Earliest written records of the area come from Spanish explorers who traveled through here as early as 1598. Along with the western explorers that followed, they took note of the ecologically rich landscape, including documentation of miles-thick stands of cottonwood and willow trees along the river’s banks, as well as the abundance of mesquite above the river. Today, the refuge holds one of the last stands of naturally regenerated cottonwood-willow forest along the lower Colorado River and is one of the last ecologically functioning riparian areas in the southwest United States. Though very small, the refuge has retained nearly all of the original terrestrial wildlife species found here at the time of exploration.
Originally part of Havasu Lake National Wildlife Refuge, it was decided in 1993 that the 6,100-acre tract should be managed as a separate refuge due to its uniqueness and diversity of habitat and it became the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. It is one of more than 560 national wildlife refuges, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife and you!