Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in New York State at 10,828 acres. This does not include the surrounding Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas, making this a massive 19,000-acre complex worth visiting and preserving. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is slightly smaller than Iroquois NWR at 10,004 acres.
My earliest memory of the refuge is a 6th grade science field trip. As an adult, it has become a peaceful retreat from the business of life, taking time to quietly observe and participate in nature.
From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website
“The 10,828-acre Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge lies within the rural towns of Alabama and Shelby midway between Rochester and Buffalo, New York. Part of what locals call the “Alabama Swamps”, the Refuge’s 6,000 acres of wetland host more than 100,000 Canada geese and 20,000 ducks and swans annually. More than 3,000 acres of bottomland hardwood and 1,800 acres of grasslands and shrublands support migratory and resident birds as well as other wildlife.”
Where to begin
You can’t go wrong picking any overlook or trail to start exploring. My favorite is the 1.3 mile Swallow Hollow Nature loop trail located on Knowlesville Road (the east boundary of the refuge). An accessible trail of ramps, gravel pathways and boardwalks make this trail easier for folks with limited mobility to enjoy this unique ecosystem.
To experience the refuge from afar, stop at the Cayuga Marsh Overlook off Route 77 and observe the view through binoculars.
Swallow Hollow Nature Trail
More than half of the trail is elevated boardwalk which connects to a gravel trail to take you through evergreen plantations, marsh and forested wetlands for unique encounters.
Interpretive panels along the way tell of some of the more common residents in the marsh. During the spring and summer this trail is one of the better spots on the refuge to find warblers.
Other birds include waterfowl, red-winged blackbirds, great blue heron and piliated woodpeckers.
Kanyoo Nature Trail
“Kanyoo” is an Iroquois word meaning “wildlife”.
On this trail you will discover the diversity of nature – constantly changing over time. As you cross the open field you may spot tree swallows or bluebirds. Beyond the hedgerow, the canopy deepens into a mixed woods of cherry, maple, beech and tulip trees with opportunities to see or hear a variety of songbirds. Vernal (spring) pools are nurseries for amphibians and recycle nutrients into the soil to support new growth. A small observation platform (on the yellow loop) and short boardwalk(on the blue loop) offer views of the marsh.
Onondaga Nature Trail
Named for one of the five original tribes of the Iroquois Federation.
The trail is 1.2 miles long one way. From the parking lot off of Sour Springs Road follow the dirt and gravel dike through the Onondaga Marsh into mixed mature woods with evergreen plantations which pre-date the refuge.
A quiet walker through Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge will be greeted by a variety of songbirds. A short side loop takes you around a small pond where you may see wood ducks and other waterfowl. When you come to the end of the trail, rest, reflect and retrace your steps.
Feeder Road is open to vehicular traffic mainly in the winter, after the fall migrations and before the spring migrations.
Cayuga Marsh Overlook
Sit quietly at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Use binoculars or a long lens for a closer look.
One of the refuge’s bald eagle nests can be seen from this vantage point. Bald eagles can often be observed flying over the marsh. Also you may see black tern and waterfowl. Located on Route 77.
Ringneck Marsh Overlook
Provides views Ringneck Marsh from the north. A popular spot for watching migrating geese and possibly osprey which nest on Ringneck Marsh. Located on Oak Orchard Ridge Road, 0.5 mile east of Route 63.
View Ringneck Marsh from the south west. Popular for watching waterfowl and nesting osprey. Located on Sour Springs Road, 0.5 mile south of Oak Orchard Ridge Road.
Schoolhouse Marsh Overlook
This shallow marsh attracts shorebirds and waterfowl. Located on Oak Orchard Ridge Road, 0.25 mile east of Ringneck Marsh Overlook.
More information about Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
Located in Oakfield and Basom, roughly 1 hour / 50 miles from Rochester (get directions to Swallow Hallow Trail)
Our nature centers, wildlife preserves, management areas, etc., all serve to protect and sustain life, while making nature accessible to people to enjoy.
When is your favorite time to visit Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!