Fire up the grill. Pull out the road maps. It’s just days to Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional start of Get-Outdoors-Summer’s-Here! Season. 

Wading birds called avocets take flight at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a short ride off Interstate 15 near Salt Lake City, Utah. (USFWS)This summer, include a visit to a national wildlife refuge in your plans.  Thrill to a hidden world of natural wonders while your kids learn the joy of healthy outdoor activity. Take pride in America’s Great Outdoors and your natural heritage.   

Here’s another good reason to visit a national wildlife refuge:

National wildlife refuges make great mid-route stops on long drives. The shortest of detours off many interstate highways lead to federally protected wildlife havens and relief for your jangled nerves.

Just two examples:

            •  Heading south to Florida on I-95? In South Carolina, take exit 102 to Santee National Wildlife Refuge, a few minutes away. Scenic Santee Refuge is a magnet for hawks, eagles, wading birds and songbirds. It’s the historic stomping grounds of Revolutionary War hero Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion. And it’s an anthropological wonder — the site of 1,000-year-old National Register-listed ceremonial Santee Indian mounds.

            •  Had enough of Salt Lake City?Take exit 363 off I-15 to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, on the northeast arm of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.  The refuge offers phenomenal bird watching in early summer. A 12-mile auto tour route provides close-up views of American avocets, black-necked stilts, white-faced ibis and other species. Sample the half-mile paved, accessible nature walk. Fish for walleye, largemouth bass and black bullheads from an accessible pier at the start of the tour route. (Don’t forget your state fishing license.) 

Other refuges located near interstate highways include Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge off I-10 in Texas, Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge off I-75 in Michigan, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge off I-70 in Colorado, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge off I-5 in California, and Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge off I-78 in New Jersey.

National wildlife refuges offer a slew of special events for visitors during the summer. Events such as bird festivals, bike tours, fishing rodeos and wolf-howl tours combine fun and learning.Many refuges will host youth fishing derbiesand learn-to-fish programs in June to mark National Fishing and Boating Week. For other listings, see the latest refuge events calendar or a comprehensive special events listing.

It’s always a good season to visit a national wildlife refuge. The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the world’s premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants. There is a National Wildlife Refuge within an hour’s drive of most major cities. To find a refuge near you or near a chosen driving route, use the “Find Your Refuge” feature on the Refuge System homepage.



Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service



Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".