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Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge lies within the small New York town of Tyre, but is close to many more well known cities, including Rochester, Syracuse, and Seneca Falls. The refuge is a 10,004-acre preserve that is made up off pools, the Montezuma Swamp, and channels. The refuge is operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1973 the area was designated as a National Natural Landmark. The area is considered to be one of the most important spots along the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory route that begins in Greenland, down the east coast of Canada, and then the east coast of the United States. Many bird species stop along the route at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

The History

The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Finger Lakes were formed as a result of melting glaciers in the area. After melting the northern and southern ends of the lakes developed into marshes.

With the development of the area, 70% of what was originally the Montezuma Swamp was drained. What remains today in the protected area of ten thousand acres.

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How to Get There

Address: 3395 U.S. Route 20 East, Seneca Falls, NY, 13148

The Wildlife Refuge can be reached from the New York State thru-way. Take exit 41 off of the thruway, then take a right onto NY-414 for 200 yards. Turn left onto NY-318 and continue for 5 miles. Turn left onto NY-5/US-20 and continue for about a mile before reaching the refuge.

Fees

Entrance to the park is free!

Best Time to Visit

The best time of day to visit the refuge for wildlife viewing in early morning or later afternoon.

Late February to April is the Spring Migration when you will see thousands of birds passing through as they head North. Mid-April and May are the hatching months for many of the species, including the Bald Eagles. Mid-August through Mid-October will see the Fall Migration when thousands are headed South for the winter months.

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What Animals Can You Expect to See?

Birds

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Green-Backed Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Virginia Rail
  • Sora
  • Bitterns
  • Common Moorhen
  • Pied-Billed Grebes
  • Bald Eagles
  • Canada Geese
  • Snow Geese
  • Black Ducks
  • Mallards

Mammals

  • Racoons
  • Coyotes
  • Muskrat
  • Squirrel
  • Red Fox
  • Chipmunk
  • Beaver
  • Gray Fox
  • Bats
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A Canadian Goose spreading its wing.

The Trails

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Photo Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Seneca Trail:

The Seneca Trail starts at the visitors center, provides views of the main pool on an observation deck, and takes you past the Cayuga-Seneca Barge Canal. The Seneca Trail is a 1 mile, flat and easy loop trail.

Drive Thru:

The drive through is 3.5 miles long through the refuge. Along the drive you will find many stops for photos. The drive opens in April (but does depend on the weather) and closes in winter once snow/ice make it difficult to drive.

The Ester Brook Trail:

The Ester Brook trail is a 1.3 miles long loop trail. The entrance to the Ester Brook Trail is found at Gravel Road. The terrain is easy to moderate. This trail will take you past two ponds, along the Ester Brook, and through the woods. This trail is know for its wildflowers that start to flourish in May.

The South Spring Pool Trail:

The South Spring Pool Trail is located just off of Route 89 after Lay Road. The trail eventually meets up with the Ester Brook Trail at the Ridge Trail. The terrain is easy to moderate. Along this trail you can expect to see herons, ducks, woodpeckers, bobolink, and a variety of other song birds.

The Oxbow Trail:

The Oxbow Trail is an easy 3/4 mile loop trail. The trail goes through a mowed field. Along the trail you may see baby snapping turtles, fox holes, and rabbits.

The Seneca Trail, Montezuma Wildlife Refuge
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A section of the Seneca Trail.

Activities

  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Jr. Refuge Manager Activity Booklets

Photo Inspiration

The Montezuma Wildlife Refuge is best explored through photos (if you can’t be there in real life of course!)

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The clouds were magnificent.
marsh, Montezuma Wildlife Refuge
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An area of the marsh.
Montezuma Wildlife Refuge plants
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Some plants located along the marsh.
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A section of the marsh.
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A dragonfly sitting on a ledge. These guys are plentiful!
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The marsh.
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Cayuga-Seneca Barge Canal.
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A section of the marsh at one of the photo stops.
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A flower along the marsh.
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The iconic bald eagle statue that can be seen from the NYS thruway.
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Overlooking one of the pools.
plants
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More flowers along the marsh.
plants, montezuma wildlife refuge
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Flowers along the Seneca Trail.
birds, montezuma wildlife refuge
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Birds enjoying the marsh.
marsh
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The marsh.
Montezuma wildlife refuge
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Canadian Geese enjoying the water.
dragonfly, montezuma wildlife refuge
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A dragonfly amongst the plants.
marsh
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Marsh view.
plants, Montezuma wildlife refuge
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Plant life.
Canadian geese, Montezuma Wildlife Refuge
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Canadian Geese.
the marsh, Montezuma Wildlife Refuge
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Marsh View.
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The Montezuma Wildlife Refuge is located in a small upstate NY town and offers plenty of nature, trails, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
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13 Comments »

  1. Ooo, I love anything to do with animals and the trails look fun! I wonder why they named it after an Aztec leader? I didn’t know about this wildlife refuge. Thanks for sharing! Your pictures are gorgeous, too, by the way!

    • It was a look of fun and very peaceful! Your question intrigued me, so I looked into where the name came from. An individual who lived in the area in the early 1800’s by the name of Dr. Peter Clark had named his hilltop home Montezuma after the Aztec leader, and the name eventually spread to the whole area. Thank you! It was a great day for picture taking.

  2. I never knew this was in New York! I love that you can see a variety of animals there, and those clouds are stunning – I’m a big fan of photographing shapely clouds. This looks like a must-see. I totally enjoy doing anything outdoors when I travel!

  3. Oh no! I was so close to there and I had no idea this existed. I would’ve loved to hike here – it looks gorgeous. Oh well, I’ll use it as an excuse to go back someday! Your photography is gorgeous by the way!

    • I have lived in the area for years and just visited it this year. I remember driving by many times, but never really paid attention to what was there. It is a beauty! Thank you!

  4. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden gem of the Finger Lakes region and you have covered it so well in this post! Last year, we went canoeing there in June and it was so much fun. Oxbow Trail was also a lot of fun 😀 Though, in hindsight, I wish I knew about the spring migration time of the year, I could have planned that trip better. Will remember it for the next time! Thanks for the tips! 😀

    • I saw so many people boating on the water while I was there, it made me want to take another trip just to do that! I haven’t visited during the migration, but I think it would be spectacular to see! Hope you can make it back

  5. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge looks like a haven for birdwatchers. The hiking trails are not too long and it makes a great place to walk with the little ones while teaching them about wild animals and plants. Your pictures of the refuge are so beautiful. You make me want to visit.

  6. Our daughter is an ornithologist. We will have to take her for a visit for the Atlantic Flyway. She could spot birds for us for sure. I would be fine as long as I missed the bats! I like that there are options for drive through or for different trails. It certainly looks like a great spot to get outside in nature. Definitely a spot for wildlife photographers.

  7. Wow this is an extraordinary place for bird watchers. The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge would be a great way to spend a day as I too love nature. It reminded me of Olhao in Portugal where we did a bird safari like this. Thanks for the information on the best time of the year to visit. A refreshing trip for me from home for now.

  8. I would love to take my nephew here to see Bald Eagles. I have not seen one in the wild and think it would be an amazing memory. The marsh system looks like fun to explore as well, your photos of it are gorgeous

  9. A free park with so much of diversity. Amazing! I love the way you have dissected the various trails, what they have to offer and what you can expect to see in those. Makes it easy for any one to plan based on their interests. Loved your own experience too – stunning those pictures are. Thanks for the virtual tour

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