Natural Learning

Get in touch with nature – and Iowa – by visiting our state’s spectacular nature centers, wildlife refuges and other attractions that celebrate Iowa’s beautiful natural resources.


Washington County Conservation Education Center, Ainsworth
Interactive exhibits. A 180-gallon aquarium stocked with native fish. Beautiful prairie mural. Spotting scope. Butterflies. Fishing. Hiking. Camping. Can you tell you’ll never run out of things to do at the Washington County Conservation Education Center?


Starr’s Cave Nature Center/Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve, Burlington
You’ll be wowed by the scenic views that abound in this 200-acre area of forest communities and massive limestone bluffs that rise above the creek. The park and preserve provide a variety of recreational opportunities, while the nature center offers interactive environmental displays.


Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, Camanche
The Mighty Mississippi has fascinated people for years upon years. At the Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, you can learn the river’s history and life it supports. View local river fish species in the 8,000-gallon aquarium, and then rent a canoe or kayak and explore the backwaters.


Swan Lake Education Center, Carroll
Swan Lake isn’t just a famous ballet – it’s a state park in Carroll where you can see fantastic nature displays including a full-mount bison. There’s also a children’s activity area and display of historical maps.


Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls
Breathe in nature at this 300-acre wooded area located in the heart of metro Black Hawk County. The Hartman Interpretive Center houses interactive displays and exhibits on the local natural environment. As a bonus, the reserve in connected to an extensive recreational trail system in the Cedar Valley.


Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids
Children will delight in nature at the Indian Creek Nature Center. Its Sense of Wonder Trail was designed specifically for children to play in nature, and is a certified Nature Explore Classroom. Adults will enjoy this center for its restored wetland, prairie, woodlands and trails that cover 210 acres.


Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center, Cedar Rapids
Are you a history lover? Then you’ll want to visit Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center, where you’ll see replicas of historic and prehistoric artifacts, a full-size replica of a Wickiup and American Indian family, and the Hall of Habitats that highlights Iowa’s diverse ecosystems. Exhibits include Life Along the River, Nature is Fun and Everyone Lives in a Watershed.


Hayden Prairie, Chester
Nature doesn’t get any more beautiful than at Hayden Prairie, which offers 240 acres of wildflowers, prairie grasses, birds and wildlife. One of the unique features of this area is that the ground has never been plowed.


Lower Morse Lake Grassland and Bird Conservation Area, Clarion
Three thousand acres of wildlife habitat at the Lower Morse Lake Grassland and Bird Conservation Area means you’ll never run out of birds to spot and plants, animals and insects to see.


Devonian Fossil Gorge, Coralville
Fantastic fossils! That’s what’s waiting for you at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, where the fossils and limestone bedrock are said to date back almost 200 million years before dinosaurs. This look into Iowa’s past was first exposed during the floods of 1993, and more fossils were uncovered during the floods of 2008.


Crystal Lake Cave, Dubuque
Awaken your inner explorer by taking a guided tour of the Crystal Lake Cave. You’ll traverse more than 3,000 feet of well-lit passageways that showcase nature’s crystal menagerie and intricate formations.


E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, Dubuque
Make your way to the Mines of Spain Recreation Area. That’s where you’ll find the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center that features exhibits and displays including the Betty Hauptli Bird and Butterfly Garden, native prairies, woodland flower gardens, hiking trails and the historic Junkermann farm site.


Gilbertson Nature Center and Petting Zoo, Elgin
Zoo-tacular! That’s what your kids will say at the Gilbertson Nature Center and Petting Zoo. Domesticated farm animals and pets make the zoo their home, and at the Nature Center, you can learn more about the wild animals found in Iowa.


Osborne Visitor, Nature & Welcome Center, Elkader
Step back in time at the Osborne Visitor, Nature and Welcome Center. Here, you can explore the pioneer village, animal exhibit, nature and hiking trails, arboretum and fishing pond. Primitive camping is also available.


Wildwood Nature Center, Fayette
Get up close and personal with Iowa mammals and birds of prey, including an American Bald Eagle, at the Wildwood Nature Center. You’ll also find collections of mounted native animals and birds, and a staff naturalist is on hand to welcome visitors and answer questions.


Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch, Fredericksburg
The buffalo have a home to roam at the Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch. Perfect for group visits, arrange for lunch on your tour or request a buffalo steak dinner. And don’t forget to hand feed the buffalo on a wagon ride while viewing wildlife and native plants and flowers.


Green Castle Recreation Area, Gilman
Fish, hike and take in the beauty of bison and trumpeter swans at the Green Castle Recreation Area. This hilly site includes a 16-acre lake and observatory, and is designated a wildlife refuge.


Fontana Interpretive Nature Center, Hazleton
When you visit the Fontana Interpretive Nature Center, you’ll learn how we can “make a home in a living environment.” There are also live wildlife displays featuring animals native to Iowa.


Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek
Take a road trip on the Loess Hills Scenic Byway and you’ll come across the Hitchcock Nature Center. This 1,268-acre center includes an interpretive facility with exhibits and programs, trails, boardwalk and observation tower.


