Plan Your Visit

Swallowtail butterfly on ironweed

Neal 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 and Contact Information

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.

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.  The Visitor Center is open every day from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., except in the winter.  Winter hours (December 1-February 28) are Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m, closed on Sunday. The Refuge is open on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day; closed on all other 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 four 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. The Refuge roads and trail are open every day from dawn to dusk.

There is no entrance fee at the 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 lands - including other national wildlife refuges that do charge fees - in our Visitor Center. These include the America the Beautiful - the National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass - Senior Lifetime, Senior Annual, Access, Annual and Fourth Grade Passes. Learn more about the America the Beautiful passes.

Passes are available for purchase in our Visitor Center Monday - Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ONLY. They are not available on weekends or on Federal holidays. Payment is accepted by cash or check only. Credit or debit cards cannot be used for payment.

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.