Here’s a cure for winter blues: Explore scenic nature trails by snowshoe or cross-country ski at a national wildlife refuge. Some refuges lend you the equipment free. Look for animal tracks – easy to spot in the snow – and occasional wildlife sightings. For maps or more detailed trail descriptions, contact the refuges.
National wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are part of America’s rich natural heritage. They have been so since 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Pelican Island in Florida.
Refuges offer chances to see some of the nation’s most distinctive wildlife species in their varied, and often striking, natural surroundings. Find a refuge near you: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/.
Here are some refuges made for snowy fun.
Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge (northern tip of state)
Explore the refuge’s 6.2-mile auto tour route, closed to cars in winter, or your choice of four ski trails totaling about four miles. Look for elk, white-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks, Canada geese and tundra swans. For more information, call: 208-267-3888
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (southern Maine)
Keep your eye out for white-tailed deer, fox and migratory waterfowl, such as black ducks, common loons and red-breasted mergansers. For more information, call: 207-646-9226. Explore any of several ungroomed trails:
Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge (eastern Massachusetts)
Take your pick of more than 25 miles of ski and snowshoe trails at Assabet River Refuge and nearby Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife you might see: Great blue heron, Canada geese, barred owl and mink. For more information, call: 978-443-4661.
Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge (Saginaw)
17 miles of refuge trails are open to snowshoeing and skiing. Look for bald eagles, white-tailed deer, red fox and eastern cottontails as you explore the place where five rivers meet. Snowshoes are available to reserve free. For more information or to make a reservation, call the refuge’s Green Point Environmental Learning Center: 989-759-1669.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Bloomington (Long Meadow Lake refuge unit) and Rapids Lake
The Minnesota Valley Refuge is a greenbelt of large marsh areas stretching along the Minnesota River from Fort Snelling to Jordan. Explore the refuge by snowshoe. Equipment rental is free at the Bloomington Visitor and Education Center with an ID when six inches or more of snow are on the ground. Or put on your cross-country skis and see parts of the refuge that can be inaccessible most of the year. Wildlife you might see: waterfowl, turkeys, a variety of raptors and songbirds. For more information, call: 952-854-5900.
Rydell National Wildlife Refuge (northern Minnesota)
Explore seven miles of wide, groomed trails. Look for white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse and fishers. For more information, call: 218-687-2229.
Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge (north central Minnesota)
Follow eight miles of snow trails. Look for white-tailed deer, wolves and otters. For more information, call: 218-847-2641.
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (western New York State)
Follow 7.5 miles of ungroomed ski trails, 2.5 miles of ungroomed snowshoe trails, plus 3.5-mile Feeder Road, which is open to both skiing and snowshoeing. Look for white-tailed deer, otters and songbirds. For more information, call: 585-948-5445.
Audubon National Wildlife Refuge (about an hour north of Bismarck)
Look for white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants and bald eagles on the eight-mile auto tour route or the one-mile Prairie Nature Trail. Borrow snowshoes free from the refuge, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call: 701-442-5474.
Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (northwestern part of state)
The refuge boasts 7.5 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Wildlife you might see: white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants. For more information, call: 701-385-4046.
Erie National Wildlife Refuge (in state’s northwest corner)
4.6 miles of ungroomed trails are available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Explore the Tsuga Trail (1.2–1.6 mile loop) and Deer Run Trail (three-mile loop), both located in the refuge’s Sugar Lake Division. Look for white-tailed deer, wild turkey and songbirds. For more information, call: 814-789-3585.
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (near Davis)
31 miles of ungroomed refuge trails and roads are open to snowshoeing. Some are flat, others climb through the woods. Keep your eye out for white-tailed deer, rabbit, wild turkey or songbirds. Snowshoe Discovery Tours, offered by neighboring White Grass Ski Touring Center, lead onto the refuge. Tours last about an hour and cover around a mile of easy rolling terrain. White Grass offers equipment rentals. For more information, call: 304-866-4114 (White Grass); 304- 866-3858 (Canaan Valley Refuge).
Snowshoe Discovery Tour Dates:
Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (central Wisconsin, 150 miles from Milwaukee)
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are permitted refuge-wide on ungroomed trails from December 15 to March 31. The refuge staff recommend White-tail Loop (1.7 miles) for cross-country skiing and Boghaunter Trails (from 0.8 to 3.6 miles) for snowshoeing. Snowshoes are available free for checkout at the visitor center from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Please call ahead for availability and for groups larger than six: 608-565-2551. Wildlife you might see: Chickadees, red-headed woodpeckers, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, fox and river otters.
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (western Wisconsin)
More than four miles of ungroomed trails lead into scenic areas of the refuge where you can look for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fox and otter. Snowshoes are available for free checkout at the visitor contact station from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and also upon special request on weekends. Trail maps are available for download on the refuge website. For more information, call: 608-539-2311.
Flickr set: Winter recreation on refuges: http://bit.ly/19rj8ix.