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.

The refuge roads and trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.  The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center is open year-round.  The Visitor Center is open every day from 9am-4pm, except in winter.   Winter hours, December 1-February 28, are Monday-Saturday from 9am-4pm; closed Sunday.  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 obtain 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 Lifetime, Senior Annual, Access, Annual, and Fourth Grade passes. You can find more information about these passes at

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

For more information, contact us at: 
P.O. Box 399 
9981 Pacific St.
Prairie City, IA 50228 

Points of Interest

The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center, which houses an exhibit area, bookstore, classrooms, and movie theater is open year-round.  Regular hours are open every day from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.  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.

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.