Bosque del Apache NWR--Visitor Center (do not use for whole refuge)

Tips for Birding

Bosque del Apache’s Visitor Center is one of the top 10 eBird hotspots in New Mexico, with over 280 species having been reported here. It is a hotspot specific to a limited geographic area within the refuge, and should not be confused with the overall Bosque del Apache NWR hotspot; although it may be tempting because you start your birding at the Visitor Center, do not dump all of your refuge sightings into a list for the Visitor Center. eBirders preparing a single list of observations for the entire Refuge may, of course, include Visitor Center birds within their Bosque del Apache NWR hotspot list.

The Visitor Center is located on the west side of NM-1 about 9 miles south of the village of San Antonio, or if coming from the south, about 18 miles north of the Fort Craig I-25 exit (Exit 115). Enter the large, paved parking area directly north of the Visitor Center itself. New water-flush restrooms were opened at the southeast corner of the parking area in January 2022. Accessible parking is available at the southwest corner of the parking area, directly in front of the Visitor Center building entrance.

You may think of the hotspot as containing four component areas.

First is the parking area, landscaped with a variety of trees and bushes, having native grasses, invasive kochia, and a few cottonwoods bordering the tarmac; all worthy of birder examination.

West of the parking area, and up either a ramp or series of steps, lies an open plaza and a shaded pavilion, both featuring picnic tables; hummingbird feeders are sometimes placed in the pavilion during spring and summer. A cement sidewalk takes you to the Friends of Bosque del Apache Arboretum, containing feeders and water features attracting a variety of birds.

Feeders and water dishes are also placed on the east side of the Visitor Center building. These may be viewed from a large window inside the building or a small elevated area up a few steps outside the east wall of the Visitor Center. Check the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website for hours the Visitor Center building is open; as well as the viewing area, the Center contains many educational displays. Volunteers there, like employees at the Friends’ Nature Store, on the west side of the building, have useful information regarding recent sightings.

Finally, restrain your eagerness to get onto the Auto Tour Loop, and take a few minutes to view the trees, shrubs, and winter-flooded area on the east side of NM-1 across from the Visitor Center parking area.

One last note: Please observe all signage and barriers. West of the Visitor Center are living quarters for US Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers, refuge maintenance and research buildings, equipment and supplies storage areas, and ultimately railroad tracks. This area is restricted as much for your safety as for the privacy of staff and volunteers.

Birds of Interest

Calliope, Rufous, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird (July-September)
Ferruginous Hawk (occasional, November-February)
Bell's Vireo (April-August)
Phainopepla (all year, with greater frequency June-October)
Cassin's Finch (occasional, September-May)
Yellow-headed Blackbird (November-April)
Virginia's Warbler (occasional April-May and September)
Pyrrhuloxia (October-March)

About this Location

The Visitor Center area includes a gift shop, a museum, restrooms, a picnic area, and a desert arboretum. You may visit this area without charge;  payment is required to enter the Auto Tour Loop.

The Visitor Center and Nature Store are great places to begin your visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Here, volunteers are available to provide you with a map and let you know what is happening on the refuge. Displays in the visitor center explain habitat management and introduce you to the wildlife that call the refuge home. A nature store, run by the Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, has field guides, checklists, and nature-themed gifts to help enhance your visit. 

A water refill station and fountain are located inside the visitor center, available concurrently with hours the visitor center is open.

Flush toilets, typically open from 8 am to 4 pm, are located adjacent to the visitor center.  

About Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

See all hotspots at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, the refuge is well known for the thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and other waterfowl that winter here each year.

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331-acre refuge harbors a wild stretch of the Rio Grande, a ribbon of cottonwood and willow trees visible on the landscape from distant mesas.

Petroglyphs tell the story of ancient people who lived and hunted here. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish, and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic Paleo-Indian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley.

Today, Bosque del Apache is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife, habitat, and you.

Notable Trails

The Desert Arboretum Trail is an easy eighth-mile trail, directly west of the Visitor Center parking area.


  • Restrooms on site

  • Wheelchair accessible trail

  • Roadside viewing

  • Entrance fee

Content from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website, Birding in New Mexico (National Audubon Society), and John Montgomery

Last updated March 20, 2024