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About the Refuge

Gosling at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

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.

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.


  •  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.  

Public Use

April 15-October 14:   

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) begins its fishing, boating, spring archery turkey, and hunting on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. The auto tour road will be open including portions that were closed during the migration periods.  Visitors will be able to hike the nature trails, fish, boat, bird watch, etc. Canoes and kayaks are also a great way to enjoy the spring at the refuge.  

Fishing and boating is permitted at DeSoto beginning on April 15, 2014. Anglers need either an Iowa or Nebraska license and are reminded that minimum length limits and creel limits are in effect.  Trailered boats can be launched at Middle Boat Ramp; hand launch (only) is permitted at the Bertrand Discovery area.  Refer to the refuge regulations brochure for fishing and boating regulations.    

Mushroom gatheringon the refuge for personal consumption only is permitted in the open areas of the refuge from April 15 to October 14.  See the refuge regulations brochure, found at the entrance kiosks and visitor center, for the map.   

 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.

October 15-April 14:

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge closes a portion of the refuge tour road to the public during the fall and spring waterfowl migration season. This includes the south entrance gate, as well as the south and eastside of the refuge tour loop road. The road closure is in effect each year from October 15-April 14 to reduce potential disturbance to waterfowl that use DeSoto Lake and refuge wetlands as a stopover area during the fall and spring migrations.

If ice conditions permit, DeSoto Lake will be open to ice fishing on January 2nd through the end of February and all public use roads will be reopened during this period.     


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: Oct 20, 2015
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