Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Welcome to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, where the balance of nature is on view and wilderness is truly wild.

Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, the refuge is well known for the thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl that winter here each year.

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331-acre refuge harbors a wild stretch of the Rio Grande, a ribbon of cottonwood and willow trees visible on the landscape from distant mesas.

Petroglyphs tell the story of an ancient people that lived and hunted here. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic paleoindian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley.

Today, Bosque del Apache is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife, habitat and you.

Majestic birds like sandhill cranes migrated here to spend the winter feasting on nutritious grasses like chufa and millet. Other animals thrived amid the cottonwood forests and shrublands.

The big river attracted humans too. More than 700 years ago, Piro Indians built settlements of mud and stone houses along the river. They hunted and gathered food along the riverbanks, and they learned to farm the bottomlands. Life was good along the Rio Grande—for a while.

Then Spanish colonists arrived, following the river northward. Their horses, wagons, cattle and sheep trampled a rutted, dusty road. As more people moved in, they created ranches, farms, and towns that replaced the Piro and their pueblos.

These new settlers started to change the Rio Grande. A river that overflowed and dug new routes every season was a problem – especially if your house got flooded… or your crops washed away!

People started building dams and irrigation ditches to manage the flow of the river and divert water for crops, livestock, and homes. Taming the wild Rio Grande was great for people—but not great for wildlife. The once-grand river shrank to a shallow stream.

Without a flooding river, the floodplain marshes dried up. Chufa and millet and other plants that grew in the wetlands started to disappear. When their food supply disappeared, the region’s wildlife – especially its migratory birds — started to disappear too.

But many people thought the wildlife and habitats along the river here were worth preserving. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps began working to restore the floodplains in the Bosque del Apache area as wildlife habitat. In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
established the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge as part of a national system of lands dedicated to wildlife protection.

Today, the refuge staff at Bosque del Apache manages water to create wetlands, just like when the river ran wild. These seasonal wetlands re-create the exact types of habitats that year-round and migratory wildlife need to thrive. Using gates and ditches, refuge workers move water from the river through fields, marshes and ponds… and then back to the river to mimic natural flooding cycles.

And so once again, the Rio Grande and its wetlands provide food and homes for some of America’s most spectacular wildlife…as well as places where thousands of people – visitors like you — can see and enjoy the natural world.

Planning Your VisitBosque del Apache NWR Refuge Regulations & Information

Hours The Tour Loop (please see Tour Loop map ) is open from 1 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset every day of the year.
The visitor center is open from 8:00 – 4:00 every day, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and July 4.

Entry Fees The one-day entry fee is $5.00 per passenger vehicle with all occupants or $50 for a commercial tour bus. The fee can be paid at the visitor center during regular business hours, or at the seasonal fee booth at the entrance to the Tour Loop. If the fee booth is not open, a self-pay station is provided. Federal Passes are available for purchase at the visitor center and fee booth during business hours.

Restrooms The restrooms are in a separate building to the west of the visitor center, and are fully accessible. There are also permanent, accessible restrooms on the east side of the Tour Loop where the North and South Loops come together, and at the Flight Deck on the North Loop. From November through February additional porta-potties may be located around the tour loops.

Picnicking The refuge provides a picnic pavilion near the visitor center with trashcans. You may also eat at other locations of your choice, but be careful not to leave litter. If you packed it in, pack it out. No fires or grills are allowed anywhere on the refuge.

Vehicles and Parking The refuge lies along both sides of NM Highway 1, which connects to I-25 at exit 139 in the town of San Antonio and with I-25 exit 115 south of the refuge (please see our NM map and tour loop map). NM Highway 1 is a 55 mph state highway. Stopping suddenly on the roadway to look at birds or other wildlife is dangerous, so please use the wide turnouts along both the north and south approaches.
The visitor center parking lot can accommodate motor homes as well as cars. You are welcome to unhitch and use your tow vehicle on the Tour Loop, but it is not required. Please drive carefully on the gravel roads and stay on the designated roads and turnouts. The speed limit is 25 mph. There are both one-way and two-way sections, so observe signs carefully. You should expect vehicles ahead of you to stop – sometimes suddenly – as visitors spot interesting birds or other wildlife. Tour Loop roads are wide, so pull over to allow others to pass safely.

Camping There is no camping on the refuge for the public. This rule also applies to RVs; no overnight parking allowed. Staff at the visitor center can advise about camping and RV parks in the area, or you can check out our lodging page. (The group camping signs refer to scout, school, or college groups who are carrying out work projects for the refuge.)

Hiking and Biking The refuge provides many opportunities for hiking and limited biking. Some routes are only for hikers, others permit either. Bicycling routes vary by season, so please call ahead if you are planning a biking trip. There are kiosks, signs, and staff in the visitor center to provide further details about a particular route. For either activity, it is important that you stay on the designated trails and roads.

Photography is welcome in areas to which public access is permitted. Signage restrictions apply to all visitors, including photographers. Normal courtesy with respect to viewing rights of others is expected. (See “Other Uses of the Refuge” section covering commercial photography workshops). Also see our Events &Workshops for any photography workshops open to the public.

Hunting and Fishing Both hunting and fishing are allowed in designated areas during certain seasons, subject to New Mexico Game and Fish license and regulation requirements. Check with the staff in the visitor center for specific information on locations and regulations.

Swimming No wading, swimming, canoeing, boating, or floating is allowed in refuge waters, including the Rio Grande.

Horseback Riding Limited horseback riding in support of hunting only is allowed, restricted to areas of the refuge east of the Rio Grande during state hunt seasons. No horseback riding is allowed west of the Rio Grande. Call the Refuge for more information.

