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Plan Your Visit

Swallowtail butterfly on ironweedNeal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, just 20 miles east of Des Moines and 9 miles south of Interstate 80, feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  We welcome you to come enjoy our native Iowa habitats, for an hour or a day.

Directions, Address & Contact Info

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is 20 miles east of Des Moines and nine miles south of Interstate 80. From Des Moines, take Highway 163 to the Prairie City exit. Go straight from the off-ramp, and follow the paved 4.5-mile entry road to the Prairie Learning and Visitor Center. From I-80, take the Colfax exit and turn south on Hwy 117.  Drive 6 miles following Hwy 117; turn right in Prairie City to continue on Hwy 117.  Cross Hwy 163, and turn right on the paved entry road.

 

Please note that GPS units and online mapping services do not always give accurate directions to the refuge.  If you have questions about how to get here from a specific location, please give us a call.

 

The refuge roads and trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.  The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center is open year-round Monday-Saturday from 9am-4pm.   We will be closed on Sundays from January 5 to March 30, 2014; the remainder of the year, we are open 12-5pm Sundays.  We are open on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day; we are closed on all other Federal holidays.

 

There is no entrance fee at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. However, you can purchase a series of passes covering the entrance and standard amenity fees charged for using other federal recreational lands – including national wildlife refuges – in our visitor center. These include the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass - Senior, Access, and Annual passes. You can find more information about these passes at www.recreation.gov.

Passes are available for purchase in our visitor center Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm ONLY. They are NOT available on weekends or Federal holidays.

For more information, contact us at 
P.O. Box 399 
9981 Pacific St.
Prairie City, IA 50228 
515-994-3400 
nealsmith@fws.gov 

Points of Interest

The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center, which houses an exhibit area, bookstore, classrooms, and movie theater is open year-round Monday to Saturday 9am-4pm and Sunday 12-5pm, except for most Federal holidays. A 5 mile auto tour through the bison/elk enclosure and 4 trails (ranging from 1/2 mile to 2 miles) are open daily, dawn to dusk.  Trails are open for snowshoeing whenever 4 or more inches of snow are on the ground; snowshoes can be checked out for free from the Visitor Center.  Pick up maps of the auto tour route and trails in the Visitor Center.

Know Before You Go

Central Iowa weather varies widely throughout our four seasons, and the tallgrass prairie offers little protection from the elements. Visitors intending to hike or snowshoe should be prepared for the weather. In summer, bring sunscreen, hat, insect repellent and drinking water. In winter, bring warm clothes, dress in layers, use an outer layer that protects from the wind, and bring drinking water. On sunny days (even with snow on the ground), don’t forget your sunscreen.

Visitors taking the auto tour are required to stay in their vehicle and on the road while inside the bison/elk enclosure. Remember, bison and elk are wild animals.

 

Last Updated: Dec 18, 2013
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