Established in 1989, the refuge is home to animals such as deer, otter, beaver, muskrat, and black bear, as well as more than 191 species of migrating birds. Informal trail systems are open to the public for hiking and bird-watching, including the Charles Kuralt Trail; some of the trails and refuge are only accessible by boat. Special wildlife observation areas along Hwy.13/17 are available seasonably.

Refuge is closed to public during permitted hunts for safety reasons. Hunting by special permit only. Special fishing regulations apply in selected tributaries within the refuge boundaries. Fishing is permitted in the Roanoke River proper.