Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa.


Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990 with the mission to actively protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow. Prior to European-American settlement, tallgrass prairie covered 85% of Iowa. Today, less than 0.1% of Iowa’s prairie remains in small isolated fragments. In an effort to bring back native prairie plant communities, refuge staff and volunteers gathered and used local seed sources to plant approximately 4,000 acres of tallgrass prairie. Today, the refuge protects 6,000 acres providing food, cover and breeding habitat for resident and migratory wildlife.

The refuge also serves as a major environmental education, volunteer and outdoor recreation hub for people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy. Additionally, the refuge provides assistance to local landowners as they improve their lands for wildlife habitat. Lastly, the refuge tries to increase scientific knowledge and understanding of the prairie and savanna through ongoing, targeted and innovative research. The refuge achieves these goals through community involvement and by working and partnering with others.

Nearby Activities


Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is located 20 miles east of Des Moines and 9 miles south of Interstate 80. From Des Moines, take Highway 163 to the Prairie City exit. Go straight from the off-ramp and follow the paved 4.5-mile entry road to the visitor center.

From I-80, take the Colfax exit and turn south on Hwy 117. Drive 6 miles following Hwy 117; turn right in Prairie City to continue on Hwy 117. Cross Hwy 163, and turn right on the paved entry road.

Please note that GPS units and online mapping services do not always give accurate directions to the refuge. If you have questions about how to get here from a specific location, please give us a call at 515-994-3400.

Additional Information

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