Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado

6550 Gateway Road
Commerce City, CO 80022
Phone: 303-289-0232
Email: rockymountainarsenal@fws.gov
Admission Fee: Free
Sunday: Sunrise to Sunset
Monday: Sunrise to Sunset
Tuesday: Sunrise to Sunset
Wednesday: Sunrise to Sunset
Thursday: Sunrise to Sunset
Friday: Sunrise To Sunset
Saturday: Sunrise to Sunset
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About Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMANWR) is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  This 15,000-acre refuge in Commerce City, Colorado, offers a wildlife drive, fishing, hiking, and a ferret house.  The RMANWR Wildlife Drive is one of our favorite activities.  You can see bison right from your car!

Table of Contents

Entering Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

There is no charge to visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge Entrance – The refuge entrance is at 6550 Gateway Road, Commerce City, Colorado 80022.  There are a few ways to get to the Refuge through side streets if you are a local.  

From I-70, get off at the Quebec Street Exit and go north. Travel approximately 2.8 miles to Prairie Parkway/64th Avenue. Turn right at Prairie Parkway and travel 0.6 miles to Gateway Road. Turn left at Gateway Road. Continue on Gateway Road until you pass through the Refuge entrance.

Once you get to the entrance, you will go under the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge wooden sign.  From there, you can follow the park sign to the Visitor Center or go towards the right for the Wildlife Drive.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

We recommend checking to verify if the Visitor Center is open before your visit.  In May 2021, the Visitor Center was closed due to COVID.  We were able to access the entire Refuge except for the Visitor Center.

As of August 9, 2021, the Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  The visitor center has outdoor restrooms.

The Ferret House

Outside of the Visitor Center, you can visit the Ferret House, which houses two black-footed ferrets. 

The top (roof) of The Ferret House is a viewing platform with spotting scopes that help you find wildlife in the shortgrass prairie.   The Ferret House has an indoor exhibit, which is currently closed.  During our visit, we did not see the ferrets in the outdoor enclosure.  The indoor and outdoor exhibits connect to over 80 feet of underground tunnels, which simulate a prairie dog town.  We recommend visiting either during the early morning or before sunset to increase your chances of seeing the black-footed ferrets.

There is signage outside of The Ferret House that shares more about the black-footed ferret.  The information on the sign is as follows:

A Ferret Success Story

Black-footed ferrets are one of North America’s most endangered mammals.  The destruction of prairie dog towns, loss of habitat, and disease have all severely impacted ferrets.

Since 1986, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with partners on a successful captive breeding program.  In October 2015, black-footed ferrets were reintroduced at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Ferrets are nocturnal and spend most of their time underground.  Their large ears and eyes give them keen hearing and sight, but smell is their most powerful sense for nighttime hunting.

The short grass prairie at the Refuge is home to a diversity of wildlife, including prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, bison, cottontail rabbits, red-tailed hawks, mule deer, and songbirds.

Bird and Butterfly Garden

Bird And Butterfly Garden At Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Outside of the Visitor Center, you can access the Bird and Butterfly Garden.  This area is designed, planted, and maintained by Refuge Volunteers.  The enclosed area has various plants that attract pollinators.  There is also a wooden bench in the middle of the garden.

The signage outside the garden explains the relationship between pollinators.  The sign explains how to plant a pollinator garden:

PLANTING A POLLINATOR GARDEN

Flowering plants use fragrance and color to attract butterflies, moths, flies, bees, and hummingbirds.  Most of these pollinators come back to drink nectar – the energy-packed sugary liquid flowers produce.  The plant’s pollen (powdery seed dust) rubs off onto the feet, head, wings and abdomen of each pollinator, as it drinks.  The pollen is moved from flower to flower, helping these plants to reproduce by making fruits and seeds.  You can attract pollinators to your yard by providing a wide variety of native flowering plants and avoiding pesticides.

The site has been certified and registered by the Monarch Watch as an official Monarch Waystation.  Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.

Wildlife Drive

Bison on Wildlife Drive at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

The Wildlife Drive is a relaxing 45-60 minute drive through 11 miles of bison pasture, grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands.  You can see bison, deer, hawks, and waterfowl. There are markers along the Wildlife Drive which correspond with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge map.

