Kootenai is where I added American White Pelican to my life list, and not just one but dozens of the regal birds. I appreciate the many walking trails readily accessible from the main road through the refuge, accompanied by ample parking areas. A dedicated access road for automobiles cuts through a variety of habitats — mixed-forests, wetlands, grasslands, and the Kootenai River.
Spring and fall migrations make the refuge a haven for waterfowl, raptors, and other species. And the surprisingly wide variety of summer residents also makes for many birding moments. As with much of northern Idaho, sudden changes in weather stir up the birds and provides for ever-changing opportunities to view the species that both live in the refuge, use it as a seasonal home, or pause for layovers. For me, the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is the birding hotspot of this region.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands, grasslands, mixed forests, and a large river.
Mostly flat. Trails easily hiked. All roads gravel, maintained year-round.
Northern Pintail, Wood Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed, Horned, Red-necked, and Eared Grebes, Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, American White Pelican, American Bittern, Wilson’s Snipe, Black Tern, Vaux’s Swift, Ruffed and Dusky Grouse, Swainson’s, and Rough-legged Hawks, Red-naped Sapsucker, Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Steller’s Jay.
When to go
Year-round. Summer offers best opportunity to fully utilize hiking trails and auto route.
Covered viewing area at headquarters that overlooks a wetland and provides access to spotting scopes, one of which is wheelchair-accessible. Restrooms. Friends group provides walking tours of refuge every third Saturday in spring and fall. Food and other amenities available in Bonners Ferry.
National wildlife refuge. No fees. Open every day dawn to dusk; visitor center and refuge office follow traditional business hours. Access to the auto route and its viewing sites is controlled by automatic gates that open at sunrise and close a half-hour after sunset. Route closed in winter to vehicles; open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Prepare for dynamic and ever-changing weather. Bring a spotting scope and a camera.
For more info
Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, (208) 267-3888
Friends of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge
McArthur Lake Wildlife Management Area
About 14 miles south of Bonners Ferry on U.S. Hwy. 2. A prime nesting area for shorebirds and waterfowl, as well as many songbird species.
Oden Bay and Sunnyside Loop Rd.
About 35 miles south of Bonners Ferry. This birding route can provide diverse viewing opportunities of waterfowl and other water birds, including different species of grebes, year-round. See our website for directions.