Wondering what it’s like to pitch a tent under the stars? Switch off and get in touch with nature – at least for a few days?
Maybe now is the time to get away and camp at one
Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge
From Alaska to Florida, some National Wildlife Refuges offer rental cabins or campgrounds in a variety of natural wildlife environments. Here is a selection of these options
The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, protects America’s wildlife and the places they need to survive and provides unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Looking to pack a tent into the wilderness? Prefer to stay in your motorhome? Kenai Refuge has it all. The refuge has more than 120 pitches for mobile homes and tents. Free camping is available year-round in the Skilak Lake area and along the Swanson River and Swan Lake roads. You can reserve one of the 14 huts of the refuge or try your luck in one of the two huts, which are subject to availability.
Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge has two campgrounds along the Alaska Highway that open once the roads are clear of snow (usually April). Campgrounds stay open until mid-fall, usually October, while roads are still open. Six public use booths are available year-round when not in use by employees for management activities. Contact the Asylum Office at 907-883-5312 to obtain a residency permit for up to 14 consecutive days. A lottery system has been introduced for the fall elk hunting season (usually late August to mid-September) when demand is particularly high. The elk season raffles are held a year in advance in October.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Paddle through the beautiful and mysterious swamp of the Okefenokee Refuge, a protected
Learn more about the wilderness area
, is the experience of a lifetime. Alligators glide through tea-colored water. Herons and egrets wade through tall grass and water lilies. You can reserve one of the seven overnight lodgings inside the swamp. Reserve up to two months in advance by calling 912-496-3331, Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Eastern Time. Learn more about permitting requirements at Recreation.gov.
Canoeing to a camping platform isn’t the only way to stay in Okefenokee. Stephen C. Foster State Park, located within the refuge, offers cabins and RV and tent camping. For visitors from outside the area, it’s a great place to spend the night before a canoe camping trip.
Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge in central Georgia, about 25 miles north of Macon, allows camping and open fires at designated campsites in conjunction with big game and turkey hunts (pdf). The refuge also allows scout groups to camp when working on a charity project outside of the hunting season. A refugee hunting permit is required for entry.
St Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Hikers can request one of the primitive campgrounds along the 90-kilometer refuge section of the Florida National Scenic Trail, which runs through two designated wilderness areas. Campers must commit to hiking the entire refuge section of the trail, which passes through a greater variety of forests and wildlife habitats than any other section of the trail in North Florida. The trail follows a series of levees built to provide fresh water for the thousands of waterfowl that winter here. Hikers can also see osprey, otters, turkeys, alligators, foxes and some of the more than 300 bird species found here; 98 species of birds nest at St Marks Refuge. Hikers must have a Florida Trail Permit.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Oak hickory forest covers more than half of the 44,000-acre refuge, while 20 percent is open water. You’ll find hiking trails, nesting bald eagles (best seen in winter), an elusive bobcat, and a thriving population of wild turkey. Summer is the perfect time to see and hear songbirds. Fall brings large numbers of white-tailed deer. Four campgrounds at the refuge, including the Crab Orchard Campground, are open April 1 through October 31. Barbecues are available. Electrical and sewage systems have been modernized.
Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge
Stretching across northern New Hampshire and into western Maine, the refuge has extensive wetlands vital to waterfowl. In 1972, part of the Harper’s Meadow wetlands was designated a floating island
Learn more about the national natural landmark
. Coastal campgrounds are operated by the state of New Hampshire. Camping is only possible with a reservation. Visit the state park’s website or call 603-482-3906 for more information.
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Enjoy spectacular scenery in remote wilderness. Trumpeter swans are year-round residents. Aspens and willows turn golden in autumn. The refuge maintains two primitive campsites without electricity. The Lower Lake Campground has restrooms, picnic tables, and fire pits and is the best spot for waterfowl viewing. Both campsites are available for a minimal fee on a first come, first served basis. Be Bear Aware: Grizzly bears live in all areas of the sanctuary including forest, pasture, grassland, wetlands, lake shores and streams. Carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it is highly recommended.
Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Toll-free camping is perhaps the best way to enjoy this 1.6 million-acre southern Nevada retreat. The refuge, which includes six major mountain ranges, teems with wildlife, including more than 500 species of plants. The land has been home to indigenous people for thousands of years. Look out for collared lizards sunning themselves on rocks, some of the 320 bird species, or the tracks of an elusive mountain lion. Here are some tips on how to spot desert bighorn sheep. Six primitive campsites are available on a first come, first served basis. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and tent pad. Vault toilets are available. Bring your own water.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Known for the reintroduction of bison, elk and wild turkey and some of the best rock climbing in the area, the refuge offers a range of camping options. For group reservations at campgrounds, contact the Visitor Center at 580-429-3222.
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge was established in 1937 to protect migratory birds and includes
Learn more about salt marshes
, forest, freshwater wetlands, streams, meadows, coastal dunes and beaches. More than 200 species of birds nest, rest or spend the winter here. Chum salmon, Roosevelt elk, and more than a dozen amphibian species are also resident. On Long Island, an oasis within the refuge, you’ll find five primitive campgrounds totaling 20 campgrounds on a first-come, first-served basis. Each campground has a picnic table, ring of fire, and access to a nearby flush toilet. At high tide, the island is only accessible by boat or kayak.