A Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Written By

American poet Robert Frost wrote: “You can’t get too much winter in the winter.” 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 in North Dakota.

This article 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.

Snowshoeing at Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota.

Snowshoeing can be a blast at national wildlife refuges from Alaska to Oregon to West Virginia to Maine and lots of places in between.

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.

Get your heart pumping, your muscles stretched and your lungs refreshed with some cross-country skiing at a dozen or more 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.

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.

Eight bald eagles perch in one tree at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in California. Yes, eight. One is mostly obscured. Can you find it?

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).

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.

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. 

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

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

Waubay National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota.

We’ve shown just a tiny sampling of the fun that can be had on national wildlife refuges in winter. For more ideas, go to the map on the Visit the National Wildlife Refuge System page to discover a refuge near you to visit this winter.

A young ice fisherman displays his catch at Montana’s Bowdoin Wetland Management District, one of 38 wetland management districts in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

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

Vose Pond at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Story Tags

Landscape photography
Wildlife refuges
Wildlife viewing
Winter sports