Trumpeter swans at Union Slough NWR
Auto Tour Route will be open Aug 1st - Sept 20th

The Auto Tour Route will be open from August 1st through September 20th for you to see swan cygnets, ducklings and other babies the Refuge produced during the nesting season!

Visit Us

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.

Driving Directions

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.

Visitor Tips

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.


Overlook Trail

Open season: Year round to foot traffic
Length: Half a mile round trip
Location of trail: Refuge Office
Surface: Gravel
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 wetland management district wetland management district
A wetland management district is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office that manages waterfowl production areas in one or more counties. Waterfowl production areas are small natural wetlands and grasslands that provide breeding, resting and nesting habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, grassland birds and other wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Service acquires waterfowl production areas under the authority of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, primarily using funds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps. The Refuge System’s 38 wetland management districts comprise thousands of waterfowl production areas – almost all in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains.

Learn more about wetland management district
. 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.


Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge
1710 360th StreetTitonka,IA50480-7086
Refuge Office Hours
Monday - Friday, except federal holidays
7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
The office may be closed due to inclement weather.
Auto Tour Route Hours
August 1 - September 20
Sunrise to sunset
Open for additional dates around World Migratory Bird Day in early May and National Wildlife Refuge Week in early October
Overlook Trail / Observation Platform Hours
Year round to pedestrian access and to vehicle access for persons with disabilities
Daylight hours
Buffalo Creek Bottoms Hours
Year round
Sunrise to sunset for approved activities
Schwob Marsh Hours
Open for hunting during state approved hunting seasons
See state hunting regulations for details
Core Area Hours
Open to pheasant and partridge hunting during the last 5 days of the State established pheasant hunting season
See state hunting regulations for details