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.
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. 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!
Observation Tower and Viewing Platform
These are both located a short walk from the Visitor Center parking area.
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. 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. 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. 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
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.
More information about Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
- Cost: Free
- Located in Seneca Falls, roughly 80 minutes / 55 miles from Rochester (get directions)
- More information: fws.gov/refuge/montezuma/
I’m looking forward to going back at different times throughout the year. We’ve visited in November, July, and September and I would love to witness the snow geese migration in March!