Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge – Prairie City

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center across the prairie.


Place/Event: Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Off of Highway 163 at the Prairie City exit (GPS/Google gets confused – see website and follow signs while driving)
Cost: Free
Grade/age range: All
Group size: Large or small

Hands-on: Yes
Stroller friendly: Yes
Bathrooms: Yes

Food: Space for groups or classes to eat

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is huge with over 11,000 acres. Giving an expansive sense of prairie, a long twisting paved road leads you through a few miles of tall grass prairie to the visitor center. It’s easy to imagine Laura Ingalls riding in a covered wagon across such a land.

The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center is well-designed for large groups of students but still small enough for families to enjoy.

It would be wonderful to see the prairie in bloom during summer months and hike the trail system!

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge Prairie walking path


The Visitor Center houses museum-quality displays for learning about prairie life and conservation.


There are several hands-on activities and displays for younger students. Depending on your child’s age and interest level, expect to spend 30-45 minutes in the Visitor Center.

Older students who enjoy reading and learning new information can spend more time.

Schedule a tour for your group to gain the most benefit from the Learning Prairie and Visitor Center.


To find the Bison Enclosure, travel along the marked roads west of the Visitor Center. Some roads and the enclosure are gravel.

The enclosure is about a mile long straight but hilly gravel road that you enter on the west side of the refuge and emerge on the east side back to the paved road.  

Entry road into Bison Enclosure at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Southern view of entry from 129th St.


The Bison Enclosure gives students the opportunity to view bison and elk roaming the tall grass prairie as they once did years ago. At certain times the bison may even be crossing the gravel road right in front of your vehicle.

Bison grazing on grass at a distance at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Elk on a hillside at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

These Elk can be seen from the paved entry road. This would be a fun time for the kids to use binoculars.  

Spring offers the opportunity to see baby animals on the prairie. If you are interested in a closer view of bison or elk, consider visiting Jester Park which offers a smaller animal enclosure without the prairie landscape.

Bison and Elk count sign at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge


The large amount of natural prairie habit invites many animals to call it home, giving your family more opportunities for observation.

As we exited the Bison Enclosure, some friendly deer stop to say hello!

It appears that the deer didn’t want us to leave! We spotted more deer as we exited the refuge near the highway.

Deer leaping across a paved road at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge


We only saw a small portion of the NWR during our spring visit. I wish we could have gone on the hiking trails. Maybe next time…


Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge


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