Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge Scenic Backway

“A dark line of trees marked our approach to a running stream, the River of Lakes …. The conical skin lodges were now plainly in sight, not more than five miles off, and Indians galloped out from the camp to meet us and escort us in. Buffalos, they said, were plenty.”

It was crowned Riviere des Lacs – a River of Lakes running through a verdant valley, by French Canadians coming south from Canada to trap beaver, muskrat, mink and other fur bearing creatures that made the beautiful river valley their home. The Plains Indians, Native Americans already living in the area, heartily welcomed fur trader Henry Bollos when he came upon them while seeking shelter from the harsh winter. The late 1800s brought settlers who worked in farming, ranching, and coal mining, causing waterfowl to decline to record lows, before the National Wildlife Refuges was designated.

Although remnants of the Native American villages still remain, today’s visitors exclaim “birds are everywhere!” Every fall, a blizzard of white descends on that same river of lakes, the Des Lacs Valley that looks like it may be an early snowstorm. The flurry is actually thousands of snow geese and tundra swans joining the resident ducks and shorebirds. Few other places in the world have this concentration of birds and one of the very few places that have five different species of grebes: piped-billed, horned, eared, red neck and western, all nesting in one place.    

Now, nearly 20,000 acres that are a landing place for thousands of migratory birds, as well as other wildlife. At most times of the year, more than 250 species of birds can be spotted here, along with moose, deer, beavers, and pelicans. Even though known for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, the Refuge is also known for animals which are not found in other parts of North Dakota. The Northern Pintail, large dabbling ducks, nest April-June. Hungarian Partridges, or Grey Partridges stay on the Refuge year-round. You can delight at the sight of western grebes running over the water during their courtship every spring. Mallards nest everywhere. White and blue Lesser Snow Geese, come and go in spring and fall. Also keep an eye out for deer, moose, raptors, wild turkeys and other wildlife. Along the entire route, the scenery is gorgeous, and there are excellent opportunities with incomparable access to waterfowl, water and songbirds.

Drive slowly as you make your way through the Refuge, to make sure you don’t miss a single species showing off in the wild.  It’s a different world up here, savor your time to enjoy it.