Situated along the Mississippi River between Canton, Missouri, and Quincy, Illinois, the Great River National Wildlife Refuge is a prime example of a habitat for native wildlife.

It covers more than 11,000 acres of wetlands, sand grasslands and floodplain forests across the two states.

There's lots to do during a visit, from birding to fishing, hiking and hunting. Here is a rundown:

Birding: In 1998, Great River was designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

An Important Bird Area fits criteria for maintaining shorebird, water fowl and and wading bird populations. Bald eagles, puffins, condors and more can be spotted along the shorelines and in wooded areas.

Many migratory birds take advantage of the ample food supply the river and its surrounding marshes provide. During the summer, wading birds and other species heading north or south use the area to breed.

Fishing: Visitors must follow the general fishing laws as defined by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Common fish found in lakes and rivers at the refuge are channel catfish, largemouth bass, bullhead, bluegill, crappie and white bass.

Hiking: While the Great River Refuge does not have any marked trails, those looking to walk can roam among the woods at the refuge. All-terrain vehicles are not permitted, but pedal biking is allowed.

Hunting: Hunting is allowed in specific sections of the park and follows state and federal guidelines. Deer, birds, game, furbearers and turkey are all permitted targets in accordance with state law. Hunters can become familiar with regulations through the refuge's hunt brochure available online.

Conditions: Access roads and other areas of the refuge may be unavailable under certain conditions.

Bird breeding season and unfavorable weather conditions can block some nature areas or access roads.

Boat usage may be prohibited or limited due to high river levels. Pedestrian fishers can walk to lakes at any time.

Though overnight camping is not available, guided tours and group visits can be arranged.

One visitor experience

Kelsey Duke, an MU student from Quincy, said she has enjoyed several school field trips to the refuge.

"We would do scavenger hunts and learn about nature, look at the different leaves, identify plants," Duke said. "It was cool to get to learn about nature and be outside of the classroom ... I think it's a good learning environment for people."

Many of her friends would frequent Great River outside of educational excursions to hike or fish.

Those looking for a remote, secluded getaway to connect with nature can find all they need at Great River. The land is available to roam at no cost to patrons.

  • Community reporter, spring 2023. Studying journalism and Spanish Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.