As the perfect day trip from Reno, the fascinating Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge is smack dab in the center of the Lahontan Valley, just outside the north-central community of Fallon. Very well known by wildlife enthusiasts and birders, this area is particularly important due to its ranking as an area of International Importance by the Western hemispheric Shorebird Reserve. Classified with such an eminent title, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds use Stillwater as an integral stopping place along their migratory routes.
Originally designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1949, the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge encompasses an enormous 79,570 acres of dynamic landscapes which include freshwater and brackish marshes, river corridors, alkali playas, desert shrublands, sand dunes, and an island at a desert lake. Altogether, it’s not challenging to recongnize that the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge is a bonafide thriving oasis in the otherwise surrounding high desert landscape.
Originally beginning as a colossal lake covering an unfathomable amount of terrain 12,000 years ago, Lake Lahontan filled innumerable valleys in Western Nevada. While warming temperatures and glacial retreat attributed to the end of the ice age, a gargantuan majority of Lake Lahontan evaporated as well, leaving a tiny sliver we can visit today: Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. When visiting the Refuge today, be sure to observe the surrounding mountainsides for evidence of Lake Lahontan’s former shoreline.
Later, Paiute Native Americans heavily occupied the valley, also known as the Carson Sink, dependent on the thriving ecosystem the marshy environment and abundant resources the land provided. Here, they could utilize the fish, waterfowl, and vegetation Stillwater so bountifully supplied. People in great numbers continued to thrive here until a record series of droughts swept the region nearly 1,000 years ago, forcing them to move on to more prosperous territories. Later in the 1800s, many Euro-American explorers re-discovered the area, eventually creating farmsteads along this uncharacteristically moist landscape.
Although drought has continued to wreak havoc on this landscape throughout the past century, action was luckily taken in the 1940s to prevent complete loss of the Stillwater marshes with the implementation of an irrigation project. Water redirected from the Carson River flows to the refuge in rationed quantities in order to preserve this tremendous wildlife spectacle and important stop along a migratory path.
When visiting the Stillwater National Wildlife Conservation Area today, partake in the abundant recreational activities to enjoy. In addition to the quarter million waterfowl attracted to Stillwater each year, visitors can revel in a whopping 400 species of wildlife that call Stillwater home, including beaver, mountain lion, bobcat, mule deer, coyote, bats, mink, and kit fox. Additionally, an enormous variety of reptiles live at Stillwater, including the Great Basin Spadefood Toad, Pacific Tree Frog, Northwestern Pond Turtle and a variety of lizards and snakes. The list goes on with dozens upon dozens of fish and insects found in the area also.
Aside from a first rate opportunity to observe and learn about wildlife, visitors can also enjoy a slew of recreational activity including several walking trails, photography, non-motorized boating, camping and hunting in designated areas. Take a relaxing drive to Stillwater with an afternoon picnic, or map out an overnight camping excursion to this dynamic and historically rich area! Plan an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience with a daytrip to Stillwater, where you can take advantage of free guided refuge tours. No matter how the details come together, just make sure you get there. A truly unparalled wildlife experience in north-western Nevada that is waiting to be enjoyed by all visitors and residents alike!
From Fallon, Nevada, follow U.S. Highway 50 east approximately 5 miles. Turn left onto Stillwater Road and follow the "Watchable Wildlife" signs to the refuge entrance (approximately 15 miles).
Visitors are encouraged to stop at the refuge Headquarters, located off Highway 50 on Harrigan Road, inside the medical complex located at 1020 New RIver Parkway, Suite #305.