Facility Activities

Welcome to your national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge provides a number of activities to enjoy nature throughout the year including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, photography and canoeing. Some of these activities are offered seasonally and have special regulations. To learn more about permitted activities, pick up a refuge regulation brochure when visiting or call refuge staff at 712-388-4800 with any questions.

Archery for deer and turkey is available in the public hunt area. See the annual refuge hunt brochure for map, season dates and regulations.

The refuge auto tour changes seasonally. The paved road going from the visitor center to the Bob Starr Wildlife Overlook is open year round. The eastern gravel road loop and the South Gate Recreation Area and Entrance Gate is open from April 15 - October 14.

Bicyclists can ride on any stretch of open refuge road and trail. The stretch of road from the visitor center to Bob Starr Wildlife Overlook is open year round and provides a fully paved route that is 5.25 miles one way.

DeSoto National Wildlife refuge offers great birding year round. The visitor center viewing windows provide great birding of waterfowl and bald eagles during the spring, fall and winter season. Bird feeders are stocked daily at the visitor center and provide good “backyard” birding opportunities...

DeSoto Lake is open to boats from April 15 - October 14. The lake is a no-wake lake not to exceed 5 miles per hour. Boat ramps are available at Middle Boat Ramp and South Gate Recreation Area.

DeSoto Lake is open for canoes and kayaks from April 15 - October 14. Hand launching of boats may occur at either of the boat ramps or along accessible shoreline. A hand launch area is also available at the Bertrand Excavation site.

The Bertrand Steamboat Excavation Site houses the buried and underwater 178-foot steamboat hull. Enjoy the views of the site by walking the quarter of a mile trail, or stop into the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center that holds the over 250,000 artifacts removed from the hull in 1968...

Dogs are permitted on refuge grounds but must be under physical restrictive control of a leash at all times. Leashes may not exceed 6 feet in length. Only service dogs are permitted inside the visitor center.

Refuge rangers work to provide curriculum based environmental education experience. Ranger led programs must be scheduled in advance based on staff availability. Self-guided field trips are also available for teachers. 

For more information on our educational programs click here....

Firewood cutting permits are issued to individuals allowing them to cut fallen trees along the refuge roads. Contact 712-388-4800 for information on obtaining a firewood cutting permit.

DeSoto Lake is open for fishing from April 15 - October 14. An Iowa or Nebraska fishing license is required for all individuals 16 years of age or older. Common fish in DeSoto Lake include crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish. Bowfishing is permitted for rough fish species only.


The refuge provides hiking opportunities through a diversity of refuge habitat. The Bertrand Excavation Site Trail and the Cottonwood and Grassland Nature Trails are open year round. The Green Heron Trail and the Missouri Meander Trail are seasonal trails open April 15 - October 14.


One of the most visible species at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is wild turkey. Large numbers of these birds roam nearly every corner of the refuge. The refuge’s spring hunts are specially designed for those with disabilities and young hunters. Refuge blinds are made available to disabled...

Ice fishing is permitted on DeSoto Lake and other inland waters located in open areas during the months of January to February when conditions permit. An Iowa or Nebraska fishing license is required for all individuals 16 years of age or older. Trotlines, float lines and seining for bait...

The refuge offers great vistas of Missouri River floodplain habitat. The trails, picnic areas and overlooks provide great places to do artwork. During colder days, the warmth of the visitor center viewing windows provides a great place indoors to view the scenes of nature on the refuge.

The refuge provides year round photography opportunities. The Bob Starr Wildlife Overlook provides a great viewing/photography blind during the spring, fall and winter when large groups of waterfowl congregate. The viewing windows of the visitor center also provide great photography...

Picnic tables are located at the Visitor Center, Cottonwood/Grassland Nature Trail, Lakeview Drive and the South Gate Recreation Area. Open-flame fires are prohibited but charcoal grills are permitted. Charcoal can be disposed at designated spots located at these sites.

Refuge rangers lead programs throughout the year on a wide range of nature related topics. Program calendars can be obtained at the front desk of the visitor center.

Children visiting the DeSoto Visitor Center can also participate in the self-led Junior Refuge Manager Program.

Running is permitted on open refuge roads and nature trails.

In the winter time, refuge trails can be a good place to snow shoe. The trails are not groomed after snow falls.

Collection of mushrooms is permitted in open areas of the refuge. These public use areas open April 15 - October 14 and collection of mushrooms is for personal consumption only. Check the refuge regulation brochure for map of the open areas.

The refuge provides year round wildlife observation opportunities. The visitor center is a good place to start to check with a refuge ranger of volunteer for recent sightings. The viewing windows in the visitor center are also a great place to observe waterfowl and eagles during certain times of...