Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge

Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1941 to manage the northern third of Reelfoot Lake as a refuge for migratory birds. Additional lands acquired in southwestern Kentucky expanded the refuge to its current 10,428 acres. The proximity of Reelfoot Lake and the Refuge to the Mississippi River has always made the area a major stopover and wintering ground for migratory waterfowl and bald eagles.

In addition to the rich wildlife and habitats of this National Wildlife Refuge, Reelfoot Lake has a fascinating history. During the winter of 1811, a great change took place in the once peaceful woodlands of the central Mississippi River valley. In the tumults of one of the most violent earthquakes recorded in North America, Reelfoot Lake was formed and filled from the waters of the Mississippi River. The formation of this lake created a valuable wetland area which has become a haven for many wildlife species, attracting hunters and outdoorsmen such as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

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Latitude: 36.44346 Longitude: -89.352051 Elevation: 307 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Amber Breland

Recreational Opportunities

The Refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset.  Reelfoot NWR offers a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year. Some of the most popular include:

  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife Observation & Photography
  • Paddling (canoe or kayak)
  • Birding
  • Hiking
  • Environmental Education & Interpretation


Hunting seasons open on this refuge include squirrel, raccoon, opossum, deer (archery and gun), and turkey. Deer gun and turkey hunts are by quota permit only. Please visit the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge website for current hunting regulations and instructions on applying for quota hunts.


All of Reelfoot NWR is open to the public for fishing from March 16 - November 14, with the exception of Grassy Island, which is open from February 1 - November 14. Public boat launches are also available for lake access.

Wildlife Observation & Photography

Reelfoot NWR’s Grassy Island Auto Tour route is open to the public year-round during daylight hours. This self-guided wildlife drive features a boardwalk with observation platform and offers excellent opportunities to view and photograph wildlife. Another viewing tower is located on the Long Point unit that offers spectacular waterfowl viewing opportunities during the winter months.

Paddling (canoe or kayak)

Boating or paddling the refuge waters is probably the best way to experience the refuge. Three self-guided canoe trails provide visitors the opportunity to experience the heart of Reelfoot NWR. The trails are open for use seasonally:  

  • Glory Hole Trail (Open February 1 - November 14)
  • West Boat House Trail (Open march 16 - November 14)
  • Goose Pen Trail (Open March 16 - November 14

Using trail markers and interpretive signs, paddlers can explore the open water and flooded baldcypress habitats of the refuge. Due to water level fluctuations, some trails may not be fully accessible at times. Contact the Visitor Center for accessibility.


Birdwatchers can view a variety of species, as the refuge's open water and other wetland habitats are popular with migrating songbirds and waterfowl. Of particular interest is the refuge's large wintering population of bald eagles, which can reach peaks of 200 birds. Waterfowl numbers are also impressive, including peak numbers of 150,000 mallards. Other common wintering waterfowl include gadwall, American widgeon, and ring-necked ducks. Visit the refuge website for a bird checklist.


Hikers can check out the Grassy Island Hiking Trail, located along the wildlife drive. This half-mile path includes a gravel trail and boardwalk.  

Environmental Education & Interpretation

Environmental education and interpretation is one of the primary objectives of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and Reelfoot NWR has a Refuge complex Visitor Services Park Ranger on staff providing opportunities for educational programs on the refuge, in schools, and for community events.

Seasons Accessible

Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public year-round. However, please note that certain areas of the refuge are closed to hunting, fishing, and all public access during the fall and winter months to provide resource protection (waterfowl sanctuary, etc.). Other areas may be closed for special management or safety reasons.
A new visitor center is currently being constructed on the same site as the former visitor center. For current information please visit the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge website, or call the Refuge at 731-538-2481.


Access to the Refuge and facilities are free. Quota hunt permits cost $12.50. See the Refuge website for more information.

Accessibility Notes

The hiking trail along the wildlife drive is fully accessible, as are the visitor center facilities. Mobility impaired access is also provided at the Reelfoot NWR observation towers. 

Pet Friendly Notes

Dogs are allowed when pursuing raccoons and squirrels. All hunting dogs are required to wear a collar displaying the owner's name, address, and telephone number.
All other dogs/pets must be kept on a leash while on the Refuge. 

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