DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

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DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge : Nature’s Amazement Park

Jul 25, 2004 (Updated Jul 25, 2004)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:Several things for everyone to enjoy, wildlife, the controlled environment

Cons:none

The Bottom Line: Wonderfully managed wildlife refuge that allows for all nature lovers a chance to experience animals living in a natural habit.


There are few places in the United States that you can visit such a diverse habitat in such a relatively small segment of land. DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place to visit for nature, education, and recreation. I would even go as far to say that this is probably the best park in America that you haven’t heard of. I’ll explain why I’m so impassioned for this park.

What does DeSoto Bend NWR have to offer?

This 7827-acre national park is located 25 miles north of Omaha, NE. From I-29 you would take US Hwy 30 west about 6 miles to enter the park. You will be crossing the vast Iowa farmlands of the Missouri Valley here and entering into one of the most densely inhabited wildlife areas of the Midwest.

The park offers so many experiences for people to enjoy that it may be hard to take it all in on one day! One of the first things you will come across after entering the park is its Visitor’s Center. The Center opened in 1981 and handles 250,000 visitors a year. The V.C. is open year round and offers many educational experiences, natural and historical. There is no charge to enter the V.C.

The visitor’s center contains a movie theater that shows a 12 minute film called Seeds of Change explaining some of the historical significances of Lewis and Clarks' expedition through the area in the early 1800’s. The film is followed by a 4 minute show explaining the historical find of a steamship named Bertrand that sank here in 1865 and was later found in 1968. There is also a large collection on display of the artifacts pulled from the hull of the Bertrand. These civil war era items are in amazingly good shape.

DeSoto Bend NWR also holds a 788-acre 7 mile long lake surrounded by oak, cottonwood, willows, and many other species of trees. The lake allows for boaters but limits them from the launch at no wake speeds. This horseshoe shaped lake was once the true course of the Missouri River. In the water you will find any of the 80 species that are native to the river in the lake including stocked bass, crappies and bluegills. Fishing is allowed here from April 15 through October 14 and during ice over. You will be required to have either a Nebraska or Iowa fishing license.

You can also take a hike while visiting the park on one of DeSoto Bend’s four trails. The Cottonwood trail runs ¾ of a mile trough the grasslands and trees on the park. Another path, Wood Duck Pond trail runs through the trees and over the pond by bridge. This is a great place to see aquatic life like fish, turtles, and frogs. There is also a trail from the Visitor’s Center that is wheelchair accessible and nearly 900’ in length. An off branch of this trail is another that leads out 7/8 of a mile that loops out through the Sycamores to the lake and back.

To enter the park you will need to pay for a daily park pass of $3.

***Important Safety Information: The park is only open during daylight hours. There is a fulltime staff at the Visitor’s Center if you need help. There is also ranger’s station just before entering the park at the north gate. Blair, NE is the closest hospital. It is about 7 miles west of the park. DeSoto is covered by both the Nebraska and Iowa State Police force, though Iowa will respond faster.***

What makes DeSoto Bend NWR so special?

With fishing, hiking, and education, what else could there possibly be here to see? I’ll tell you, in late November the largest migration of Canadian Snow Geese takes place and peeks in December. Between 500,000 and 800,000 geese call DeSoto Bend home for a period of time. The Visitor’s Center is located right at one of their favorite haunts. The V.C. provides the perfect spot to enjoy them, as you stay warm. There are large panoramic windows and binoculars to view the birds from inside the V.C. During this time of open water in the winter you will also find over 140 Bald Eagles hunting these waters for fish and small mammals. During the rest of the year you can find any one of the 250 species that visit the park. This is a birdwatcher’s paradise!

With all of those birds you will also find many critters running the grounds like wild turkeys, coyotes, whitetail deer, badgers, and skunk. I promise you that you will have to close your eyes not to run across some wildlife on a visit!

During the winter months when visitation peeks to witness the migrations the park also has a self-guided winter drive through the park. You will get a pamphlet explaining the different types of wildlife found at the park and where they are going. As you travel the roads around DeSoto Bend you just read up on the spot you are at to learn about the critters running and flying by. This is a great time for the kids.

Personal Impressions

I have visited many parks in my travels, far more than I have reviewed. None that I have visited deserve more recognition than this one either. Thanks due to great management and an obvious passion for the wildlife that surrounds DeSoto Bend, this park holds so many great memories to be had here. I cannot recommend traveling to visit this park enough. If you enjoy hiking or fishing and experiencing nature with a bias for their habitat then you will find your visit as amazing as I have found my many encounters.

The land is rustic and mature. This adds to the natural feel of the grounds. The grasslands and the large mature trees running alone the river and the lake make this part of the Midwest some of the most beautiful land I have seen. You will want to bring the camera!

One thing that may be a negative to some is that the park does not offer any camping. This is to protect these grounds. It is great to see the grounds in a natural state and not marred by camping pads or dumping stations. Please, do not take me wrong, I enjoy camping but this place is so special in its natural state that I would rather travel out of the park to sleep to save the land. Though this park does not offer camping Wilson Island SRA borders DeSoto Bend to the south and there is camping there. There is also a private site north of the park on Hwy 30 that allows for RV’s.

There are few places that I have visited that mean so much to me. The wildlife is abundant and the grounds fertile and lush. The scenery is amazing. Aside from the road you really get the feeling that this is what Lewis and Clark must have seen as they paddled the Missouri River looking for a land route to the Pacific Ocean. If you like nature photography, hiking, learning about American history, or just experiencing nature without the bars of the zoo; you will find DeSoto Bend NWR a wonderful experience. Bring the family and enjoy nature! But please respect it!

My other park reviews:
Memphis State, NE
Summit Lake, NE
Mormon Island, NE
Crystal Lake, NE

Some fishing gear reviews:
Shakespeare Reel
Berkley Rod


Recommend this product? Yes


Best time to go: Anytime
Recommended for: Anybody
Review Topic: Overview

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