Sandhill Crane, Photo by Dwayne Longenbaugh
Don’t let that holiday turkey be the only bird your family encounters this Thanksgiving. Go for a hike. A post-feast nature walk can be as much a family tradition as cranberry sauce and stuffing. While burning off calories, you can enjoy the fresh air and see some wildlife. There are plenty of places to go. Visit one of Audubon’s 48 centers laced with trails. Or choose a National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge System encompasses 150 million acres, and there is at least one refuge in every state. Many of them are Important Bird Areas. The following 16 National Wildlife Refuge hikes are family-friendly and relatively short. Each one offers a chance to see many birds and other wildlife in late November.
Atkeson Cypress Trail, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.5 miles
Wildlife: Sandhill cranes, waterfowl, migratory songbirds
More info: http://www.fws.gov/wheeler
The refuge is two miles from Decatur. Pick up a refuge map outside the visitor center. From this walk, go a short distance to the Observation Building Trail, which leads to a viewing area with scopes.
Upland Nature Trail, White River National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.8 miles with optional short add-on
Wildlife: Wood ducks, mallards, blue-winged teal, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos
More info: http://www.fws.gov/whiteriver
No entrance fee. Pick up a map and brochure from the box at the refuge entrance. This hike can be turned into an easy 1.5-mile loop by walking along the riverbank at the trail’s end to the foot of boardwalk.
Wetlands Walking Trail, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 2 miles, with optional shortcut
Wildlife: Shorebirds, grebes, ducks, geese, raccoons
This marsh trail has a viewing platform. See even larger concentrations of ducks and geese along the 6-mile auto tour route. Entrance fee: $8 per vehicle. Pick up a map and brochure at the kiosk outside the visitor center.
North McCoy Trail, Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1.12 miles
Wildlife: Terns, vireos, pelicans
Indigo Trail, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 2 miles
Wildlife: Roseate spoonbills, white pelicans, egrets, herons
More info: http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling
Entrance fee of $5 per carload or $1 per hiker or cyclist
Allan Cruickshank Trail, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 5-mile loop
Wildlife: Bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, ducks, pintails, blue-winged teal, migratory birds, northern harriers
More info: http://www.fws.gov/merrittisland/
You’d like a shorter hike? The Wild Bird Trail is only .25 miles. Both trails are located off Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, the refuge’s 6-mile auto route and the best place on the refuge to see birds. Entrance fee: $5 per car. When the visitor center is open, as it is Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week, stop by the office to borrow a Junior Birder backpack, with bird guide and binoculars.
Wetland Walkway Trail, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1.5 miles
Wildlife: Egrets, great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, variety of ducks
More info: http://www.fws.gov/swlarefugecomplex
No entrance fee. Refuge is 7 miles south of Hackberry, LA. Visit nearby Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge to see more ducks and marsh birds.
Marsh Edge Trail, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.4 miles with optional add-on
Wildlife: Woodpeckers, nuthatches, great blue herons, egrets, bald eagles, ducks
More info: http://www.fws.gov/blackwater
The trail leads off of Wildlife Drive. Pay $3 to vehicle to enter Wildlife Drive. For optimum wildlife viewing and a slightly longer hike, walk down the road from the trail to an observation platform over the marsh. Add on the Woods Trail for another half mile. Pick up a map at the refuge kiosk.
John P. Taylor Jr. Memorial Trail, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1 mile roundtrip
Wildlife: Sandhill cranes, hawks, American kestrels, northern harriers, snow geese
To see more birds, follow your walk with a short drive to the refuge Flight Deck—a viewing platform over a managed wetland. Pick up a refuge map outside the visitor center. $5 entrance fee per vehicle.
North Pond Wildlife Trail, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.6 miles
Wildlife: Waterfowl such as pintails widgeon, teal, a variety of ducks, snow geese
More info: http://www.fws.gov/peaisland/
No entrance fee. Trail has three viewing platforms with scopes and a viewing tower. Before you go: Check the North Carolina Department of Transportation website to confirm that Highway 12 has reopened, as scheduled, after Hurricane Sandy. The road goes through the refuge.
Burford Lake Trail, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.7 mile
Wildlife: Waterfowl, plus bison, longhorn and elk. Bald and golden eagles may start arriving.
More info: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/wichita_mountains/
No entrance fee. For more birds, try the Quanah Parker Trail near the environmental education center. Pick up a map outside the visitor center.
Main Trail, Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1 mile roundtrip
Wildlife: Pintails, geese, ducks, widgeons, buffleheads, green-winged teal
More info: http://www.fws.gov/tualatinriver
No entrance fee. You can catch a bus from downtown Portland directly to the refuge. Pick up a map at the kiosk outside the refuge visitor center. Thanksgiving weekend generally coincides with peak migration here. Also check out the pair of bald eagles building a nest in front of the center.
Chachalaca Trail, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.5 miles
Wildlife: Chachalaca, green jays, Altamira orioles, northern beardless tyrannulets, woodland birds, plus animals including armadillo, javelin, and bobcats
More info: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/santa_ana/
Entrance fee: $3. Trail with viewing areas and scopes is wheelchair-accessible. Pick up a map at visitor center kiosk. See the last remaining thorn scrub forest.
Skillern Track Trail, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 0.1 mile
Wildlife: Waterfowl, mottled ducks, blue-winged teal, gadwall, wading birds including great egret and great blue herons, a variety of hawks such has the northern harrier
More info: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Anahuac/
No entrance fee. Pick up a map at the refuge kiosk. Trail skirts a managed wetland and a bayou. The refuge is 20 miles from Anahuac, TX.
Twin Barns Loop Trail, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1 mile
Wildlife: Ducks, geese, great blue herons, bald eagles
More info: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Nisqually/
Entrance fee: $3 per four adults; Age 16 and under free. Pick up map and brochure at fee station. Check out the Nature Explore Area for children ages 2-10. See great flocks of geese, especially early in the morning. Exit 114 off Interstate 5.
Sandpiper Trail, Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge
Length: 1.5 miles
Wildlife: Waterfowl, dunlin, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, northern harriers, other raptors and waterfowl
More info: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/grays_harbor/
No entrance fee. Pick up map and brochure at refuge kiosk.
Refuge trails are open to the public, from sunrise to sunset, even when refuge offices are closed for Thanksgiving Day. Trail maps and brochures are usually available outside the visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. For the best wildlife viewing, combine your hike with a ride along a refuge wildlife drive. These scenic routes also remain open on Thanksgiving. Find many other trails in the National Wildlife Refuge System here.