For a Wild Time, It's Better Than a Zoo

Just when you think that you have seen everything in North Idaho, another shimmering facet of the "gem state" reveals itself. The Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is a treasure unto itself hosting over 230 species of birds, 45 species of mammals, 22 species of fish and much more scenery than the outdoors enthusiast can absorb in a day.

Located five miles west of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, on 2,774 acres of prime wetlands and meadows, the refuge was established in 1965 to provide a resting place in the Pacific Flyway for migrating waterfowl. Species of birds that can be spotted at the refuge include geese, ducks, herons, rough-legged hawks and bald eagles. The natural habitat also attracts big game such as elk, deer, bear and moose.

Bordered on the north and east by the Kootenai River and embraced by the Selkirk Mountains on its western boundary, the Kootenai refuge is part of a national system of more than 500 wildlife refuges that encompass more than 92 million acres of land and water.

The easiest way to see the refuge is to take the 4.5-mile auto tour that circumnavigates the main ponds. This one-way gravel road begins at the refuge office and winds past several wildlife photo blinds and foot trails. For the more adventurous day trippers, the refuge maintains a system of foot trails.

The shortest and perhaps the most dramatic trail is the quarter-mile Myrtle Falls trail. At the base of the trail is a picnic area nestled beneath a cedar grove next to Myrtle Creek. Though the rest of the trail is winding and steep, it is well-maintained and suitable for children attended by an adult. The falls are beautiful and well worth the hike.

For the hunting enthusiast, parts of the refuge are open to limited hunting of waterfowl and game. The dates, hours and bag limits generally correspond to state laws, but there are also special regulations that apply to refuges.

The refuge is open year round, although the auto tour is restricted during hunting season. Pick up a trail map at the refuge office, or call for more information at 208/267-3888.

- Ben Silverman


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