Waubay National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Waubay National Wildlife Refuge

South Dakota

(605) 947-4521

Map Directions

Things To Do


Waubay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1935 as a safe haven and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. "Waubay," in the Lakota Sioux language, means "a place where numbers of birds make their nests." The Refuge encompasses 4,650 acres of wetlands, native tallgrass prairie, and bur oak forest that provide a wide variety of nesting habitat for more than 100 species of waterfowl, songbirds, and upland game birds. One hundred forty additional bird species have been seen during spring and fall migrations. Water levels of the Refuge lakes have undergone drastic changes over the years, rising as much as 15 feet, reducing access to much of the Refuge and changing the nature of the wetlands. The once shallow waters ringed with cattails and other emergent vegetation are now deep, creating open water lakes capable of sustaining a sport fishery. American white pelicans and wood ducks are more common now than any of the grebe species or other wading birds that were once seen quite often on the Refuge. In addition to birds, there are 37 species of mammals and 11 species of reptiles and amphibians that make the Refuge home. Waubay NWR also includes the federally recognized 40-acre Hillebrand Lake Research Natural Area which includes bur oak and 35 acres of bluestem prairie cover types.

Map of Waubay NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 45.444958, -97.339039



  • Boating

    There are opportunities for boating.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    There are opportunities for auto and motorcycle touring.

  • Fishing

    Walk-in ice-fishing is allowed from December (after refuge deer season) to ice-out with a valid South Dakota fishing license. Walleye, perch, and northern pike are popular game fish. Please pick up an ice-fishing brochure when you arrive on the refuge.

  • Hiking

    About 1.5 miles of trails now encircle the island around Headquarters. Trails vary in length from less than 400 feet to about 1 mile long. They wind through forests of bur oak, basswood, and green ash, pass wetlands, a restored prairie area and follow the lakeshore. You'll have a chance to see a variety of songbirds, waterfowl and sometimes deer. The boardwalk and a portion Wood Duck Way are accessible for all visitors. The Ed Fromelt Memorial Fund was used to develop trail signs, maps and interpretive pamphlets.

    The Spring Lake Overlook Trail leads to the overlook, offering a panorama of four different habitats. Prairie wildflowers paint the trail sides with a constantly changing palette of colors.

  • Historic Sites

    Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's, the Observation Tower is 110 feet tall and offers stunning views of Refuge lakes and the surrounding area.

  • Hunting

    Archery, muzzle loader, and rifle deer hunting permits are issued for the Refuge through the South Dakota lottery for special seasons. No other hunting is allowed on the Refuge.


Opportunities for the public to enjoy the Refuge occur throughout the year, from ice fishing in the winter to wildlife observation in the summer. Spring and fall migration are the peak times to observe large varieties and concentrations of birds.



Waubay NWR is located just west of Enemy Swim Lake or 1 mile east, 7 miles north and 1 * miles west of the town of Waubay in the northeast corner of South Dakota. From I-29 take SD 12 west toward Aberdeen for 13 miles (one mile east of Waubay). Take Day Co. 1 (not well marked - watch for a brown highway information sign on HWY 12) north 7 miles and continue west on the gravel road into the Refuge - look for brown Refuge signs. The road leads to the visitor center.

Phone Numbers


(605) 947-4521