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About the Refuge

Gosling at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

 The refuge grounds are open daily sunrise to sunset; the visitor center is open daily (except for certain federal holidays) 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Bertrand steamboat museum collection is on display inside the visitor center. 

  •  E-mail Contact for the visitor center can be found on this page.
  • E-mail Contact for educators can be found on this page.  
  •  E-mail Contact for the museum, can be found on this page. 
  • E-mail Contact for volunteering can be found on this page. 


Tour Route Information   

UPDATE: 1/24/15

Ice Fishing on DeSoto Lake (Update: Now Closed)

Due to diminished ice conditions, ice fishing on DeSoto Lake will be closed for the season starting Sunday, January 25.  The partial winter road closure will go back into effect with the closing of ice fishing and includes the south entrance gate, as well as the south and east side of the loop road.

DeSoto Lake will be closed and migration seasonal road closures will be in effect until April 14. The purpose of the road closure is to reduce potential disturbance to waterfowl that use DeSoto Lake and refuge wetlands as a stopover area during the migration periods.

DeSoto's self-guiding tour road access changes each year during Migration Season, October 15 - April 14th.  

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge limits access to some of the refuge roads during the fall and spring waterfowl migration season. The purpose of the partial tour loop closure is to reduce potential disturbance to waterfowl that use DeSoto Lake and refuge wetlands as a stopover area during the fall and spring migrations.

Partial closures include the south entrance gate, as well as the south and east side of the loop road. This limited access is in effect each year from October 15-April 14 


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. A wide variety of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, grassland birds, neotropical migrants, mammals and many others can be seen at the refuge. Look for wildlife from the DeSoto Visitor Center, from refuge roads and while hiking refuge trails. You will find the largest concentrations of migrating birds in the spring and fall.




DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is located in the migratory bird corridor of the Missouri River floodplain and provides essential habitat for resident, migratory and endangered species. High quality floodplain forest, grassland, wetland, sandbar and riverine habitats support diverse and productive populations of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and neotropical birds, as well as rare, threatened and endangered species including the pallid sturgeon, piping plover and least tern.

The refuge is a destination for people who want to explore the habitats and wildlife of this part of the Missouri River and get a glimpse of what pre-settlement Iowa and Nebraska may have looked like. 

Refuge History

The refuge acquired its name from a historic bend on the Missouri River.  The bend was originally named after the river town of DeSoto (incorporated in 1855), which provided a steamboat landing and ferry crossing, promoted a railroad west, and was once the county seat of Washington County, Nebraska.  The town of DeSoto prospered in the late 1850s and early 1860s, then declined as residents moved on to the Colorado gold fields.  The town was ultimately abandoned in the late 19th century when the Missouri River channel shifted leaving the town site several miles west of the river, and a railroad crossing was established three miles north in Blair, Nebraska.

In 1956 the Service made a preliminary investigation and determined that the area had substantial potential benefits for wildlife.  Coupled with a primary purpose of wildlife conservation the refuge proposal offered extensive recreational benefits, engendering additional local support, and appeared in the 1958 Congressional Record as the “DeSoto–Bertrand Bend National Wildlife Refuge and Recreation Area.”

DeSoto NWR was established in March of 1958 with the approval of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission with the dual intention of providing for the needs of migratory birds and providing public recreation to local communities.  Today the physical footprint of the refuge spans 8,365 acres.  

* DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is a federal fee area and a valid entry permit is required to enter the refuge or travel on roads in the refuge. Daily entrance fees are $3.00 per vehicle. Fees are collected at the visitor center or self-service fee stations at entrances. Other valid entrance permits include: The DeSoto Refuge annual pass ($15.00), Federal Duck Stamp, and Federal Recreational Lands Passes including the Annual, Senior, Access, Military or Volunteer. 


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge
1434 316th Lane
Missouri Valley, IA 51555
Refuge phone: 712/388-4800
Fax: 712/388-4808


Last Updated: Feb 19, 2015
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