The Auto Tour Route is currently closed to reduce disturbance to migrating waterfowl using the Core Area of the refuge. The Tour Route will be open again from May 3-12, 2024 in celebration of World Migratory Bird Day.
Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge offers a variety of opportunities for hunters. Two portions of the refuge, Schwob Marsh and Buffalo Creek Bottoms, are open for all state hunting seasons. The middle section of the refuge is called the Core Area. This portion contains a large marsh that provides a resting place for birds during spring and fall migration. The Core Area is closed to all hunting – except for pheasant and gray partridge hunting during the last five days of the state-established pheasant hunting season. Please see the Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge Hunting and Fishing Brochure for complete hunting and fishing regulations for the refuge.
National wildlife refuges offer the outdoor enthusiast an opportunity to escape from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with nature. Be it the rich call of trumpeter swans, the vivid waves of windswept wildflowers or the wingbeat of mallards over decoys, a variety of outdoor experiences await visitors to Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding waterfowl production areas.
Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge is located in northern Iowa, about 160 miles southwest of Minneapolis and northwest of Des Moines. Driving from Algona, take Highway 169 north to Bancroft; turn right (east) on A-42, and proceed six miles to the office. From the north on Interstate 90, take the Blue Earth, Minnesota, exit and follow Highway 169 south into Iowa. At Lakota, follow P60 south to A-42, then turn west and drive 0.25 miles to the office.
There is no charge to visit.
Restrooms are available inside the refuge office during office hours.
Points of Interest
A kiosk is located outside of the refuge office to welcome you and provide the information needed to give you a good start to exploring the refuge. If you’re visiting during our office hours, stop in and let our staff help plan your visit! The office houses interactive displays and a diorama, which shows the wildlife and habitat you may experience on the refuge.
A wildlife observation platform and a four-mile wildlife auto tour are open in late summer and around World Migratory Bird Day, in early May, as well as during National Wildlife Refuge Week, in early October. Look for the access points near the refuge office.
Buffalo Creek Bottoms Unit is open year round to hiking and offers an up-close and personal experience with refuge wildlife.
The prairie and wetland habitat on the waterfowl production areas surrounding the refuge also provide year round recreational opportunities like wildlife observation, photography, hunting and hiking. The Maynard Reece Waterfowl Production Area, located two miles west of the north end of the refuge on County Highway A-40, is particularly popular.
What To Do
If you have 15 minutes
- Visit the office kiosk
- Drive through on County Highways A-42, B-14 or A-40
If you have one hour
- Drive the four-mile Auto Tour Route - subject to open dates
- Visit the Overlook Trail and Observation Platform
- Visit the Maynard Reese Waterfowl Production Area
If you have half a day or more
- Explore Buffalo Creek Bottoms
- Visit the Maynard Reese Waterfowl Production Area
Know Before You Go
Northern Iowa weather can change rapidly, with windy, sub-zero winter temperatures and hot, humid summers. Refuge habitats provide little protection from the elements, so we encourage visitors to be prepared for the season and to watch weather forecasts. A warm coat, clothing layers, hat, gloves and insulated boots are a must for winter bird watchers and hunters. We recommend sunscreen, hat, cool breathable clothing, drinking water and insect repellent for summer visitors.
Early morning and evening are typically the best times to observe wildlife, because that’s when animals are most active. The refuge receives less traffic on weekdays, so wildlife are disturbed less frequently during the week. Consequently, weekdays in the morning or evening are usually the best times to visit the refuge. There is a kiosk outside the refuge office that contains information and maps that will be helpful to your visit. The observation platform south of the office has viewing scopes to help you view the wildlife using the refuge.
Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge provides visitors with year round opportunities to hunt, fish, observe and photograph wildlife. The refuge is also a great place to investigate nature or take a hike just to enjoy the fresh air.
Open season: Year round to foot traffic
Length: Half a mile round trip
Location of trail: Refuge Office
Difficulty: Some fairly steep slope
Information: The Overlook Trail begins at the office and proceeds to the top of the hill a quarter mile south of the office. Visitors can view the marsh and surrounding prairie using the scopes at the observation platform at the top of the hill.
Other Facilities in the Complex
In addition to the refuge, portions of two other units of the National Wildlife Refuge System are managed out of Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge - the Iowa Wetland Management District and the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
The Iowa Wetland Management District is one of many wetland management districts within the Prairie Pothole Region that have been established to acquire, restore and manage habitat for waterfowl production and other migratory birds. The acquired tracts are known as waterfowl production areas and are managed collectively as a. The Iowa Wetland Management District is very different from other wetland management districts in that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages many of the waterfowl productions areas within it. Together, the state and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been able to develop large complexes of habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife species within the predominantly agricultural landscape in north-central Iowa.
The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2000 to address the loss of grasslands and the decline of grassland wildlife within western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa. Four tracts of this refuge are managed through Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources assists with the management of three of these tracts.
Rules and Policies
To ensure your safety and protect wildlife and habitat, please be aware of the rules and regulations that are specific to Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Please contact the refuge if you have questions or need more information.