Visitor Activities

Bison at sunrise

Visitors are welcome year-round at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. There's something for everyone here, from a rainy-day trip through the movie and exhibits to a hike or snowshoe on the trails, and from deer hunting to photographing native Iowa wildlife. Each season brings new things to discover on the prairie, on your own or during a ranger-led program.



  • Hunting


    Hunting is permitted in designated areas at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, in accordance with all federal, state and Refuge specific regulations. Seasons and species that can be hunted are restricted on the Refuge. Each fall, a hunting brochure listing current seasons and regulations is available at the Visitor Center and all hunter parking lots; the brochure also serves as a permit. Please click below to see this year's brochure for the most up-to-date information.

    Neal Smith NWR has also prepared an Environmental Assessment to expand the existing hunting program on the refuge.  The final Environmental Assessment is available here, including a summary of the comments received from the public. The refuge's response to the comments are provided at the end.

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  • Wildlife Observation


    Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge’s tallgrass prairie is home to a wide diversity of prairie wildlife, including mammals, birds, and insects. Our 5 mile auto tour, which travels directly through the bison and elk enclosure, provides visitors with intimate views of bison and elk. Unique grassland bird species such as northern harrier, short-eared owls, upland sandpipers, grasshopper sparrows, dickcissels, and Eastern and Western meadowlarks can be seen along Refuge roads and trails. During the summer, insects thrive on the prairie and can be easily seen around flowers in the butterfly garden next to the Visitor Center and along the trails.

  • Birding

    tree sparrow 150x118

    The refuge offers a variety of opportunities for birders of all experience levels. For more information, click the "learn more" link for our in-depth bird page.

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  • Interpretation

    Winter Photo Hike

    Interpretive programs include monthly recurring programs and special events. All programs are free and open to the public. Participation is a great way to learn more about Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge!


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  • Environmental Education

    Env Ed

    Refuge staff lead environmental education programs and field trips for partner schools and partner teachers. Field trip experiences are also available for non-partner schools and teachers, however teachers and school staff are expected to lead their own activities during their visit. Refuge staff also offer environmental education workshops for adults. Teachers who attend a workshop receive training, field trip planning support, priority scheduling for field trips, and a copy of the entire Project Bluestem Curriculum. 

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  • Photography

    Photography Short-eared Owl

    Many of our most-photographed animals are grassland birds and large mammals. A favorite summer bird is the dickcissel, a small songbird frequently seen near the visitor center perched atop grass and flowers, singing for a mate. In winter, many photographers come to find the short-eared owl (Photo, at left, by Jason Murphy). These medium-sized owls are often seen perched on signposts or flying across the prairie. Bison and white-tailed deer are photographed year-round grazing on the prairie, while the elk are best seen in winter. Deer live throughout the Refuge, while the bison and elk are found only within their enclosure.

    Click "learn more" for the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge homepage, where you can learn about upcoming photo contests at the Refuge.

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