Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge


(515) 994-3400

Map Directions

Things To Do


The Neal Smith National Wildife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center was created by an act of Congress in 1990, to re-construct tallgrass prairie and restore oak savanna on 8,654 acres of the Walnut Creek watershed and to provide a major environmental education facility focusing on prairie, oak savanna, and human interaction. The refuge, bordering the southwest city limits of Prairie City, Iowa, began from a core 3,600 acres that was purchased from an electric utility company after a proposed nuclear power plant was rejected. Through the purchase of land from willing sellers, the refuge will eventually occupy over 44% of the Walnut Creek watershed.

The refuge has been designated a Fish and Wildlife Service Land Management and Research Demonstration Area. It will facilitate development, testing, teaching, publishing, and demonstration of state-of-the-art management techniques for fish, wildlife, and plant conservation.

The Prairie Learning Center facilities include a visitor center with classrooms, exhibit area, theater, and bookstore. Miles of paved trails radiate from the center, and an auto tour through the 740-acre bison/elk enclosure is open all year. Teacher workshops, birding, hunting, and nature watching are some of the outdoor activities featured for thousands of visitors each year.

Map of Neal Smith NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 41.576544, -93.272638



  • Auto/Motorcycle

    The 4.5-mile auto tour through the bison/elk enclosure allows visitors in cars and buses an opportunity to see the large animals up close. The road is maintained and open year-round. For safety's sake, visitors are required to stay on the road and in their vehicles.

  • Hiking

    Three nature trails are available on the refuge. The Tallgrass Trail is paved surface and includes a half-mile universally accessible overlook loop with interpretive reading rail points. The two-mile loop weaves its way through portions of the reconstructed and remnant prairies. Located away from the Prairie Learning Center is the Savanna Trail. It is one-half mile of gravel- and woodchip-surfaced walkway that traverses a mix of savanna and woodland trees through a savanna remnant. The Basswood Trail is one-half mile of natural surface walkway through remnant woodlands that transcend to savanna and prairie borders.

  • Hunting

    Portions of the refuge are open to hunting of upland game birds, white-tailed deer, and small game. Special regulations apply. Please contact the refuge headquarters for specific rules and information.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Large numbers of butterflies are attracted to the refuge's butterfly garden and tallgrass trail. The staff plant up to 250 species of native plants every year on the refuge. Prairie violets, wild geraniums and sweet william are among the vibrant wildflowers found at the refuge.


Iowa summers are known for heat and humidity, with daytime temperatures often near 90°F and sometimes exceeding 100°F. Spring ushers in the beginning of the severe weather season--thunderstorms and tornadoes are common during the spring and summer months. Average winters in the state have been known to drop well below freezing, even falling below 0°F.

Park Partners

Friends of the Prarie Learning Center

Goals of the refuge: To increase biodiversity by restoring and reconstructing tallgrass prairie and savanna habitats; To increase public knowledge and understanding of prairie through environmental education; To increase scientific knowledge and understanding of the prairie and savanna through ongoing research; And to provide a diverse recreational landscape for public use and education.

(515) 994-3400



The refuge is located 18 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa, on State Highway 163. Follow the refuge directional signs just south of Prairie City at exit 18. Travelers on Interstate I-80 should use exit number 155 at Colfax and follow directional signs approximately 7 miles south on Highway 117 to the refuge.

Phone Numbers


(515) 994-3400