Stop 1 Introduction

Tallgrass prairie is filled with colorful blooms during spring, summer, and early fall. Photo of purple ironweed and yellow gray-headed coneflower flowers by Kristie Burns.

Welcome to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1990, the refuge is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). During the tour you will explore Iowa’s prairie heritage and discover how and why the refuge is restoring, reconstructing, and managing the endangered tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and associated wildlife.


Photo of a short-eared owl perched on a sign that displays the Blue Goose, the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System by Joan Van Gorp.

The five-mile auto tour loop takes approximately 45 minutes to complete. It begins at the Visitor Center and follows county gravel roads and a portion of the refuge’s paved main entry road. A written narrative and photos are provided at each of the 13 stops.


Follow the OnCell prompts to locate the auto tour stops. Also, look for brown bison signs. For your safety, make sure the location is safe before you pull over and ensure that you do not obstruct traffic. Except for the pull over for Stop 5, do not stop along 129th street since it is a busy main road. During your drive through the bison and elk enclosure, you must stay in your vehicle at all times. To begin, drive to the end of the parking lot, turn right, and follow the brown auto tour signs to start your prairie adventure.

You can find beauty and wonder on the tallgrass prairie throughout the year. Photo by Joan Van Gorp of a bison grazing on a snow covered prairie and a sunset.