Visit The Spot In Iowa Where Buffalo and Elk Still Roam Free
Before the state of Iowa was farms, cities, and small towns, nearly 85% of our state was covered in tallgrass prairie. Today, less than .1% of Iowa's prairie remains. But there is one spot in Iowa where the landscape is unchanged. Where prairie grass and wildflowers cover the rolling hills and buffalo and elk still roam free.
The Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge is 6,000 acres of land that looks much like Iowa did before European settlers arrived. The refuge was established in 1990 with the goal of restoring and reconstructing Iowa's native ecosystem of tall prairie grass, oak savannas, and sedge meadows. This was no small task. Experts gathered seeds from prairies in Iowa and used them to reseed the land that is now the Neal Smith Refuge. But the land is far from just hills and prairie grass.
The Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge also features a state-of-the-art visitor's center where you can see numerous educational presentations that will help you learn more about Iowa's prairie heritage. There are a number of hands-on educational exhibits, a 15-minute film, and outdoor eating areas visitors can enjoy. Outdoor activities at Neal Smith include 5 walking trails that are open year-round. But perhaps the biggest attraction is the wildlife that still roams free, including bison and elk.
The automobile tour at Neal Smith is open year-round. The five-mile road begins at the visitor's center and features both gravel and paved sections. It is a great way to see all the land that the refuge encompasses. It is also your chance to see buffalo and elk that roam free just as they did when settlers first arrived in the Hawkeye state. The tour is open from dawn until dusk. You are required to stay in your vehicle at all times during this tour.
The Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge is a short drive from Eastern Iowa. The land sits just west of Prairie City, Iowa which is just south of Interstate 80 to the west of Newton. In less than 2 hours, you could be staring at how our state used to look. I can't think of a more peaceful place to visit. A place where the deer and buffalo still roam free.
LOOK: Stunning vintage photos capture the beauty of America's national parks
Gallery Credit: Alexander Raeburn
Offbeat adventures: Travel to the coolest hidden wonders in every U.S. state
Gallery Credit: Sandi Hemmerlein