Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge

The Hiwassee River rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northeast Georgia, flows northward into North Carolina and then angles WNW, eventually merging with the Tennessee River northeast of Chattanooga; the Ocoee River of Georgia and Tennessee is a major tributary of the Hiwassee.

At its junction with the Tennessee River, the Hiwassee harbors the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, 6000 acres of water and land that attracts the largest population of wintering, migrant sandhill cranes in the southeastern U.S.; whooping cranes may also be observed on the refuge.  Migrant sandhill cranes of eastern North America breed near James Bay and the Great Lakes, using the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in northwestern Indiana as a staging area before flying to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge; while some move on to Florida (joining permanent residents there), 14,000 or more cranes winter at or near the Hiwassee Refuge.  The cranes start to arrive in late October and begin to depart in February; peak numbers generally occur in January.  While the refuge is closed to visitors from mid November through February, an observation deck along the southern edge of the preserve (off Highway 60) is open to visitors year-round.

This morning, on our journey back to Missouri, we stopped by the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.  Unfortunately, foggy conditions limited visibility and, worse yet, not a single crane was observed or heard.  Clearly, the cranes are a bit tardy this year and we'll try again on a mid-winter trip through the area.  Nature offers no guarantees!