How (and Why) to Include National Wildlife Refuges in your Travel Plans

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Interested in getting outside this summer (and fall, and winter, and spring)? I’ve got an extraordinary resource for you. Our National Wildlife Refuges, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, are located all across the United States, and are a national treasure. You may have read an article on Wandering Educators by Hannah Miller, one of our editors, about Horicon Marsh, the ultimate destination for any nature lover; or on swimming with Manatees in Florida, from Rhythm Turner, one of our teen travel bloggers; or on not one, but FOUR national wildlife refuges near San Diego. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.


“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. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service”


But what does this mean for travelers? Especially this summer, it’s worth exploring – indeed, planning entire trips around – national wildlife refuges. Summer Events include plenty of fishing, microbial communities, moonlit canoe guided tours, archery, training for naturalist educators, at exhibits, music and family events, bird watching, astronomy, wildlife education, insects, scavenger hunts, drawing, owls, discovering nature for kids, cutting the mustard, disappearing treasures, wetlands water café, and more.


Our Refuge system started in 1864, when an Act of Congress “transferred the Yosemite Valley from the public domain to the State of California." One of the terms of the transfer was that State authorities "shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within the said reservation and against their capture and destruction for purposes of merchandise or profit." 

In 1903, President Roosevelt inaugurated the National Wildlife Refuge System’s first official location – Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. Author and environmentalist Rachel Carson was Chief Editor and a scientist for the US Fish & Wildlife Service from 1939-1952.




If you’ve got budding Rachel Carsons for kids (as we do), or are yourself fascinated by learning about and conserving our land and animals, here are some cool activities to get you excited and learning before you head outside.





I have a feeling that when you get home, you won’t be done. Pretty soon, you’ll be planning more trips to National Wildlife Refuges – as many as you can! There are also volunteer and friends groups available. Interested in learning more and working with the NWRS? The Nature of Learning is a NWRS conservation education program, and works with schools, groups, and local natural resource professionals and businesses.


How to find a refuge:




Other articles from our EcoAdventure Media partners about National Wildlife Refuges:

Travel for Wildlife: Wildlife Tour Review: Black Bear Tour, Alligator River, NC

and Where to see Key Deer and Where to See Manatees in the Wild

Green Global Travel: Top 5 Eco-Friendly Tourist Attractions in New Mexico



Do you have a favorite National Wildlife Refuge? We’d love to hear about it!






All photos and video courtesy and copyright the US Fish & Wildlife Service / US National Wildlife Refuge