refuges, you can also hear sleigh bells ring, join in carols or turn fresh pine boughs into a festive holiday wreath. Many refuges will host free, family-friendly holiday-season activities through the New Year. See what holiday treats are in store at a wildlife refuge near you. Check here for added listings as the holidays draw closer.


Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
Work off those holiday-season calories by cutting your own tree at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

  • Moosehorn Refuge lets visitors cut two balsam fir or pine trees per person, starting at the end of November. The trees must be cut to maintain road safety. Pick up a free permit from the refuge office before you cut. Phone: 207-454-7161
  • Rydell Refuge will allow Christmas tree cutting on Saturday, December 7, and Sunday, December 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This may be the last year for this activity as the refuge restores native vegetation. Phone: 218-687-2229
  • Kenai Refuge lets visitors hand-cut one tree per family between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No fees or permits are required. Cutting is restricted to certain areas. Phone:  907-262-7021 or toll-free: 1-877-285-5628.


Wreath-making Workshop
December 1 and December 7, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, OR
Learn how to combine native conifers and shrubs into a beautiful wreath you can take home. Bring your family. All materials are provided. If you have a pair of pruning shears or gardening gloves, please bring them. Pre-registration is required: 503-812-6392


Holiday Open House
All month − Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI
Borrow snowshoes, outdoor activity backpacks and binoculars from the visitor center. Enjoy the wild Wisconsin winter.


Winter Wildlife Excursions
Starting in early December, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. — National Elk Refuge, WY
Take a free guided tour along the refuge road where elk, bighorn sheep, waterfowl and other animals can often be seen. Hear a naturalist recount refuge history and wildlife management methods. To reserve a seat, call 307-734-9378 or stop in the visitor center. Updates:


Holiday Open House
Thursday, December 5, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, IL
Celebrate the holiday season with staff from the Cache River Wetlands Joint Venture.


Holiday Full-Moon Howl
Saturday, December 7, 5 to 6:30 p.m. — Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC
Hear endangered red wolves in the wild. Bring a flashlight and insect repellent. Howling trips will occur except with lightning, heavy rain, wind or impassable roads. See a short video about the wolves and hear them howl.


Wildlife Holiday Bazaar
Saturday, December 7, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
Shop for wild and not-so-wild treasures at this annual Friends group event. See live animals. Find unique gifts and support the refuge and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Make origami ornaments and hand-crafted cards. More info:


Christmas on Chesser Island
Saturday, December 14, 6 to 8 p.m.  — Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, GA
Celebrate the holidays at the Chesser Island Homestead with luminaries, caroling and live music. Tour a swamp homestead adorned with traditional homemade decorations. Stay warm by the bonfire while enjoying homemade cookies, hot chocolate or cider.


Santa Comes to Call
Saturday, December 14, 2 to 4 p.m. — Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex, Lacombe, LA
Mrs. Claus will read Christmas stories while Santa greets kids and families in his “Cajun Cottage” outpost in the visitor center. Admission, photos, refreshments, and visits with Santa are all free, courtesy of the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges. Enjoy hot chocolate and cookies. Explore the trails and grounds of Bayou Gardens, filled with many varieties of camellias in bloom.


Winter Sleigh Rides
Monday, December 16 — National Elk Refuge, WY
Enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride to see the elk that winter on the refuge. For details, see: or Sleigh rides will continue through Saturday, April 5, daily except for Christmas.


Winter Tram Tour
Saturday, December 22, 1 to 4:30 p.m. — Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, VA
Take a ride on an open-air tram and see the ducks, geese and swans that make Back Bay Refuge their winter home. Continue into False Cape State Park for a one-mile hike to the Wash Woods cemetery and church site. $8 per person. Reservations are required: 757-426-7128.


Christmas Bird Count
Many national wildlife refuges will host the 114th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count on specified dates between December 14 and January 5. The citizen science effort provides data on bird population trends. To find a bird count near you, check this page. Participating refuges include:

Sunday, December 15, 6 a.m. to dusk — Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, SC


Christmas Bird Counts, the
Sunday, December 15, all day — Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, NV

Monday, December 16, all day — Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, MD
Teams will cover about a third of Kent County, including the refuge. Registration is required: 410-778-9568

Monday, December 16, 6 a.m. to sunset ­— Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, IL

Saturday, December 21, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, MO

Saturday, December 21, 7 a.m. to dusk — Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, TX Sign up:

Saturday, December 21, 8 a.m. to dusk — Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, MO

Sunday, December 22, all daySantee National Wildlife Refuge, SC 

Sunday, December 29, all day — Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, AZ 

Monday, December 30, dawn to dusk — Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, CA
114th Christmas Bird Count will be happening between December 14, 2013 and January Monday, December 30, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, TX

Holiday Open House
Tuesday, December 31, all day – Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI  
Self-guided items for checkout from the visitor center include snowshoes, “Let’s Go Outside” activity backpacks, and binoculars.  Enjoy and explore the wild Wisconsin winter!


Christmas Tree Drop-Off
March 2014, Exact date TBA. Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, LA
If you live near the refuge, you can see that your Christmas tree aids wetland restoration when the holiday ends. Place your tree at the curb for collection and delivery to the refuge by city contractors. Volunteers will band the trees together for a helicopter sling. The Louisiana National Guard will drop bundled trees in selected wetlands to boost habitat for waterfowl, wading birds and other wildlife. In recent years, this effort has created about 100 new acres of refuge marshland. Check the refuge website for updates.

Last updated: November 25, 2013