Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri.

The Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is growing. Established in 1994, the refuge has grown to 10,400 acres. Like pearls on a string, these acres are spread out as individual units along the Missouri River between Kansas City and St. Louis. These pearls of habitat benefit floodplain-dependent fish and wildlife species. The Big Muddy Refuge is planning to grow to 60,000 acres by buying land from willing sellers who want to see their properties set aside for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of all.

The pre-development Missouri River as documented by Lewis and Clark was considerably different from today's river. The historic Missouri was a broad, slow-moving, shallow river with braided channels. To put it in perspective, Lewis and Clark didn't float up the Missouri River, they pulled and poled their boats up. These past river conditions created a haven for wildlife, which included vast floodplain forests of giant trees, marshes, and even wet prairies. Today's river is channelized. It is deeper and faster, and controlled by levees, dikes, and other containment structures. These controls make the river more navigable and the surrounding floodplain ideal for agriculture.

The Big Muddy Refuge is allowing the Missouri River to be a river again. In locations where we have acquired enough land and are not affecting preferred conditions of adjacent private lands, we are allowing the river to enter its floodplain. This occurs during minor flood events. We have created side channels, cut down levees, and allowed the floodplain vegetation to return. Currently, in many places the refuge is an impenetrable thicket of young trees and vegetation, but, as the trees grow and the refuge matures, its appearance will change. The process may take decades or even centuries, but we are committed to the future benefit of fish and wildlife resources in the Missouri River floodplain. Come grow with us.

Nearby Activities


To reach the refuge headquarters in Southeast Columbia, Missouri, take the AC exit off Highway 63; turn east onto New Haven Road. Travel one mile to USGS Environmental and Contaminants Research Center. The refuge office is located down the third driveway on the right off New Haven Rd.

Located in Missouri at twelve separate units along the final 367 miles of the Missouri River. All the refuges units are open to the public and many have at least one parking facility and informational kiosk. Some units have trails, scour lakes for fishing, and all are open to hunting and wildlife viewing. Check out the Points of Interest section of our "Plan Your Visit" section of our main website for more detailed information on how to get to these different areas.

Additional Information