Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa.

The 24,149 acre Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge was established for the protection of migratory birds and other wildlife. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has managed part of the refuge since the early 1940s, it was officially established as part of the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge Complex in 1958. In 2004, after years of land acquisition along the Mississippi River, the refuge complex was divided into five separate refuges and Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge was officially established. It is located in Iowa and Illinois along the Mississippi River Flyway, one of the major routes for migrating waterfowl.

Each spring and fall for thousands of years, the Mississippi River corridor has served as an important migration route for millions of birds. Waterfowl provide spectacular seasonal flights with thousands of mallards, pintails, wigeons, blue and green-winged teals, scaups, shovelers, gadwalls, canvasbacks and geese using the waters. Refuge wetlands also provide important mudflats and shallow water habitats where herons, egrets and shorebirds can feed and rest. Marshy areas provide habitat for species such as rails and bitterns. The best places to see waterfowl are from the refuge overlooks on the Louisa Division.

The refuge encompasses four divisions and a portion of the Iowa River Corridor Project.

The 2,609-acre Louisa Division is located just east of Wapello, Iowa in Louisa County. It is protected from moderate flooding by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee that stretches to Lock and Dam 17 and is approximately one mile south of the division border. The levee is integral to maintaining the nine-foot navigation channel due to its proximity to the dam. The refuge visitor contact station and office are located on this division in an area that includes 48-acres of forest and a four-acre prairie restoration situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River floodplain. Providing habitat for migrating waterfowl has been the primary objective on the division since its conversion from an agricultural levee district to a national wildlife refuge in the 1940s.

The 1,400-acre Keithsburg Division is located in Mercer County, Illinois. The entire division lies within Pool 18, immediately north of Keithsburg, Illinois. Keithsburg Division averages 0.75 mile in width and has a three mile long levee separating it from the Mississippi River. The division is a mosaic of wetland and bottomland forest habitat including sloughs surrounded by bottomland timber stands. The forested stands suffered from the floods of 1993 and 2008, and many snags now exist. Dead and dying trees are used by woodpeckers, wood ducks, hooded mergansers and prothonotary warblers. Bald eagles also nest in this area. The Keithsburg Division is currently involved in a Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The 1,758-acre Big Timber Division is located two miles south of Muscatine, Iowa, in Pool 17. The division is comprised of a 1,252-acre backwater area, as well as Turkey Island, Turkey Towhead, Otter Island and Ramsey Island. The bulk of Big Timber Division is a backwater of the Mississippi river, consisting of sloughs surrounded by bottomland forests.

Horseshoe Bend Division is located in the Iowa River floodplain, Louisa County, Iowa, approximately four miles upstream from its confluence with the Mississippi River. The 2,606-acre tract was purchased fee title by the agency in response to the Great Flood of 1993. Horseshoe Bend is a unique mosaic of grassland, wet meadow, seasonal and semi-permanently flood emergent wetland habitat. The wetland complex provides flood storage, fish passage and fish spawning. The unit receives considerable migratory bird usage, including shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds and grassland bird species.

The Iowa River Corridor Project is an innovative floodplain management focus area that encompasses 50,000 acres of land stretching along 45-miles of river in Tama, Benton and Iowa counties. Within the project area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns more than 10,000 acres, which are part of Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge. These lands are managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources through a cooperative agreement with the agency. Most of the refuge land has reverted from cropland back to its former habitat of wet meadows, oxbow wetlands, grasslands and bottomland forests with a mixture of scrub-shrub openings.

Nearby Activities


From Highway 61 in Wapello, turn east on Highway 99. Pass through Wapello and cross the Iowa River, then turn left on County Road G62. Follow G62 for 3.5 miles until a stop sign. Turn north (left) at this intersection, which is County Road X61, and follow it for 1.4 miles. The refuge headquarters is on the east (right) side of the road. Please visit the refuge headquarters for detailed directions and maps to refuge divisions.

Additional Information