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  Fish and Wildlife Refuge or Sanctuary
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Modoc National Wildlife Refuge

The Warners Mountains and Dorris Reservoir

Photo © Lorissa Soriano

“Not to have known – as most men have not – either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.”

–Joseph Wood Krutch, The Desert Year, 1952

Fed by snow melt from the Warner Mountains, the Pit River creates an oasis for wildlife in the high desert of northeastern California—Modoc National Wildlife Refuge.  Permanent ponds, seasonal marshes, and wet meadows beckon thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds to the refuge as they make their journeys between nesting and wintering grounds along the Pacific Flyway.  In summer, ducks, geese and greater sandhill cranes nest in wet meadows, while dense stands of cattail and tule provide secluded habitat for great and snowy egrets, black-crowned night-herons, and white-faced ibis.

The Modoc Wildlife Refuge is a mecca for birdwatchers in the spring and fall, when many thousands of waterfowl stop over here during their migration. The refuge’s variety of habitats attract many species of birds with over 250 species observed on the refuge thus far.  Highlights include thousands of ducks and geese, and hundreds of tundra swans and sandhill cranes in spring and fall; nesting cranes, ducks, geese and waterbirds in summer; and bald and golden eagles in winter.

The 7,000 acre refuge was established in 1961 to manage and protect migratory birds.  The refuge is one of over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network of lands set aside specifically to conserve fish, wildlife and plants. 

Recreational Opportunities

Enjoying the Refuge

Millions of people visit National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) each year to observe, photograph, and learn more about nature.  Wildlife-dependent activities are permitted when they are compatible with the long-term survival of wildlife populations and their habitats.  Various opportunities are available to enjoy wildlife at Modoc NWR.

Auto Tour Route

This 3-mile auto tour loop begins 1/4 mile in along the main entrance road and provides you with the opportunity to see wetland wildlife.  The tour route is available to motorized vehicles and bicycles; however for the best viewing opportunities, please remain in your vehicle while driving slowly along the one-way loop.

Environmental Education

Special environmental education programs and guided tours are available.  To make reservations, please contact the refuge at least two weeks in advance.


Fishing is not allowed on any portion of the refuge except at Dorris Reservoir.


Waterfowl hunting is available on the western portion of the refuge during normal California State seasons (usually October through January).  A hunting brochure is available at the refuge for more information.  All California State regulations apply.


The Auto Tour Route, Wigeon Pond Nature Trail and Overlook and U.S. 395 Overlook provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities along freshwater wetlands.  The Wigeon Pond Nature Trail, which is a short, gravel walking trail, is located one mile in off the Auto Tour Route.  Watch for pronghorn antelope at the U.S. 395 Overlook.  Additionally, U. S. 395 and County Roads 56, 57, 59, and 115 provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities along the perimeters of the refuge.

Seasons Accessible

Year round

Fees: No Fees

 ADA Accessibility Notes

The refuge had ADA accessibility

 Pet Friendly Notes

Pets must be on a leash and under the owner’s control at all times to protect wildlife.

For More Information, Contact:

Modoc National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 1610, Alturas, CA 96101
530.233.3572 · fax 530.233.4143

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Boundaries and names shown do not necessarily reflect the map policy of National Geographic.

Longitude: -120.524178800
Latitude: 41.454439200
Elevation: 4362 FT (1330 M)
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