Signs Read the signs. Some prohibit all public access. Others prohibit vehicles but invite hiking and biking. Temporary barricades protect nesting, roosting and feeding areas and protect visitors from hazardous situations. Please respect them.

Animals Only service animals are allowed in refuge buildings. Please clean up after your pet. Releasing fish, other pets, or plants on the refuge is prohibited. They disrupt the biology by compromising the habitat and/or wildlife we are trying to preserve and are a source of disease. Do not attempt to feed birds or other wildlife – just observe and enjoy them as they are.
To ensure that you and your pet enjoy a safe visit, follow all pet regulations while inside the refuge. Wildlife may be drawn to pets and their owners; pets can wander away and may never be found – the refuge is a wild place!

Pets are allowed on the Bosque del Apache NWR under the following conditions:

From October 1 thru March 31:

  • Pets must be inside the vehicle at all times while on the Tour Loop.
  • Pets are not allowed on any trails adjacent to the Tour Loop (this includes: Marsh boardwalk, Taylor memorial trail/overlook, Rio Viejo trail, observation blind/trail
  • Pets are not permitted on observation decks, or inside the visitor center.
  • Pets are permitted on all hiking trails west of highway1 (this Includes: Chupadera trail and Canyon trail) though they must be physically restrained at all times on a leash no longer than six feet in length

From April 1 thru September 30:

  • Pets are permitted on all hiking trails though they must be physically restrained on a leash no longer than six feet in length…
  • Pets are not permitted on observation decks, or inside the visitor center.
  • Pets are permitted out of vehicles along the Tour Loop though they must be physically restrained at all times on a leash no longer than six feet in length

Collecting Do not pick, disturb, or collect any plants, animals, rocks, or artifacts on the refuge. If you wish to study or research an item later, take photos or make sketches. Virtual geocaching is allowed in areas open to the public; however, physical geocaching is not permitted on the Refuge.

Climate The refuge is at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert at about 4500′ elevation. Days are usually sunny, and a temperature change of 30° and more between dawn and noon is common. Thus, a hat and other sun protection plus layers of clothing that can be added and removed are recommended. Please check the San Antonio, NM weather forecast

Nature Store The Friends of Bosque del Apache NWR operates The Bosque Nature Store inside the visitor center as well as an The Bosque Nature Store Online with an excellent selection of books, water and snacks, clothing, and a broad selection of nature-related items from the southwest. Nature Store hours are the same as the visitor center (8-4).

Other Uses of the Refuge Workshops, such as photography workshops, commercial tours, film crews, and other commercial uses of the refuge are allowed by special permit and upon payment of the appropriate fee. Such activities must not impede public use of the refuge. Specific information is available at the visitor center and on our Events page.

Wilderness Area Access The Indian Well, Chupadera, and Little San Pascual Wilderness Areas are accessible by hiking year round via designated assess points only. You may hike off trail in these areas; travel is at your own risk. Be aware that these areas are also open to hunting during certain seasons. Horses and overnight camping are not allowed in refuge Wilderness Areas.

Visitor Center and Nature Store

The visitor center is the perfect place to start and end your adventure at Bosque del Apache NWR. Information about wildlife, trails and recreational opportunities on the refuge are readily available from one of our friendly rangers or volunteers. Brand new interpretive exhibits tell stories about the wildlife, management and history of the refuge and have great activities for the kids. The viewing window is a great spot to see migrant songbirds, resident quail and their chicks, and even busy packrats depending on the season.

The Desert Arboretum is located near the visitor center. This peaceful garden exhibits many of the cacti and other plants of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. In the spring the arboretum is awash in color as the claret cups, prickly pears, chollas, barrels, and other cacti bloom in succession. During the warm summer and fall months blossoming wildflowers appear, and several species of lizards dart underfoot. A small vernal pool provides a quiet, shady place for visitors to sit and enjoy the busy lives of insects such as native bees and butterflies.

Tour Loop  

bosqueThe 12-mile Tour Loop (larger map) winds through wetlands, screwbean mesquite savannas and cottonwood forests that the refuge manages for wildlife. During winter, up to 100,000 sandhill cranes, snow geese and ducks fill the refuge’s wetlands and agricultural fields, some of which may be seen from the Tour Loop. During summer, the wetland areas are dried to encourage plant growth, and songbirds, raptors, deer and coyotes are frequently seen. Seeds and plant material grown during the summer become important food sources for the birds in the winter. Six accessible observation decks are located along the tour loop and provide an elevated platform for wildlife observation and photography. Location, season, water availability, habitat conditions, and time of day influence the wildlife visible from a particular deck. Audio tours for either the “summer“ (May-October) or “winter” (October-April) seasons are available in the Nature Store and through the seasonal fee booth. Each audio tour is full of wildlife observation tips, natural history facts and much more. Please help keep the wildlife and other refuge visitors safe by observing the 25 mph speed limit and parking only in designated areas.

Observation Blind

The Observation Blind, donated by the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, is just a short walk from the North Loop. It provides a unique opportunity to observe and photograph undisturbed waterfowl up close. The quack of mallards, fluting trill of pintails, chatter of snow geese, and voices of many other species of waterbirds make this a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch in the winter.

Prairie Dog Town Overlook

bosque2Located on Highway 1 just south of the Tour Loop entrance, the Prairie Dog Town Overlook provides an opportunity to view the reintroduced black-tailed prairie dog. Prairie dogs play an important role in the native ecosystems of the Southwest and have suffered serious population reductions from their historic numbers. The overlook is a great place to learn a little more about these charismatic animals.


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