Staycations are back, thanks to high gas prices and tight family budgets. Luckily, relief from boredom is closer than you may have imagined in the often dramatic, natural settings of national wildlife refuges. There’s a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major American cities.
For families, national wildlife refuges are full of free or low-cost outdoor summer adventures from paddle trips and fishing rodeos to butterfly counts and scavenger hunts under the night sky. Parks can spark wonder in kids, thrill adults with a seasonal wildlife spectacle or provide an escape from the daily bustle with a quiet place to walk or hike.
The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants. Recreational opportunities and activities for kids abound on national wildlife refuges. Some refuges also protect historic and cultural treasures, such as pueblo sites in New Mexico, ancient Native American burial mounds in Mississippi, segments of the Lewis and Clark Trail in Washington state and lighthouses along the East Coast. The Assateague Lighthouse on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia is a popular tourist stop.
Refuges are outdoor laboratories, teeming with chances to learn about habitat conservation.
What other out-of-the-ordinary things can you do on a national wildlife refuge? Here are three examples:
• Reserve a “wild ride” to view bison, prairie dogs and other wildlife at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver. The free two-hour tours head out Wednesdays and Saturdays year-round at 9:30 a.m.
• Reserve a boat tour to Lighthouse Island on Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina to see two historic lighthouses, plus wading birds and osprey. The $45 tour at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, August 21, is one of only four a year. To reserve, call 843-884-7684. Or rent a boat in nearby McClellanville and explore the island on your own.
• Explore Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge by bike. View birds along the 9-mile route, and learn about the restoration of the refuge’s salt pond landscape. The event is slated for Saturday, July 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For reservations, call 510-792-0222, ext. 139. Rain will cancel the event.
To find a refuge near you, use the “find your refuge” feature on the refuge system homepage. See a list of highlighted summer events on refuges across the country. Or check the special events page accessible from the refuge system homepage. Listings are chronological and updated regularly.
For more information, go to www.fws.gov.