There is a podcast that that corresponds with the mile markers. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge has the podcast on its site.  It is also available on Google Play Music, Apple iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.   I would recommend listening to the podcast safely during your visit, or even beforehand.  The podcast is very informative!  It talks about the refuge, wildlife, and animal behavior.

Searching for the audio tour podcast on their website is a bit of a challenge.  So we have attached it below for you to download onto your device:

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Audio Tour (Podcast)

There are hiking trails with parking lots along Wildlife Drive, which are perfect for taking a closer look at the refuge and stretching your legs.

Hiking

Hiking At Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge offers more than 20 miles of trails.  Getting out on the trails is a great way to view and photograph wildlife!

The trails range from 0.2 miles to 14.2 miles.  The Refuge map is color-coded into three categories:

Trails open to only hiking:

Army Historic Trail (0.3 miles)
Discovery Trail (1 mile)
Lake Ladora Loop Trail (1.8 miles)
Lake Mary Loop Trail (0.6 miles)
Locust Loop (0.8 miles)
Prairie Switchback Trail (0.3 miles)
Rattlesnake Hill Trail (0.3 miles)
Upper Derby Trail (0.2 miles)

Trails open to only hiking and biking:

Bluestem Loop Trail (1.3 miles)
Buckley Trail (1.3 miles)
Havana Ponds Trail (1.4 miles)
Henderson Hill Overlook (0.8 miles)
Highline Loop Trail (0.2 miles)
Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail (4.8 miles)

Trails open to hiking, biking, and leashed pets: 

First Creek Trail (1.6 miles)
Perimeter Trail (14.6 miles)

Partial combination trail:

Prairie Trail is 2.2 miles long in total.  The section of the trail that is north of 64th Avenue is open only to hiking.  The section of the trail that is south of 64th Avenue is open to only hiking and biking.  The Prairie Trail is not open in any section to leashed pets.

Catch-and-Release Fishing

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge offers catch-and-release fishing from sunset to sunrise April 3, 2021 to November 30, 2021, at Lake Mary and Lake Ladora. Prior to your fishing visit, please familiarize yourself with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Fishing Rules and Regulations.   Live bait is prohibited.

Daily Fees:  Do you want to fish at the Refuge once or occasionally?  You can pay the Refuge daily site use fee of $3.  A Colorado fishing license is required  – in addition to the daily site fee.

The daily site use fee can be paid at the fee payment station.  There are payment stations at Lake Mary Learning Center, North Ladora, South Ladora, and North Havana Ponds.  At the payment station, there will be envelopes attached to the collection box.  You will need to read and fill out the information on the envelope.  The payment will go in the envelope.  Make sure to detach the fishing fee receipt!  It will be your proof of payment.  Place the envelope in the deposit slot.  You can pay by check as well.

Students:  High school and college students can fish for free with a current student identification card.

Children:  Kids 15 and under can fish for free.

Refuge Fishing Season Pass

Refuge Fishing Season Pass:  Do you want to fish at the Refuge often?  You can purchase a $60 Refuge Fishing Season Pass.  You will also need to have a Colorado fishing license.  The season pass makes sense if you are going to fish for 20 days or more at the Refuge.  Another benefit to the season pass is that you can save time by skipping the daily fee payment process at the payment stations.

About Purchasing A Refuge Fishing Season Pass:  You can call the Visitor Center at 303-289-0930 to set an appointment to purchase a Refuge fishing season pass. At your appointment, bring your valid Colorado state fishing license and $60 cash or check. They do not debit or credit cards. The pass cannot be transferred or prorated.

Tips For Visiting the Refuge

  • Have an hour?  Check out the Wildlife Drive.  You can stay in the comfort of your vehicle. The Wildlife Drive can be especially convenient when heading home after seeing another attraction. 
  • Have all day?  Do the Wildlife Drive then park at the trail parking lots to explore. 
  • The best time to see wildlife when they are most active is when the refuge first opens and right before they close.
  • The Refuge is a 20-minute drive from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Zoo, and Hammond Candy Factory.
  • The closest Colorado State Park with a campground is Cherry Creek State Park.
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