Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge cover

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a 7,000-acre (28 km2) preserve located on the north end of Cayuga Lake, situated in the middle of one of the most active flight lanes in the Atlantic Flyway.

For short visits, you can exit the refuge from here the way you drove in. Once you start along Wildlife Drive, however, you are committed to the one-way loop drive through the refuge!

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Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge visitor center building

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

Shortly after you enter the refuge off US-20 in Seneca Falls, you’ll find a seasonal Visitor Center with brochures, restrooms and a gift shop. Take advantage of this space to view nature, take a walk on the Seneca Trail or to the observation tower, and learn about the area.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge observation tower
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge observation
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge visitor center

Observation Tower and Viewing Platform

These are both located a short walk from the Visitor Center parking area.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge Seneca Trail

Seneca Hiking Trail

The  walking trail forms a one-mile loop from the Visitor Center parking area along the Seneca River. There is also a car-top boat launch.

The Main Pool (Black Lake)

Black Lake is the focal point of the refuge, and at the center of the loop drive. The 3.5 mile Wildlife Drive loop opens in April and closes for the winter.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge white birds

Because it is one-way traffic, you can stop your vehicle on either side of the road to observe and listen to whatever grabs your attention. Other cars will weave around you on their own journey so feel free to go at your own pace.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge Black Lake

You are discouraged, however, from getting out of your vehicle! There are places designated where you can get out and observe–they are marked with a sign picturing binoculars. A cell phone audio tour along the drive can inform you throughout.

Bring binoculars, a camera, and some snacks, and keep your eyes peeled for Bald Eagles. Remember, it’s not all about what you see, but what you hear! Open your windows if the weather allows, and listen to the peaceful sounds of nature.

Montezuma Winery
Montezuma Winery

You’ll exit Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge on Route 89. If you head south, at the corner of Routes 89 & 5/20 you’ll find Montezuma Winery. After all, you are in the heart of Finger Lakes wine country.

Even more refuge north of the thruway

Half of the wetland complex lies north of the thruway, along the Erie Canal up to about Savannah, accessible by feeder roads. Heading north on Rt. 89 there are smaller, quieter pools where you can quietly sit watching migratory birds and looking for nests.

While the bulk of visitors will focus on activities and trails surrounding the main pool, take a look at this map for other areas to explore. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website, “Two hundred forty-two species of birds, 43 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, and 16 species of amphibians can be found [in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge] for at least part of the year.”

Montezuma Audubon Center

Montezuma Audubon Center

Extend your day trip beyond the refuge and visit the Montezuma Audubon Center in Savannah, NY on your way back to Rochester.

There you will find a visitor center, observation platforms, even kayaks for rent. You’ll find current event listings on their Facebook page. The folks here are some of the most passionate educators, and their raptor programs are fascinating.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge view inside

More information about Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Cost: Free

Located in Seneca Falls, roughly 80 minutes / 55 miles from Rochester (get directions)

More information:

Explore Routes 5 & 20

Routes 5 & 20 is a 67-mile stretch of scenic highway where NY-5 & US-20 converge, following an ancient foot trail of the region’s first people.

Read more

Nature Centers and Preserves Around Rochester

The various nature centers, preserves, and management areas all work to protect and maintain natural spaces for the benefit of all.

Read more

What is your favorite part of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

2 thoughts on “Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge”

  1. We were so disgusted when we were there Sunday the 23rd. First off we all had to go to the bathroom, got the wheelchair out walked up the ramp and couldn’t got in to use the bathroom. So we all piled back in the car and drove through got down a little ways and never in my life have I seen so many dead fish. The smell was awful. Why wasn’t the one gate open so they could get to the other side where the water was plentiful. The poor things were all jammed up by the gate there were hundreds of them.

    1. Joy, I’m so sorry to hear about your experience at Montezuma. I don’t know too much about their operation so I can’t speak to the multitude of fish or how they regulate the water flow to support all of the wildlife that passes through there.

      Sadly, I believe their visitor center has varied hours. Looking at their website it reads, “Visitor Center hours are weekdays from 10 am – 3 pm. Weekend hours vary, with closure on most weekend days, due to a lack of volunteer help.” I know with the pandemic everything involving service and supply is unpredictable. I’m empathetic with the need for rest areas to be predictably available. It’s been a tough year for that, too. I’m so sorry for your experience. I’ll pass on your feedback to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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