Prairie Lake Auto Tour

Wild Rice River 512x219

The Prairie Lake Auto Tour is 8.5 miles long and will take approximately one hour to complete. Along the way, you will have an opportunity to observe different habitat types and management techniques used to create and enhance these habitats. The best time to see wildlife is early or late in the day.  Print this page to take with you on your tour or pick up an auto tour brochure at the Refuge.

Auto Tour 

The auto tour road is gravel. It may be soft and slippery early in the spring or after hard rains, so please drive carefully. For your safety and to reduce disturbance to wildlife, please keep your vehicle on the tour route at all times.

Each auto tour route interpretive stop has a sign that corresponds to the bold writing on this page. Also, each interpretive stop has a place to safely pull your vehicle off the route in order for you to enjoy all the sights and sounds. To minimize disturbance to migratory waterfowl, the auto tour route is open to the public from May 1 through September 30.

Seasonal Wetlands

Seasonal wetlands, like the one to your left, may hold water for only two weeks, or they may remain wet through the middle of summer. How are wetlands that dry up good for wildlife? They are shallow and fill up quickly in the spring, providing a rich source of food for migrating waterfowl and other birds such as golden plovers, great blue herons, and red-winged blackbirds. Small seasonal wetlands are also important places for male and female ducks to pair up and complete courtship.

"Son of Heaven" Lake

According to legend, Lake Tewaukon was named for an ancient religious leader Te Wau Kon, or "Son of Heaven." The lake is shallow and covers more than 1,000 acres. Lake Tewaukon, along with Sprague Lake (8 miles to the west), are open to public fishing. Anglers can try their luck casting for northern pike, walleye, or yellow perch. (See the Rules and Regulations for fishing information.)

Rest rooms are found at this location. Three boat ramps, shown on the brochure map, are available for boat launching.

Look to your left to see one of the four large concrete dams along the Wild Rice River. These large dams help hold water to create wetland habitat for many species of waterbirds. The auto tour continues straight ahead.

Partners Farming for Wildlife

Every year, local farmers work with Refuge staff in a win-win partnership. The local farmers plant crops in Refuge fields, providing a food source for wildlife. Farmers who participate in the program harvest and keep a portion of the crop. The other portion is left for wildlife. Winter wheat or other green browse provides a nourishing treat for waterfowl migrating north in the spring. Fall row crops, such as corn, are available for waterfowl during their southern migration. White-tailed deer and ring-necked pheasants also benefit from crops left throughout the winter. All landowners in the area benefit from this program through reduced waterfowl feeding on surrounding private property.

Home Sweet Home

Birds that nest on the ground, such as mallards, blue-winged teal, pheasants, grasshopper sparrows, and meadowlarks, need thick cover in which to hide their nests. Thick cover helps protect nests from red skunks, raccoons, and other predators that enjoy a tasty egg dinner. The field on your left is a planted mixture of alfalfa, sweet clover, and wheat grass, which provides good nest protection. In winter, deer and pheasants use this thick cover for protection from harsh winds and cold temperatures.

Deeper Water, Different Wildlife

The deeper water in this large wetland to your right provides a habitat different from the seasonal wetland you saw at the first stop. This wetland holds water all year and contains cattails and other wetland plants. These plants provide nesting areas for diving ducks such as redheads, ruddy ducks, and canvasbacks. Larger wetlands provide safe areas for broods of all species of waterfowl to hide. American white pelicans, grebes, and cormorants can also be seen here.

Sibley's Expedition

This monument tells the story of General Alfred Sibley's expedition that camped near this spot in 1863. The native prairie beyond the monument probably looks much the same as it did when Sibley's troops camped here. Refuge staff burn this area every two to three years to help maintain healthy prairie plants. June through August is the best time to see wildflowers on the prairie.

LaBelle Creek

As you drive from this spot, you will cross LaBelle Creek. The willows along the creek provide wildlife with relief from hot summer sun and protection from cold winter winds. Vegetation along creeks and other waterways is known as a riparian corridor, a distinct habitat from the surrounding areas. Look for beavers swimming in the stream or working on dams and lodges. Beaver are an important species because of their knack for creating wetlands. The common yellowthroat warbler, a wren-sized warbler with a yellow chest and black "mask," is a delightful species you can spot here.

Picnic Area

A right turn will take you to the East End Picnic Area. The picnic shelter, tables, grills, boat ramps, rest rooms, and fishing pier are all accessible. Trees provide shade for anglers or picnickers and habitat for many woodland species of birds. Black-capped chickadees, woodpeckers, orioles, yellow warblers, and tree swallows are just a few of the species found here.

Restoring Prairie

On the left side of the road, cropland is being restored to prairie. The area was burned, then seeded with native grasses. Eventually, wildflowers will be added.

If you look across the field in the late summer and fall, you will notice a tall native grass with a branched seed head. It is big bluestem, also called "turkey foot," because the seed head resembles a turkey's foot.

Male bobolinks are small, robin-sized, black birds with white spots on their back and wings. They often perch on the top of tall prairie grasses to sing their bubbling song.

From this stop, drive 1/2-mile south to a "T" intersection, then turn right and go 1 mile to the next intersection and turn right again. You can see Lake Tewaukon and are now back on the Refuge.

Lake Tewaukon

From here you have a scenic view of Lake Tewaukon. During spring and fall migration, large concentrations of snow and blue geese often rest here. Bald eagles follow the migrating geese, feeding on sick and dying birds. During the summer, groups of American white pelicans and western grebes can be seen fishing on the lake.

Refuge Visitor Center

We hope you enjoyed the auto tour and invite you to explore Tewaukon NWR further. From here, drive ½-mile west and follow the paved road north where it becomes County Raod 12.he entrance to the Refuge Visitor Center is 1/4-mile north of the curve on the east side of the road.