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Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

small state map showing location

Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Welcome to Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is located in Idaho's Panhandle only 20 miles from Canada. The refuge is in Boundary County, near Bonners Ferry, where it is bounded by Deep Creek and Kootenai River on the east side and the Selkirk Mountains on the west side.

When to visit

The refuge is open to visitors daily during daylight hours only. Office hours are weekdays 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Wetlands preserved through duck stamp proceeds

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is one of a system of refuges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of wildlife. The financial base for this system was established in 1934 through the passage of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act.

This Act requires every waterfowl hunter over age 16 to purchase and carry an annual Federal Duck Stamp. Proceeds from Duck Stamps have contributed to preserving roughly 4 million acres of wetland habitat which sustain many species of plants and animals.

Kootenai wetlands provided home to wildlife

Prior to settlement, the Kootenai River ruled the narrow valley floor between the lofty Selkirk and Purcell mountains. Each spring, melting snow caused the river to flood the valley bottom, refilling ponds and marshes with water. Fish from the river used the ponds as nurseries for their offspring. Waterfowl and other wetland animals thrived in the marshes. Cottonwood forests, brush, and grass uplands provided homes for many kinds of wildlife. During their annual migrations, large numbers of waterfowl stopped to rest and feed in the Kootenai Valley.

Human activity reduced wetlands

In the 1920s, humans began to tame the wild Kootenai River. Dikes were built to contain spring floods within the river channel. Once the river bottom lands were protected from flooding, the cottonwood forests were removed and the wetlands were drained or filled. The rich soils were planted with crops.

The construction of Libby Dam in Montana in 1975, to provide flood control and power generation, completed the taming of the river. Today, the Kootenai River meanders through fields of wheat and barley.

Refuge reclaims wetlands

The Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1964 to reclaim some of the Idaho Panhandle wetlands lost to development. The 2,774-acre refuge was purchased with funds generated from the sale of Duck Stamps.

Myrtle Creek provides the principal supply of water to the refuge. Water is diverted from Myrtle Creek and pumped from Kootenai River and Deep Creek to maintain permanent ponds and to flood waterfowl food plots in the fall.

Migratory waterfowl rest and feed on refuge

The primary goal of the refuge is to provide resting and feeding habitat for migrating waterfowl. Prominent spring migrants include mallards, northern pintails, American wigeon, and tundra swans. In the fall, Canada geese gather on the refuge during August and September, while mallards peak in November.

Some waterfowl arrive in the spring and stay to nest on the refuge. The principal species are mallards, cinnamon and blue-winged teal, common goldeneyes, redheads, wood ducks, and Canada geese.

Uplands and forests provide wildlife habitats

Stands of tall, dense grass on upland areas around wetlands provide nesting cover for ducks, geese, and other ground-nesting birds. The grasslands and brushy areas also produce large populations of mice that serve as food for hawks, owls, and coyotes. Brush rows are habitat for songbirds, raccoons, weasels, and bushy-tailed woodrats.

Refuge wildlife habitats include a long, narrow strip of coniferous forest at the base of the Selkirk Mountains. The forest is home to elk, mule and white-tailed deer, moose, and black bear. Forest birds include Cooper's hawk, ruffed grouse, and pileated woodpecker.

Wildlife feed in marshes and croplands

Over 800 acres of wetlands provide aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, and fish that form the food resource for a variety of wildlife including water and marsh birds, waterfowl, raptors, muskrats, beavers, and moose.

Local farmers grow over 600 acres of wheat and barley on the refuge. Through cooperative farming agreements, the farmers produce grain that is left standing in the fields to feed the thousands of hungry waterfowl. The farmers harvest a portion of these crops in exchange for their services.

Guide to seasonal wildlife observation


The northward waterfowl migration coincides with the thawing of refuge ponds in late February. Tundra swans, Canada geese, and ducks stop on the refuge to rest and feed; other birds begin their courtship displays. Among the most spectacular displays are snipe "winnowing" and ruffed grouse "drumming." By late spring, waterfowl, bald eagles, osprey, and songbirds are nesting. Occasionally a visitor may be fortunate enough to see a black bear, a moose or an elk.


