Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge is a quiet, little-known gem in the middle of the state. Even many locals don’t know about this site. With few visitors, it’s not unusual to have the entire 21,500 acres of uplands, open water, marsh and swamp to yourself and lots of friends – dragonflies, butterflies, alligators, otters, and birds – often many birds. Ebird lists 234 species for the refuge, many of them winter residents.
An early morning visit to Lake Woodruff is always an adventure. Look for clouds of tree swallows chasing bugs. King Rails and Soras may be calling from the cordgrass in the impoundment. If you’re very lucky you may see one of the resident otters lumbering over the dike from pond to pond. In winter, when the air and water are chilly, turtles and alligators may be sunning themselves on a bank or at the surface of the water. Another favorite time to visit is evening – bobcats are often sighted walking along the dikes.
The refuge is located in Volusia County in DeLeon Springs, north of Deland. It was established in 1964 as a migratory bird refuge and supports the second largest pre-migratory roost of Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida. Water levels are managed at three impoundments for migratory and resident birds. Dikes around the impoundments offer about 6 miles of hiking. Parts of the refuge are only accessible by boat. There are three upland areas that offer different habitats: the Myakka Trail which has pine flatwoods and scrub; the Live Oak Trail; and the Hammock Trail. There is also a Visitor Center located on Mud Lake Road. It is open 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday, as staff are available. Please call ahead before visiting in summer. The refuge is free to visit and open sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year.
Most visitors, particularly birders and photographers, drive to the parking lot at the end of Mud Lake Road and walk along the dike around impoundment 1, a 1.5 miles round trip which includes an observation tower at the junction of the three impoundments. The tower was constructed by West Volusia Audubon in 1997. The dike is a good place to see and hear water birds such as Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, White Ibis, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, and Pie-billed Grebes. Limpkin are occasionally sighted along the canals. Sandhill cranes nest yearly in the middle of the impoundment and are easily visible, particularly as the colts get older and begin moving around. Expect to be impressed by the vultures, Black and Turkey, as well as Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Red-shouldered Hawks.
Another good birding trail starts at the Myakka Trail parking lot. At the beginning of the year, take the short path off the parking lot to observe a bald eagle nest. Return to the main path through a pine flatland – look for woodpeckers and warblers. Turn left and continue to impoundment 1; this wooded area has swamp on one side and Spring Garden Lake on the other and is a good spot for migrant warblers.
Refuge Contact Information:
Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge
2045 Mud Lake Road
DeLeon Springs, FL 32130
(386) 985-4673 voice
(386) 985-0926 fax
Lake Woodruff NWR is located 25 miles west of Daytona Beach, Florida, and 7 miles north of DeLand, near the community of DeLeon Springs, Florida. From SR 17 in DeLeon Springs, turn west onto Reynolds Road and go one block to Grand Avenue. Turn south on Grand and go approximately 3 blocks to Mud Lake Road turning right (west) towards the refuge.
Other sources of information: