Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, South Dakota.

Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The Refuge contains a total of 16,570 acres and is located in Bennett County in southwestern South Dakota. It is the only refuge in South Dakota headquartered west of the Missouri River. 

The Refuge lies in the shallow Lake Creek valley on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills and includes native sandhills, sub-irrigated meadows, impounded fresh water marshes, and tall and mixed grass prairie uplands. The Refuge serves as an important staging area for migrating waterfowl, Sandhill cranes, shorebirds, and grassland dependent migratory birds. One important role is to provide critical wintering habitat for the high plains trumpeter swan population. Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge is in the Central Flyway, which is one of four major migratory bird flyways in North America. 

It is known from historic records, that the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge area was frequently visited and lived by various indigenous people during the 18th and 19th centuries; including the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Pawnee, to name a few. Although no prehistoric sites have been determined eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, future discoveries may change that situation. 

Part of Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge's history is tied to the work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration era of the mid-1930s. With the country experiencing severe unemployment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, after only two days in office, created the Civilian Conservation Corps as a means to employ young men ages 18-25 to work in forests, parks, and rangelands. In addition, young men working under the Works Progress Administration built large structures including dams and levees to impound water and develop wetland habitat. These structures are still in use today!


Wetlands on the Refuge are managed to provide both resting cover and food for migratory birds during spring and fall migrations. Throughout the rest of the year, wetlands serve as production and maintenance habitat for waterfowl, other migratory birds, and resident wildlife. Substantial emergent and submergent vegetation occur in wetlands at the Refuge. Cattail, bulrushes, wild rice, smartweed and arrowhead abound, as well as sago pondweed, coontail and duckweed. Extensive mudflats created when wetlands are in the drawdown phase create quality food for migrating shorebirds and other neotropical species. Improved water quality and stimulated aquatic plant and insect growth occur during drawdowns and provide critical food, water, and shelter habitat for waterfowl, marsh/water birds, shorebirds, and neotropical migrants. Barnyard grass and annual smartweed that grow in the summer provide abundant seeds from the fall and spring migration and high aquatic insect populations when reflooded.  


Wet meadows occur primarily in the valley on the western edge of Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge and along margins of the wetlands. They are categorized as wet meadows due to the presence of ground water near the surface. Even during drought, the groundwater provides plenty of water for lush plant growth. These wet meadows contain a variety of native forbs, grasses and sedges. The meadows are a glow in late summer with Maximillian and Nuttal's sunflowers, swamp milkweed, joe pye weed, and goldenrods. A wide variety of native grass grows here as well, including prairie cordgrass, Canada bluejoint, and big bluestem. An abundance of sedges can be found in the wettest sites, including Nebraska sedge, slough sedge, aquatic sedge, and bottlebrush sedge. Several species of willows and indigobush also grow here, adding fire tolerant shrubs to the landscape.

Wet meadows are managed to maintain the diverse native plant community that exists primarily through grazing and weed control. Grazing in the spring helps to stress non-native grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome grass that tend to establish and invade during long periods when no active management occurs. When the cattle are removed, the area regrows and most visitors will not even realize the site had been grazed that year. The grazing also helps with weed control by improving the effectiveness of application. Canada thistle and leafy spurge are the primary concerns.

These wet meadows provide important habitat for many grassland nesting birds, including northern harriers, short eared owls, bobolinks, dicksissels, sharp tailed grouse, and long billed curlews. The sunflower seeds that grow in abundance provide food for thousands of migrating and wintering American tree, Lincoln's, and white-throated sparrows. Hundreds of white-tailed and mule deer winter in the wet meadows along with concentrations of northern harriers and short eared owls.


There are approximately 4,900 acres of native grasses, of which 3,726 acres are in the Nebraska Sandhills. Big bluestem, little bluestem, sand bluestem, prairie sandreed, switchgrass, Indiangrass, Canada wildrye, June grass, sand dropseed, needle and thread grass, western wheatgrass, salt grass, among others and numerous native forbs (broad leafed plants) have all been noted on Refuge grassland transects. Cacti are also part of the landscape, including yucca and prickly pear. The Sandhills portion of the Refuge contain a diverse component of grass and forb species generally not found anywhere else on the Refuge.

