Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
This is Nebraska’s largest national wildlife refuge (NWR), and one that rivals Crescent Lake NWR in its bird diversity, with at least 224 bird species (93 breeders) reported. Most of the refuge consists of Sandhill prairie, with dunes from 40–200 feet high and depressions that often contain shallow, marshy lakes. Some of the lakes are open for kayaking or boating, offering great birding opportunities. Several Greater Prairie-Chicken and Sharp-tailed Grouse leks are present and viewing opportunities from blinds are available by reservation in April and May. Numerous marshes and shallow lakes offer breeding habitat for Western and Pied-billed Grebes, Forster’s and Black Terns, shorebirds, a dozen species of waterfowl including Trumpeter Swans, and other waterbirds like American Bitterns and Soras. The higher grasslands offer views of Upland Sandpipers, Grasshopper and Lark Sparrows, and Swainson’s Hawks. Winter brings the opportunity to see Northern Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls. Some refuge roads require 4WD for rough and sandy areas. This refuge is for day-use only. Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and sun protection with you as this site takes time to explore and enjoy with all its beautiful views of the Sandhills and unique birds.
Where to go in the refuge
The 9-mile auto tour road offers great opportunities to see the refuge and a variety of birds. The gravel road stretches from US-83 to NE-16B Spur, going past several lakes and marshes. Drive slowly and watch for turtles, snakes, and birds crossing the road. There is a hiking trail, accessed from NE-16B Spur that leads along a mowed path to the old fire tower lookout. Climb the lookout tower stairs to the observation deck for a panoramic view of the Sandhills and view wildlife through the spotting scope. Bathrooms are available near the old Hackberry headquarters or at the new headquarters building on Pony Lake Rd. Visit the refuge website for office hours and road closures.
Site’s notable birds
Birds recently observed
39679 Pony Lake Road, Valentine, NE 69201
Bathrooms, Hiking Trail, Outdoor Interpretive Area, Auto Tour Road