By early summer geese and ducks have hatched. Their broods can be seen on ponds along with American coots and red-necked and pied-billed grebes. An active bald eagle nest can be observed from the Auto Tour Road. Northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels are commonly seen hunting over refuge fields. Osprey hunt for fish from the air while great blue herons wade in shallow water searching for fish and frogs on refuge ponds. Dippers flit among the rocks in Myrtle Creek.


In the mornings and evenings, beavers, coyotes, mule and white-tailed deer might be seen. Osprey and shorebirds depart early in the season while duck migration peaks in early November. Bald eagles arrive at the same time in search of sick or injured ducks that make an easy meal. A small run of kokanee spawns in Myrtle Creek.


Ponds freeze over by late November and remaining waterfowl move to the ice-free Kootenai River. They continue to feed in refuge grain fields. Bald eagles concentrate around the flocks of ducks. Rough-legged hawks hunt for mice on the uplands.

Activities at the refuge

Wildlife Observation and Photography

A total of 230 bird species and 45 mammal species have been observed on the refuge. See the refuge wildlife leaflet for a list of animals you might see.

Auto Tour Road

This 4 1/2-mile one-way tour begins at the refuge office and exits on the county road near the mouth of Deep Creek. The Auto Tour Road is open year round, weather permitting, except during the waterfowl hunting season, in the fall months, when it is only open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Vehicles and Parking

Visitors may drive on county roads and the refuge Auto Tour Road. Parking is allowed in designated parking areas only and vehicles are not permitted off roads or on dike trails. Only vehicles registered for highway use are permitted on the refuge.

Foot Travel

Several foot trails provide views of wildlife habitats and access to observation points and photo blinds. Visitors should remain on designated trails, county roads and the Auto Tour Road. Some trails are open year round, while others are closed periodically in the fall months, during the waterfowl hunting season, for public safety.

Open year round:

Open except on waterfowl hunting days during the fall:
Waterfowl hunting area during the hunting season:

Persons with Disabilities

The Chickadee Trail, Moose Overlook Photoblind, and refuge headquarters are all wheelchair accessible. Visitors are also encouraged to drive the Auto Tour Road.

Hunting and Fishing

Sport fishing and hunting of certain species are permitted in designated areas. A separate information leaflet is available showing open areas and regulations.


Weapons are permitted in designated hunting areas during hunting seasons. At other times, weapons may be transported through the refuge in vehicles if they are unloaded and cased, or dismantled.


Pets are allowed if on a leash April 1 through August 15, and under close control during the rest of the year (within 10 yards of owner).

Prohibited Activities

Sorry, but all activities not listed above are prohibited. Examples include removal of animals or plants without special permits, camping, fires, swimming, wading, horseback riding, fruit picking, and firewood gathering.


Food, gasoline, and motels are available in Bonners Ferry.


The U.S. Forest Service manages the nearby Panhandle National Forest. Public campgrounds are available north of Bonners Ferry. A detailed map may be purchased for $2 from:

                     Bonners Ferry Ranger District
                     Route 4, Box 4860
                     Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805
                     Telephone: 208/267-5561 

Come and visit

You can reach the refuge by taking Riverside Road, on the south bank of the Kootenai River, at Bonners Ferry. Drive west for 5 miles to the refuge entrance. The office is 2 miles beyond the entrance. Drive with caution! The county roads are narrow and used by logging trucks.

For further information contact:

                       Refuge Manager
                       Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge
                       HCR 60, Box 283
                       Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805
                       Telephone 208/267-3888
                       Fax: 208/267-5570
This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1994.  General information, Kootenai 
     National Wildlife Refuge, Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  U.S. Fish and 
     Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1994.  General information, Kootenai 
     National Wildlife Refuge, Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  U.S. Fish and 
     Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie 
     Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 22MAY98).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages national fish hatcheries and national wildlife refuges throughout the country for the continued conservation, protection, and enhancement of our fish and wildlife resources and their habitats.

No person shall, on the basis of race, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, physical or mental restrictions, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination in any program or activity of the Department of the Interior.

Return to Bird Checklist of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

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