The Refuge contains approximately 5,450 acres of exotic, introduced grass species. Smooth brome and crested wheatgrass are the primary exotic grasses followed by Kentucky bluegrass. During the 1930's, large fields formerly planted to crops were planted to crested wheatgrass to minimize soil erosion. Many of these large, crested wheatgrass fields remain on the Refuge. In the early 1970's, habitat management techniques were developed to provide dense nesting cover for waterfowl. Several areas on the Refuge were planted to grass species such as smooth bromegrass and alfalfa. These fields provided good cover for nesting birds; however, the species composition consisted of exotic cool season grasses. Over time, these fields were invaded by Canada thistle, a non-native species. The Refuge is currently working to restore these grasslands, along with the crested wheat grass fields, to native grasses and forbs. The native prairie restoration process generally involves cropping the field for several years to eliminate exotic cool season grasses, control Canada thistle and other noxious weeds, and prepare a seed bed for planting native grass seed.

Upland vegetation is maintained to provide nesting habitat for migratory birds (waterfowl and neotropical migrants) and resident bird species. Upland habitats also provide necessary habitat requirements for resident wildlife throughout the year. A variety of management techniques have been implemented to maintain and enhance upland habitat conditions on the Refuge including the use of prescribed fire, grazing, haying, native prairie restoration, and invasive species management. 

Nearby Activities


Located about 15 miles northwest of the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge, the town of Martin (pop. 1,150) is the nearest town to the Refuge. Martin is the county seat for Bennett County and offers many visitor services to make your stay more enjoyable. Included in these services are medical facilities, restaurants, motel lodging, and veterinary services. Several gas stations, a grocery store, and hardware stores, among others, are also available to help meet your needs during your visit. For further information, you may call the Martin City offices at (605) 685-6525 or e-mail them at

Click here to view the general Refuge location. Please be advised that GPS directions may direct you to take roads that do not exist, or may not be public roads. 

Lacreek NWR is located about 120 miles southeast of Rapid City in southwestern South Dakota. If you are coming from the Rapid City area, there are several ways to get to the Refuge. First, you may take Interstate 90 east to Kadoka (exit 150). Turn right and proceed south on Highway 73 to the Highway 18 junction. From the junction, take a left and go about 1 mile to 231st Avenue; turn right on the gravel road. Head south 4 miles to the small town of Tuthill. Take a right on 293rd St. at Tuthill and go 1 mile. You will now be at the northeast corner of the Refuge -- look for the information kiosk. Take a left toward the kiosk on a gravel road, and travel about six miles to reach the Headquarters/Visitor Center. Once past the prairie dog town, you are almost there. Follow the signs to Headquarters and look for the Refuge’s fire tower. 

If you are coming from eastern South Dakota, the easiest route is to take Interstate 90 to the Kadoka exit and follow the above-mentioned directions to the Refuge. For visitors coming from Nebraska, the easiest route is to follow Highway 20 to Highway 61 in Merriman, Nebraska. Take Highway 61 north into South Dakota and look for the Refuge sign along the highway pointing you towards the Refuge. This road is 297th St. and is approximately 13.5 miles from Merriman. Take a right at 297th St. and go 8 miles to the Headquarters/Visitor Center. 

Another route to the Refuge from Rapid City (route #2), which takes you through a portion of the Badlands National Park, is to head out Highway 44 past the airport to Scenic, SD. From Scenic, go south to Sharps Corner, and continue south to the Highway 18 junction 10 miles east of the town of Pine Ridge. Take a left and it's about 35 miles to Martin. From Martin, take a right on Highway 73 and just follow the posted signs. Just in case a sign is missing, go approximately 4 miles south, turn left onto the gravel road, go 1 mile east, then turn right and go 1 mile south, then take a left and go 7 miles east. This will take you directly to the Refuge Headquarter. Be on the lookout for deer and pheasants along the gravel roads.

No matter which direction you come from, you will be treated to the sights and sounds that western South Dakota and north-central Nebraska have to offer. Drive safely and enjoy your visit! 

Additional Information