This refuge, which was established in 1924, stretches from northeast Iowa to the Quad Cities along 261 river miles. It includes more than 200,000 acres of water, marsh, wooded islands, and forest prairie. Hundreds of species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish inhabit the area. Visitors can canoe secluded backwaters, camp, hike, fish, hunt, and watch birds and nature.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife information bald eagles, are best viewed during the winter months when they congregate near the few remaining open water areas to fish. Areas below Lock and Dams 8, 9, and 10 and open water near the warm water discharges at the power plants at Genoa and Cassville, Wisconsin and Lansing, Iowa are good spots to check.
Tundra swans can be found in flocks of several hundred birds. Starting in late October until freeze-up, swans can usually be spotted from Highway 35 between Ferryville and Lynxville, Wisconsin.
Concentrations of canvasback ducks stop at the Refuge during the spring and fall migrations to refuel on tubers of wild celery, a nutritious aquatic plant. Rafts of several thousand canvasbacks can be viewed in the fall on Pool 9, south of Ferryville, Wisconsin. Other diving ducks, principally lesser scaup, ringneck and bufflehead also gather in deeper waters above the lock and dams. Mallards, wigeon, gadwall, teal and other surface-feeding species are found in the shallow backwaters.
Evidence of beaver and muskrats can be seen throughout the Refuge. Muskrats can be observed building their conical-shaped houses from available aquatic materials starting around September 20. Visitors are likely to see muskrats swimming in the shallow backwaters carrying vegetation to their feeding platforms and shelters. Beaver, although numerous on the Refuge, are more secretive than muskrats. Visitors traveling the backwater lakes and sloughs during early morning and evening hours have a better chance of viewing these "busy" furbearers performing their many tasks. Beaver dams, lodges, scent mounds and gnawed trees are evident throughout the Refuge. Visitors may also see raccoon, fox, opossum, and if lucky, perhaps an otter or a coyote.
White-tailed deer are common throughout the bottomlands and wild turkey and ruffed grouse are flushed occasionally.
Observant visitors are likely to encounter numerous species of passerine birds including those that nest on the Refuge and those migrating through. Red-tailed and rough-legged hawks and barred and great horned owls are often seen and heard. Turkey vultures usually arrive in March and are seen soaring around the bluffs, sunning with outstretched wings or feeding along sandbars on dead fish. Great blue herons and great egrets nest in a number of rookeries on the District. Some of these rookeries contain over a thousand nests. Starting in early spring until nearly freeze-up, both of these long-legged, long-billed birds will be seen stalking fish and frogs in most shallow areas.
Many visitors are likely to overlook the small "wildlife" that occurs on the Refuge. Most logs display a variety of sunning turtles that usually dive for safety before they can be identified. Turtles also take advantage of the warm sandbars to lay their eggs. Spring peepers, bullfrogs and chorus, green, tree and pickerel frogs keep the evenings alive with their songs. Northern water snakes, although possessing a bad temper, are non-poisonous and are often observed swimming in the backwaters. The myriad of small aquatic and terrestrial insects and organisms that inhabit the Refuge are an essential link in the food chain and they may be good indicators of the health of the River. Curious visitors can easily spend several interesting days attempting to identify the diversity that occurs on the Refuge.
Canoeists and boaters have the advantage in covering more of the Refuge for wildlife observation, but foot travelers also have a number of opportunities. Although there are no maintained trails on the District, visitors are permitted to enter the Refuge anywhere along the boundary. Poison ivy and stinging wood nettles, however, may restrict travel. The Lock and Dam 8 Road, south of Reno, Minnesota and the Lock and Dam 9 Road north of Harpers Ferry, Iowa provide foot access into the interior of the Refuge. Visitors should remember that all motorized vehicle travel on these roads is prohibited. Also, visitors should not cross the spillway areas when water is flowing over these roads. Access roads to many of the boat landings are often near sloughs and backwater areas where herons, egrets and waterfowl may be seen. The wayside on the bridge between Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and Marquette, Iowa, the Turkey River Bottoms area south of Guttenberg, Iowa and the John Deere Marsh in Dubuque are all areas that can be explored on foot.
Admission – None
Directions – watch for signs along county roads skirting the river or inquire locally about the specific area you want to visit
Hours – sunrise to sunset
Credit Cards – None
Phone – (507) 452-4232