Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve

Broken Kettle is a sweeping reminder of nature’s beauty. Not only is it the Conservancy’s largest preserve in Iowa, but it contains the largest remaining prairie in Iowa. In 1999, the Conservancy found the prairie rattlesnake, an extremely rare species, at this site, making Broken Kettle even more important to the region.

The Nature Conservancy welcomed a herd of 28 bison at Broken Kettle Grasslands preserve in the fall of 2008 — an historic event benefiting the native prairie and the bison herd itself. Learn more about this unique herd, the role that bison play in prairie restoration and the relationship the Conservancy has with bison across North America.

Why You Should Visit
Broken Kettle Grasslands forms the core of our protection efforts in the northern portion of the Loess Hills and it is a stellar example of this rare and intriguing landform. "Loess" consists of tiny windblown silt particles. Most of the Midwest is covered in loess; it’s what helps make our land so rich for farming. Iowa’s Loess Hills were literally blown into existence as the glaciers from the last Ice Age retreated. The extent and depth of the loess deposits along Iowa’s western border are matched only in China.

Just north of Sioux City, in Plymouth Country
(3½ hours northwest of Des Moines).

3000 acres

The terrain is steep and rugged in places and predominantly grasslands. Expect to see snakes, insects, grassland birds and breathtaking vistas while you hike.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The extensive prairie ridgetops feature a variety of plants and animals typically found further west in the Great Plains, and also provide a critical habitat for many species of prairie butterflies. This area also hosts the largest tract of contiguous native prairie left in the state.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Broken Kettle Grasslands is the core of our protection efforts in the northern portion of the Loess Hills, where the Conservancy and partners have protected more than 6,000 acres to date. Fire and grazing are important processes for this landscape and lie at the core of our management efforts at the site.



Bison Released at Broken Kettle Grasslands

In the fall of 2008 a herd of 28 bison were given a new home at Broken Kettle Grasslands.

What to See: Plants
Plant life at the Broken Kettle Prairie includes lead plant, big bluestem, silky aster, ground plum, side-oats gramma, downy painted cup, nine anther dalea, purple coneflower, snow-on-the-mountain, scarlet gaura, dotted blazing star, ten-petaled mentzelia, purple locoweed, pasque flower, bur oak, tumblegrass, little bluestem, buffalo berry, scarlet globe mallow and yucca.

What to See: Animals
Birds at Broken Kettle Prairie include the black-billed magpie, upland plover, bobolinks and western kingbird. Visitors can see badgers and coyote. The Great Plains toad, plains spadefoot and prairie rattlesnake also live here. Several prairie butterflies are here too, including dusted skipper, regal fritillary, Ottoe skipper and Pawnee skipper.

Preserve Visitation Guidelines


From I-29:

Drive north to Sioux City, continuing through Sioux City to State Highway 12 (exit 151)

Go north on Hwy 12 through the village of Riverside.

After crossing the railroad in Riverside, turn left at the T-intersection, continuing north on Hwy 12 (Sioux River Drive) about 4 miles past its junction with County K18 to Butcher Road

Turn right (east) on Butcher Road and go about one mile.

To drive through the preserve:
Go north on Hwy 12 about 4 miles past its junction with County K18 to Butcher Road

Turn right (east-northeast) on Butcher Road for a scenic drive and access to go about one mile.

Preserve headquarters and visitor center:
Go north on Hwy 12 about a half-mile past Butcher Road to a farm lane on the east side


The preserve headquarters’ address is 24764 Hwy 12

Turn right (east) and follow the lane about a quarter-mile to the headquarters.


Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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