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Montezuma Wetlands Complex & Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Coordinates: 42.97453°N  76.75948°W

Elevation: 390 feet/119 meters



A great egret keeps an eye open for frogs and small fish at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.


Montezuma Wetlands Complex is one of the best places in the Finger Lakes to enjoy wildlife. Located at the northern end of Cayuga Lake, the complex comprises roughly 50,000 acres of water, marsh, muckland, grassland, woodland, and cultivated farmland. The complex is owned by a variety of entities, including the federal government, which owns Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge; the State of New York, which owns Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area; non-profit organizations (NGOs); and private landowners.

Wildlife Watching

Wildlife abounds in this area. Not only is it possible to see nearly 200 species of birds both rare and common, one can also see muskrat, beaver, the occasional black bear, white-tailed deer, foxes--both red and gray, small mammals like squirrels and chipmunks, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

Recreational Activities

The most popular activity by far is bird watching. A good field guide, a pair of binoculars, a spotting scope, and a camera are derigeur with most birders. Make sure you stop in at the refuge's visitor center or check e-Bird for the latest sightings.


A bad picture of a good bird as they say, in this case, an osprey that was nesting on an electric pole along State Route 89. The photo was taken out a car window with no long lens. No, the pole wasn't tilting, it's just the angle of the camera.

Montezuma has a number of short hiking trails on the west side of the complex through wooded areas that provide good birding for warblers and other birds that like shrubby areas. This is really the only place where you can get out of your car and walk any distance.


Montezuma is now offering cell phone tours. Look for the blue and white cell phone symbol as you drive the roads or hike the trails through the complex, then key in the phone number on the sign and follow the prompt. You will be able to listen to information and stories about the complex.


Boating is also very popular in this area. Cayuga Lake, the largest of the 11 Finger Lakes, is ideal for both motorboating and sailboating. The rivers are good for motorboating and the canals are good for slow boating, kayaking, canoeing, and barging. (See the boating section for information about renting kayaks, canoes, and boats, as well as launch sites. See the canal section for information about chartering a canal barge.)


Lock 25 of the Erie Canal at Mays Point is in the refuge.

The terrain in the area around Montezuma is basically flat and fairly open. The state roads are well paved with wide shoulders ideal for biking. (Don't forget to wear a helmet.) State Route 31, just a short distance to the north of Montezuma, is actually part of the Erie Canal bike trail and takes you through a farmed muckland frequented by many birds during migration.


Corn and phragmites grow in the muckland along State Route 31 just north of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

The entire region is quite scenic and provides many photo ops. Despite the fact that the birds and other animals are totally wild, they become habituated to seeing humans and some can be quite accommodating. Still, a long lens and a tripod are good to have as it's inappropriate to infringe on their "space" and there are no blinds/hides that allow you to position yourself close without being seen. Many photographers sit inside their cars, which act as a type of blind, and use a window mount. for their cameras.


A cloud of red-winged blackbirds and common grackles passes over the mucklands along State Route 31.

In the winter the drive through the refuge is closed, however, cross-country skiing is permitted on the drive and can be a very pleasant experience as the road is long and flat. Other spots to ski are described here: http://www.friendsofmontezuma.org/xc_ski.html 


Cayuga Lake State Park

Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Montezuma Audubon Center

Montezuma Winery

Seneca Meadows Wetland Preserve

Seneca River

Women's Rights National Historical Park


Updated 10 September 2010







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