Each unit of Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a wonderful chance to explore a rare native ecosystem. Although most offer quiet, reflective walks through the prairie with no facilities, several locations have information kiosks, interpretive panels and trails. The Touch the Sky Prairie Unit in Rock County, Minnesota offers trails and several kiosks with interpretive signs for visitors. Other units are in the process of developing visitor contact sites.
Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge contains an immense variety of grasses and wildflowers, but the most dominant species defining the prairie are big bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass. The prairie landscape is mostly treeless.
The tallgrass prairie region is one of extremes. Temperatures can drop to well below -20° F in the winter months and rise to 90° F during the summer. Summertime also marks the season for fast moving thunderstorms.
There is no charge to visit.
Restrooms and comfort stations are not generally available.
Points of Interest
Touch the Sky Prairie Unit
This unit of the refuge was created in 2001 and is in Rock County, Minnesota a few short miles west of Blue Mounds State Park. This remnant tallgrass prairie consists of approximately 1,000 acres of native prairie grasses, wildflowers, several bird species and a small segment of Beaver Creek. A trail approximately one mile in length leads through beautiful wildflowers and a secluded waterfall.
Prairie Smoke Unit
This unit of the refuge is located South-East of Algona, Iowa in Kossuth County. This remnant prairie unit is utilized by waterfowl hunters during hunting season and was purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002.
What To Do
If you have one hour
All Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge units offer self-guided experiences. The Touch the Sky Prairie and Gislason Lake units also provide information kiosks with interpretive panels. The Touch the Sky Prairie Unit in Rock County, Minnesota has several kiosks with information to enhance your visit.
If you have half a day or more
Perhaps the fastest growing activity on national wildlife refuges in the past 10 years has been wildlife photography. That’s not surprising – the digital camera population explosion and cell phones with ever-improving picture-taking abilities are increasing the number of nature photographers at a rapid rate. You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or have any experience to get started. A small camera or basic cell phone will do just fine for most visitors.
Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge provides visitors with wonderful opportunities to experience and photograph the prairie landscape, wildlife and wildflowers. During the summer, photographers can see bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, white-tailed deer, red fox and ground squirrels among the native grasses and wildflowers.
Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge offers quality hunting experiences for many prairie species. Generally, all refuge units are open to hunting in accordance with state and federal regulations. However, regulations may differ from unit to unit and state regulations differ between Minnesota and Iowa. Please check with the manager of each unit for current information about hunting regulations in that area.
Created to protect remaining tallgrass prairie parcels, Northern Tallgrass National Wildlife Refuge is an expanding refuge. The refuge consists of scattered tracts in western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa across 85 counties. While open to sport fishing, opportunities for fishing are few and far between as most of the areas are tallgrass prairie, not wetlands or ponds. Important sport fish species known to inhabit waters in western Minnesota and northwest Iowa include: walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, bullheads and yellow perch. Contact the refuge at 320-273-2191 for more information on where there may be fishing opportunities.
Each Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge unit provides visitors with an excellent opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, colorful songbirds, marsh and wading birds, hawks, white-tailed deer and a wide variety of other prairie wildlife. Look closely and you’ll also see the smaller creatures vital to the prairie ecosystem, including insects, mice, salamanders, snakes and frogs.
Know Before You Go
Keep an eye to the sky and check the weather forecast before your outing as daily weather conditions can bring dramatic change! Insect repellent is also a good idea as warm weather brings mosquitoes and ticks.
The tallgrass prairie region is one of extremes. Temperatures can drop to well below -20° F in the winter months and rise to 90° F during the summer months. Summertime also marks the season for fast moving thunderstorms. Dress appropriately and bring extra clothing along with weather appropriate head protection.
Visit the kiosks at each of the units to see available hiking trails.
Other Facilities in the Complex
Welcome to your. Discover new places to hunt, fish, take pictures, watch wildlife and hike. Enjoy spending time outdoors alone or with friends and family. Please consult the managing offices posted below if you have questions. We may post additional site-specific regulations.
- Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge for units located in Kittson County, 218-449-4115
- Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge for units located in Lincoln and Lyon Counties, 320-273-2191
- Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District for units located in Becker, Clay, Mahnomen, Norman and Polk Counties, 218-847-4431
- Fergus Falls Wetland Management District for units located in Grant, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Wadena, and Wilkin Counties, 218-739-2291
- Litchfield Wetland Management District for units located in Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Renville, Stearns, Todd and Wright Counties, 320-693-2849
- Morris Wetland Management District for units located in Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac Qui Parle, Pope, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, and Yellow Medicine Counties, 320-589-1001
- Windom Wetland Management District for units located in Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Freeborn, Jackson, Martin, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock, and Watonwan Counties, 507-831-2220
- Iowa Wetland Management District for units located in all other Iowa counties, 515-928-2523
- Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge for units located in Jasper County, 515-994-3400
Rules and Policies
We welcome you to visit Northern Tallgrass National Wildlife Refuge year-round to learn about the tallgrass prairie and to recreate. We ask that you follow our specific public use regulations and reach out to our refuge manager if you have questions.
Access to the refuge is open from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sunset, unless otherwise posted or stated in hunting regulations.
- Target shooting
- Training pets and allowing pets off leash
- All types of motorized vehicles on all refuge land, including on frozen bodies of water and except on designated parking areas, access roads and public roads
- Motorized watercraft use is prohibited
- Camping, open fires and overnight parking is prohibited
- Abandoning, discarding or otherwise leaving any personal property. All property brought onto a refuge must be removed at the end of each day. This includes all common items like vehicles, boats, decoys, trail cameras, blinds, photography equipment, portable stands, climbing sticks and trash.
- Destructing, defacing, disturbing or unauthorized removal of any natural object, artifact, cultural resource or government property
- Introducing, liberating or placing plants or animals or their parts taken elsewhere on refuge lands or waters
- Disposing of animal carcasses, trash, refuse, rocks, wood or other debris
- Cutting, mowing, sawing, digging, collecting, injuring or removing vegetation
- Use, launching, landing or disturbing of wildlife by drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles for either use, recreational or commercial purposes
- Commercial enterprise without a special use permit
- Use or possession of any illegal drug or drug paraphernalia is prohibited