DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge


(712) 642-4121

Map Directions

Things To Do


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is part of a network of refuges devoted to preserving and restoring increasingly scarce habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife. The refuge is comprised of 8,358 acres in Iowa and Nebraska and lies in the Missouri River Valley floodplain on a former meander of the Missouri River.

Each year, especially during the fall, spectacular flights of ducks and geese mark the changing seasons along this traditional waterfowl flyway. An interesting assortment of warblers, raptors, shorebirds, and other bird life can be observed also.

The 1968 excavation of the steamboat Bertrand, which sank in 1865, adds a major historical emphasis to the refuge program. The 200,000 pieces in the Bertrand Collection provide one of the most significant assemblages of Civil War era artifacts in the country.

A former oxbow of the Missouri River, DeSoto Lake, provides recreational use for up to 250,000 visitors annually. The DeSoto Visitor Center provides an introduction to the refuge, exhibits the Bertrand Collection, and contains interpretive displays on the historical development of the Missouri River Basin, the ecological impacts of that development, and the natural history of the area.

Map of DeSoto NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 41.537366, -96.012268



  • Boating

    Boat operation is permitted in accordance with state regulations. Also, boating limited to no-wake speeds, not to exceed 5 mph. No boat, except sailboats, shall be operated with any person sitting or riding on the gunwales or decking over the bow. Airboats, houseboats, and boats containing toilets that flush directly into the water are prohibited.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Wildlife observation from vehicles encouraged. Vehicles are allowed on public roads and designated parking areas only.

  • Fishing

    DeSoto Lake has an excellent fishery for catfish, crappie, walleye and large-mouth bass. The lake also contains bluegill, carp and buffalo fish. A number of access points allow for bank fishing, and three separate boat launch facilities are available during the season (April 15 - October 14). Over the years a considerable number of fish habitat structures have been placed in the lake to enhance the fishery. Structures include tree piles, rock piles, and pallets. To protect the fragile lake shore from erosion due to wave action there is a no-wake policy in effect.

  • Hiking

    There are several short but interesting hikes at the refuge.

  • Historic Sites

    Natural and Cultural Interpretive Exhibits. - The refuge visitor center provides cultural and natural history exhibits and refuge information. The center, built in 1981, provides a theater, sales area for interpretive and educational publications, viewing galleries overlooking DeSoto Lake, and artifacts excavated from the hull of the Steamboat Bertrand that sank here in 1865.

    Environmental Education and Interpretive Programs - Environmental Education is provided to 150 - 200 school groups each year at both on- and off-refuge sites. Emphasis has been placed on elementary age students, although all ages are represented, through and including college students.

  • Hunting

    Hunting opportunities at DeSoto are carefully controlled. In recent years, however, the deer population has increased substantially, leading to habitat degradation and increased damage to neighboring croplands. In response, new hunts have been added to address this growing problem. There are both archery and gun hunts available. In addition, mentored youth hunts for ring-necked pheasants and youth and disabled hunts for wild turkeys are available. In 2005 an archery-only wild turkey hunt was initiated.


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.



DeSoto Refuge is located midway between the farming communities of Blair, Nebraska, and Missouri Valley, Iowa, just off of U.S. Highway 30. From the Omaha, Nebraska, metropolitan area, take I-29 North to Missouri Valley, Iowa. Exit at mile marker 75. Head West on US Highway 30 approximately six miles to the refuge entrance; the Visitor Center is an additional one mile south into the refuge. It is an approximately 25-minute drive to the refuge from Omaha.

Phone Numbers


(712) 642-4121