Bison were hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s. Today’s North American population is about 500,000. Photo: Jonathan Mast.
Once a mainstay on the Great Plains, bison are making a comeback in the state in parks, nature preserves and farming operations. Here are a few spots to see the mighty beasts from the safety of your vehicle, via a short hike, or through a quick tour.
Bare Bison: The 250-head operation south of Van Meter offers up-close views of the animals on ATV tours as well as from the farm’s fence line. The shop sells bison meat in a variety of cuts, as well as hoodies, T-shirts, hats and other swag.
Fontana Park: The Buchanan County park north of Independence is home to Iowa native animals — bison, deer, eagles and more — in outdoor enclosures. The nature center provides interpretive experiences for families and groups.
Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch: A 40-head herd roams the pastures and woods of the farm in Fredericksburg, in northeast Iowa. You can tour the 150-year-old farm in a wagon to feed the bison.
Jester Park: Polk County Conservation operates this park in Granger and takes care of bison and elk in a sprawling enclosure near an observation deck and eco-friendly playground.
Native Prairie Bison: Former Navy SEAL Jathan Chicoine and his wife, Racheal Ruble, own and operate a bison farm northeast of Ames. With the herd’s help, they’re working to restore the 180-acre property’s native grasslands, oak savannas and other natural ecosystems.
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge: Take the 5-mile audio driving tour at the Prairie City preserve to see bison and elk roaming the prairie. Look for wallows — depressions devoid of vegetation — where the bison take dust baths.
Whiterock Conservancy: Bison herds often graze in the pastures south and west of the historic Garst family farmhouse home south of Coon Rapids and are often spotted from the Town Loop trail.
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