DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is located along the Missouri River and borders both Iowa and Nebraska. Within its 8,365 acres lies DeSoto Lake, an oxbow lake that used to be a bend in the Missouri River. The refuge contains bottomland forests, tall grass prairie and wetland habitats that are managed to mimic the natural Missouri River floodplain habitat to benefit a diversity of migratory birds that flock to the refuge each year in the spring and fall. The refuge also contains a piece of history within its borders, the Bertrand Steamboat. The Bertrand sunk on the bend of river that is now DeSoto Lake leaving behind the cargo and historic time pieces, amounting to almost 250,000 different artifacts housed within the walls of the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is truly a place where wildlife meets history!
Update to Visitor Center Operations

At this time, due to COVID-19, the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center has the temporary hours to Tuesday to Saturday 8:30am to 4:30pm. Masks are optional within the Visitor Center at this time. Refuge lands remain open daily a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. 

Visit Us

Sunset on DeSoto Lake.

National wildlife refuges offer us all a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a chance to explore the unique Missouri River floodplain habitat. After years of alteration to this river system, the refuge provides a glimpse into the historical floodplain habitat and the wildlife that depend on it.

Location and Contact Information

      Refuge Photo Contest Deadline!

      The DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Photo Contest Deadline is approaching on the 2nd of September, 2022. For more information on how to submit your entry please follow this link: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/desoto/visit-us/activities/photography

      About Us

      Mallard and Northern Pintails gathered in a refuge wetland. 

      DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is located along the Missouri River and borders both Iowa and Nebraska. Within its 8,365 acres lies DeSoto Lake, an oxbow lake that used to be a bend in the Missouri River. The refuge contains bottomland forests, tall grass prairie and wetland habitats that are managed to mimic the natural Missouri River floodplain habitat to benefit a diversity of migratory birds that flock to the refuge each year in the spring and fall. The refuge also contains a piece of history within its borders, the Bertrand Steamboat. The Bertrand sunk on previous riverbend leaving behind the cargo and historic time pieces, amounting to almost 250,000 different artifacts housed within the walls of the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is truly a place where wildlife meets history!

      What We Do

      Services

      DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is a federal fee area and a valid entry permit is required to enter the refuge, travel on roads, or to visit the DeSoto Visitor Center that houses the Steamboat Bertrand Exhibit. Daily fees are collected at the visitor center or self-service fee stations at...

      Some 30 national wildlife refuges  charge visitors a nominal entrance fee (generally $3-$5 daily)  to cover road and facility maintenance.  If you are a regular visitor or would like to visit other public lands, you could save by buying an America the Beautiful Federal...

      The Every Kid Outdoors program allows 4th-graders to see America’s natural wonders and historic sites for free.

      Annual 4th Grade Pass

      Cost: Free, non-transferable, valid for the duration of the 4th-grade schoolyear though the following summer (September-August...

      Some commercial, recreational and research activities are allowed on national wildlife refuges only with a special use permit issued by the local office, and are subject to specific conditions and fees. This permit requirement is meant to ensure that all activities at the federal site are...

      Our Species

      Mallard standing on log.

      DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge acts as a rest stop for birds. Thousands of birds migrating along the Missouri River corridor utilize the refuge as a sanctuary and resting place as birds make their migration journey in the spring and fall. The refuge is best known for the big flocks of migratory waterfowl utilizing the refuge wetlands and lakes. Along with the waterfowl, bald eagles will congregate on the refuge. Songbirds are also abundant later in the spring and during the summer months. The bottomland forests, grasslands and wetlands provide a diverse mosaic of habitat that benefit more than 100 species of birds including dickcissels, orioles, yellow-headed blackbirds, red-headed woodpeckers, yellow warblers and common yellowthroats.

      For information on the latest bird count click here

      A large raptor, the bald eagle has a wingspread of about seven feet. Adults have a dark brown body and wings, white head and tail, and a yellow beak. Juveniles are mostly brown with white mottling on the body, tail, and undersides of wings. Adult plumage usually is obtained by the sixth year. In...

      FWS Focus

      Lesser Yellowlegs are medium-sized, slender, long-legged shorebirds. Sexes are similar in plumage and overall size, but females have slightly longer wings on average. In breeding plumage, upperparts mottled gray-brown, white, and black. Underparts white with brown streaking on neck and breast...

      FWS Focus

      Projects and Research

      Our National Wildlife Refuges are places for everyone to learn about and discover the outdoors. This opportunity is utilized by numerous local grad students from local universities and other government organizations over the years, researching parts the wide variety of wildlife and plant species that use or call DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge their home. If interested in performing a research project on refuge lands please contact:   

      Besides just grad student research, DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge also utilizes citizen science projects to help improve our understanding of the natural world, enabling us to evaluate our management practices for our wildlife.