Planning on being one of the millions who visit our national parks this summer? Consider extending your exploration into a nearby national wildlife refuge as well. It’s a chance to learn more about the purpose of public lands.There’s a Refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in every state and US Territory, and some are very close to famous National Parks.
Summer Travel Ideas: Four Great National Park and Wildlife Refuge Travel Pairings
WYOMING: Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks paired with the National Elk Refuge
Located just 14 minutes from Grand Teton and 58 miles from Yellowstone, the National Elk Refuge is where you’ll have a chance to spot hawks and fox from the highway. Make a stop at 1898 Miller Ranch, which boasts a stunning view of the Teton Range. This log cabin was the first to become a part of the National Elk Refuge. In winter, take a sleigh ride past the herds of wintering elk (offered mid-December through March weather dependent).
Then travel on to Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center to check out the displays that detail how the Refuge works to sustain the wintering elk herds and why the elk disperse in summer to return to higher elevations. You’ll also find interpretive panels that share how neighboring parks and the adjacent Bridger-Teton National Forest managed by the USDA Forest Service work as a team to manage wildlife. How they create open space, that is connected so that animals are free to roam from the national park to the forest lands, to refuge area and back.
Staffed by representatives from all of the federal land agencies in the Jackson Hole Valley, the Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center is a fabulous place to get information about hikes, fishing permits, tours, and wildlife viewing opportunities. There are also historical exhibits and videos. The center is available year-round. Prepare to spend a few hours to explore all it has to offer.
FLORIDA: Everglades National Park paired with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Located 120 miles from the Everglades National Park is the natural paradise of the J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge on Sanibel Island. This smaller and more personal refuge has a family-friendly feel and is a fabulous contrast in ecology.
With shallow water and colorful wading birds, the “Ding” Darling Refuge is a saltwater coastal ecosystem with dunes, mangrove forests, and maritime hammocks. At just 5200 acres, the wildlife including blue herons, mangrove cuckoo, reddish egret, marsh rabbit, river otter, bobcat, snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, crocodiles, and alligators as well as others, feel more accessible.
To experience the area at its best, schedule your visit for a low tide (JN Ding Darlin Tide Schedule). You’ll have a chance to experience birds in feeding frenzies up close from Wildlife Drive. Or take out a paddleboard or kayak and see manatees and dolphins or even go fishing for snook, redfish, tarpon, and seatrout.
There are also free interpretative programs and activities including beach walks, birding, and biking. Sanibel Island offers some of the best natural beaches for world-class shelling. Take time out to relax on the beach after visiting the Refuge.
COLORADO: Rocky Mountain National Park paired with Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
These two are just 80 miles apart so a quick trip from one to the other. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is very different from the rest. This one was previously an arms plant. You’ll see wild bison, prairie dogs, eagles, kestrels, burrowing owls, Swainson’s hawks, and more. You’ll have a chance to discover why prairie dog survival matters and learn to appreciate the importance of the pika, another small furry mammal, which can be found in the mountains to the north.
You’ll find out how the former chemical weapons manufacturing plant was transformed to create this wildlife haven and learn about the connection between the park and the refuge.
WASHINGTON: Mount Rainier National Park paired with the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Just 78 miles separate these two beautiful locations. After viewing the awe-inspiring Mount Rainier National Park scenery, head to the coastal splendor of the Nisqually area. It’s here where the freshwater from the Nisqually River marries with the saltwater from South Puget Sound in this biologically rich Nisqually River Delta. Sadly the last unspoiled major estuary within the Puget Sound, it’s been set aside to protect the fish and wildlife that reside there.
You’ll find songbirds, migratory shorebirds, ducks, and geese. Make sure you take the time to walk the one-mile elevated boardwalk through the restored estuary that allows you a better view of the natural landscape. And take a photo of Mount Rainier from the Estuary – that’s where the fresh water you’re walking over originated. The Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail and the Twin Barns Loop are open dawn to dusk.
These are four great summer travel ideas. Where will you be travelling to
Visit a National Wildlife Refuge
Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge System and how they work to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat on over 150 million acres of land and water from Maine to Alaska to the Caribbean to the Pacific. They also work to improve human health by providing outdoor recreation and support local economies.
Read More about America’s National Wildlife Refuges
- America’s National Wildlife Refuges: A Complete Guide
- Midnight Wilderness: Journeys in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
- Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: South Central: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma (Audubon Guides to the National Wildlife Refuges)
- Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: Mid-Atlantic: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia (Audubon Guides to the National Wildlife Refuges)
- Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: Southeast: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South … Guides to the National Wildlife Refuges)
- Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: California&HI: California, Hawaii, and Midway Island (Audubon Guides to the National Wildlife Refuges)
- Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges
- Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge
- Smithsonian Book of National Wildlife Refuges
- Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)
- Death Valley National Park & Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
- More books about America’s National Wildlife Refuges