Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1915 to provide habitat and protection for migrating and wintering waterfowl and other birds and is recognized as an important link in the Mississippi flyway. Once a free-flowing river system (actually part of the Mississippi River!), Big Lake NWR was changed to a lake/swamp ecosystem by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. Big Lake today is 11,038 acres and consists primarily of wooded swamps and open water. The lake is shallow with an average depth of three feet and is bordered by a virgin cypress-tupelo swamp.  Over the years the objectives of the Refuge have expanded to include endangered species. Big Lake NWR was important to the recovery of the bald eagle, which came back to nest on the Refuge in 1989. It has also become increasingly important in the preservation and restoration of bottomland hardwood forest habitat and the native wildlife species it supports. 

Big Lake NWR is an oasis of bottomland hardwood forest in a heavily agriculturally developed area.  It has been recognized as such, with 6,400 acres designated as a National Natural Landmark and 2,100 acres of this Landmark included in the Wilderness Preservation System.

The Refuge annually winters a diversity of waterfowl with peak numbers exceeding 200,000 in some years. Over 225 bird species have been observed on the refuge and recorded by visiting ornithologists. Other wildlife to look for include beavers, otters, raccoon, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, bobcat and the occasional armadillo.

Directions: Big Lake NWR is located in northeast Arkansas adjacent to the bootheel of Missouri. From Blytheville, travel west on State Highway  18 approximately 15 miles. From Jonesboro, travel east on State Highway 18 approximately 35 miles. Headquarters is located on the north side of the highway. 


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Latitude: 35.887344 Longitude: -90.081583 Elevation: 225 ft
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Recreational Opportunities

Big Lake offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities for the public, including:

  • Wildlife Observation and Photography
  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Birding
  • Hiking

Wildlife Observation and Photography

Big Lake NWR features a wildlife drive with foot trails that allow visitors to stop and take a short hike. Bright's Landing and Fish Trap Chute trails are located near headquarters and along the wildlife drive, respectively. This drive, Bald Cypress Drive, is the only Refuge road open to public access. The accessible fishing pier provides a picturesque view of the lake and opportunities for wildlife observation and photography. 


The Refuge offers opportunities for small game a deer archery hunting. Please visit our website to see a full list of seasons and regulations. There is no waterfowl hunting on the refuge, as it is a wintering sanctuary. However, there are waterfowl hunting opportunities at the neighboring Big Lake Wildlife Management Area.


Big Lake NWR provides a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year. These include an accessible pier, bank fishing, and boat access. Portions of the Refuge are closed during the winter months (Nov. 1 - Feb. 28). Check the current refuge fishing brochure for the most up to date information. 

There are two boat ramps providing access to Big Lake. One is at Timm's Point and the other is off of Highway 18, near headquarters. Foot trails provide bank fishing access at Bright's Landing (near headquarters) and Fish Trap Chute (off of the wildlife drive).

Birding and Hiking. The refuge provides sanctuary and habitat for a variety of birds, including neotropical migrants, waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and raptors. Bald eagles and osprey nest on the Refuge from February through April and can be seen feeding their young in the summer months. Concentrations of ducks, geese, and white-tailed deer can be observed from Bright's Landing fishing pier during the winter months. 

Those wishing to bird or just get out and enjoy a hike around the refuge may use the two hiking trails. One, Bright's Landing, is located near the Refuge headquarters and the second, Fish Trap Chute, is located along Bald Cypress Drive. 

Seasons Accessible

Big Lake NWR is open to the public daily during daylight hours.

Access to the refuge is somewhat limited due to topography, but there is both vehicle, foot, and boat access available. 

Please note that portions of the Refuge, including roads, may occasionally be closed due to flooding. Persons planning to visit the Refuge should contact the headquarters for the latest conditions. 

Accessibility Notes

An accessible fishing pier is located near the headquarters building. Mobility-impaired hunters may apply for a refuge Special Use Permit allowing the use of an ATV on Oak Island Trail. For more information please contact the Refuge office. 

Pet Friendly Notes

Pets on a leash are permitted. 

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