National Wildlife Refuges: Winter Wonderlands

Hear sleigh bells ring and walk in a winter wonderland at a National Wildlife Refuge!

National Wildlife Refuges in many states are offering free, family-friendly activities for the holiday season through the New Year.

Check out some of these events below and click 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 or 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
  • 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

National Wildlife Refuge System Logo 2 10-14Winter Tram Tour
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
Take a ride on an open-air tram and see the ducks, geese and swans that make the 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.

Dates are:
November 23, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
December 7, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
December 21, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Okefenokee Pioneer Day
November 22, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
Visit the Chesser Island Homestead to discover how people once lived in southeast Georgia. Learn how settlers made soap, brooms, butter, quilts and other everyday items. Watch a sugar cane boil and taste the cane juice.

Assateague Island Waterfowl Weekend
November 27 – 30 — Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
The refuge will host an open house and offer special events in conjunction with the festival, which marks the fall migration of waterfowl to the refuge.

Holiday Open House
December 4, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois
Celebrate the holiday season with refuge Friends, staff and volunteers. Sample a variety of holiday food and learn about the refuge and Friends of the Cache River Watershed.

Winter Open House
December 6, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
Enjoy musical performances by popular artists Ken Lonnquist and Dave Adler at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. There will also be nature crafts and outdoor activities, and discounts at the Coot’s Corner Bookstore.

Open House
December 7, noon to 4 p.m. — Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio
Enjoy a warm fire, festive music, kids’ crafts, good company and holiday gifts at the bookstore. Two neighboring conservation organizations, Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the state-managed Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, will also hold open houses the same day.

Wreath-Making Workshops
December 7, noon to 2:30 p.m. — Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy, Lincoln City, Oregon
December 14, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
December 15, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
Combine materials from native trees (cedar, hemlock, fir) and shrubs (huckleberry and manzanita) 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

Snowshoe Habitat Hike
December 13, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. — Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
Explore the refuge and search for winter wildlife and tracks on a free one-mile snowshoe hike. Warm up with a cup of coffee or hot cocoa. Some snowshoes in adult and children’s sizes are available to borrow. If there’s not enough snow for snowshoes, enjoy a winter hike instead. Snowshoeing is a great activity for all ages.

Cajun Christmas with Santa
December 13, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. — Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex, Lacombe, Louisiana
Don’t miss the annual visit of Santa and Mrs. Claus to the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center. Kids of all ages are invited to join for story time, cookies and free photos with Santa.

Winter Sleigh Rides
Starting Monday, December 15 — National Elk Refuge, Wyoming
Horse-drawn sleigh rides onto the refuge are a popular winter activity, allowing riders a unique wildlife viewing experience and an incredible opportunity to photograph the elk that winter on the refuge. For details, click here. Sleigh rides will continue through Saturday, April 4, daily except for Christmas.

Christmas Bird Count
Scores of refuges take part each year in this bird census, coordinated by the National Audubon Society. Dates vary. Check Refuge System event listings to see if your nearby refuge is participating, or check the Audubon site. Here are a few examples of participating refuges:

  • December 20, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota. Join Friends of Sherburne Refuge to count birds on the refuge and in the local area. Meet at refuge headquarters.
  • December 27, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota. Take part in a historic seasonal bird count. Program contact: Walt Ford, 218-768-2402
  • December 30, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Take part in the 18th annual Trinity River Christmas Bird Count for northern Liberty County. Areas to be counted include the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Tarkington Prairie and Gaylor Lake. Meet at 7 a.m. at the Valero Gas station located at the intersection of Hwy 105 and Hwy 321, about 6 miles southeast of Cleveland.

(Caption for photo at Top: At National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, visitors enjoy a sleigh ride past wintering elk. Credit: Lori Iverson / USFWS)

The National Wildlife Refuge System protects wildlife and wildlife habitat on more than 150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Maine to Alaska. Refuges also improve human health, provide outdoor recreation and support local economies. Visit our home page at Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


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