Calkins Nature Area, Iowa Falls
Peaceful and serene. That’s how you’ll feel when you visit the Calkins Nature Area with trails that wind through 70 acres of native timber and woodland flowers. The Nature Center houses Native American artifacts and exhibits on geology and the Ice Age, and has exhibits of live native and exotic animals.


Hurstville Interpretive Center, Maquoketa
Learn about the loveliness of Iowa’s natural resources through the Hurstville Interpretive Center’s wetland and prairie diorama with plants and wildlife, video kiosk about the Hurstville Lime Kilns, and exhibits about Iowa’s mussels and birds of prey.


Maquoketa Caves State Park, Maquoketa
Grab your flashlight and get ready to explore the Maquoketa Caves. These caves, limestone formations and rugged bluffs provide visitors a chance to step back into geological times from thousands of years ago. There are a variety of caves to explore, including the 1,100-foot Dancehall Cave with walkways and lighting to the popular Dugout Cave.


Grimes Farm and Conservation Center, Marshalltown
Forests, wetlands, prairies and crop fields are waiting for you to hike through them at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center. Then step inside the center to learn about Iowa’s natural history through unique exhibits.


Lime Creek Nature Center, Mason City
When you want to get in touch with your natural side, head to the Lime Creek Nature Center. This conservation education facility features a variety of animal and natural resource displays, while the park itself includes 450 acres of woodlands, wetlands, restored prairie, nature trails and wildlife viewing.


Spook Cave, McGregor
Despite what the name implies, Spook Cave is actually very peaceful. Climb aboard and take a 35-minute guided boat tour. Yep, you heard that right – at Spook Cave, there’s no walking. And the cave’s temperature is always 47 degrees. Camping and cabins are available.


DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri Valley
Duck, duck – goose! Located along the Missouri River, the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is home to thousands of ducks and geese, as well as prairie grasses, cottonwood trees and DeSoto Lake.


Muscatine County Environmental Learning Center, Muscatine
Ready to be wowed? The Muscatine County Environmental Learning Center is a 10,500 square foot facility that features two 1,200-gallon aquariums full of native fish. There are also natural history exhibits featuring change in habitats and wildlife in the state, live snakes and turtles, outdoor live raptor enclosure, interactive displays and a certified monarch way station site.


Henry A. Wallace Country Life Center, Orient
Enjoy the beauty of the Iowa countryside at this 40-acre outdoor interpretive site featuring the philosophies, ideas and achievements of Henry A. Wallace, the 33rd Vice President of the United States. Here, you’ll find artwork, gardens, orchard, prairie, walking trail and the Gathering Barn restaurant.


Milton R. Owen Nature Center, Osage
The Milton R. Owen Nature Center in Osage will have you saying, “Oh wow!” Discover wildlife specimens, bird-feeding observation area, educational exhibits and programs, and a trumpeter swan restoration site with captive breeding pair.


Swiss Valley Nature Center & Preserve, Peosta
What’s unique about the Swiss Valley Nature Center & Preserve? It used to be a dairy barn! This nature center is located on a 500-acre preserve that contains interactive displays about the wildlife, ecology and natural history of the Swiss Valley area.


Prairie Heritage Center, Peterson
Buffalo abound at the Prairie Heritage Center in Peterson. So do learning exhibits, prairie hiking, canoeing, in-season hunting and sites including the Millcreek Lodge, butterfly garden and bird feeding stations.


Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center, Prairie City
Every year, thousands of visitors enjoy birding, hiking, biking, mushrooming, hunting, wildlife watching and teacher education workshops at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center. The Learning Center offers state-of-the-art audiovisuals and museum.


Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve and Center, Rockford
Fossil hunters, you won’t want to miss this. At the Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve and Center, you can see Devonian fossils and even take some home with you – because this preserve is one of three known public fossil gathering sites in the country. Explore 80 acres of native prairie and historic beehive kilns, and see interpretive and tourist information at the Fossil and Prairie Center.


Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center, Ruthven
Get lost in wonder at the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center. This regional nature facility focuses on northwest Iowa’s unique and abundant lakes and marshes. Located in a county park, it features a self-guided nature trail and opportunities for fishing, hunting, boating, camping and picnicking.


Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, Sioux City
The Loess Hills are alive with the sound of nature at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. See natural history programs for all ages, a hands-on exhibit on the Loess Hills geological formation, and native plants and animals. There’s also a new live Birds of Prey exhibit and Discovery Forest nature play-scape.


Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Titonka
Waterfowl. Wetlands. Grassland birds. Remnant and restored prairie. Hunting. Fishing. Wildlife observation. Photography. Interpretive displays. In short, you can find it all at the Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge.


Carl and Evelyn Wilson Nature Preserve, Traer
Reconnect with nature at the Carl and Evelyn Wilson Nature Preserve in Traer. This two-acre reconstructed prairie features 75 flower species, grasses, native woodland and butterfly garden.


Wildlife Lakes Elk Farm, West Burlington
Ever wondered how an elk farm operates? Here’s your chance to find out! At the Wildlife Lakes Elk Farm, you can view the day-to-day operations of a working elk farm and see what it takes to keep it up and running.

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