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Public Use

The Odessa Complex provides many opportunities for visitors to enjoy the unique natural resources on this remarkable area. Whether you carry binoculars, camera, shotgun or fishing pole, and whether you go on foot or by boat or maybe just a drive down one of the access roads, the Complex offers something for you.

Boating opportunities on Odessa are many and varied. There are three access points with boat ramps and many miles of backwater chutes, sloughs and ponds to explore, in addition to the large open water main lake. Several water trails are marked for paddlers. Although it's a shallow system, paddlers and flat-bottomed boats with outboards can still run several miles at even the lowest water levels. To protect the fragile shore from erosion due to wave action there are several no-wake areas on the complex, including the entire refuge.


Snively Access Campground, on the shores of Odessa, is Louisa County's most popular campground. Located just a few miles east of Wapello, Iowa, the campground offers 31 campsites and a variety of amenities. For more information visit the following website: 

Sport fishing is allowed all year in accordance with state seasons and regulations except the refuge is closed from September 15 until February 1 (except the inlet area) and the controlled waterfowl hunting area is closed during the main portion of the duck season which starts in October. The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset the rest of the year while the remainder of the area has no closed hours.

 Odessa has an excellent fishery for catfish, crappie, and bluegill, but almost anything found in the Mississippi River can sometimes be caught in Odessa because of their frequent connection. Odessa's shoreline is all public land, so there are many opportunities for bank fishing. Three boat ramps provide access for boat anglers. The inlet area of the refuge is an especially popular fishing area when water is being let in from the river.

At the Port Louisa Headquarters, a scenic overlook marks the beginning of over a mile of hiking trails that wind along the wooded bluff, open grassland, and waters of Odessa. These trails are open year around. From February 1 to September 15 the gravel and dirt service roads in the refuge offer over 10 miles of hiking opportunities that wind through grassland, wetland, and wooded habitats offering excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Check with the refuge headquarters for a detailed map. On the lower part of Odessa, an unimproved work road leads from the first parking lot on the Toolesboro Access Road and leads to two different parts of Blackhawk Slough, mainly through floodplain forest and small sloughs. This road can get muddy during wet periods. The levee system which runs along the Mississippi and Iowa Rivers forms over eight miles of potential hiking area as well. The surface varies from grassy and weedy to sand. 

The 6,465 acre Odessa Wildlife Complex is divided into the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge (Louisa Division), managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Odessa Wildlife Management Area, managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The refuge is always closed to hunting and closed to all public use from September 15 until January 1. It provides sanctuary and an abundance of food for migratory birds. The DNR managed portion is open to hunting. A controlled waterfowl hunting program was operated for about 40 years but was eliminated after the 2009 season because reduced hunter numbers no longer warranted the special restrictions. Now Odessa has the standard state wildife area hunting regulations. Most waterfowl hunters use blindboats and much of the area is accessible only by boat, but there are some good walk-in hunting opportunities from the Toolesboro Access Road at the area's south end. Deer, turkey and squirrel hunting are also popular. While the Refuge is closed to hunting, the Port Louisa boat ramp offers close access for hunters with a boat to Turkey and Otter Islands. These Mississippi River islands (over 500 acres) are adjacent to the closed refuge, but managed by the refuge as open to public hunting. Deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting are the most popular on these units. Please check with the Refuge for specific hunting regulations.

    * Odessa Area A Controlled Hunting Summary (1960-2009)


CollageWildlife Viewing
The Odessa Complex is centrally located along the Mississippi Flyway, a major route for migratory birds, affording visitors an excellent opportunity to see wildlife throughout the year. Over 200 species of birds visit the Complex throughout the year with October, November, March, and April being the best months to see large concentrations of waterfowl. Warbler migrations usually peak around the first week of May. August is usually the best viewing time for shorebirds. Bald eagles are common in fall and winter and increasingly common in spring and summer as nesting increases on the Complex.

Herons, pelicans and egrets are commonly seen during the summer feeding in Complex wetlands. Deer, squirrel, raccoon, muskrat, turkey, otter, beaver, skunk, and opossum are year-round residents, but not always easy to spot. Shorelines are a good place to look for most of these species while paddling the area, in addition to the wide variety of turtles, frogs and snakes found here.

Visitors are encouraged to walk the trails, levees, and service roads of the Odessa Complex as well as visiting the headquarters of the Port Louisa NWR to view the diverse fauna and flora of the area. The road that borders the north end of the Refuge (120th Street) is especially popular to view waterfowl in spring and fall, and concentrations of deer in the winter. For photographers and viewers alike, portable photo blinds can be checked out from Port Louisa NWR for use throughout the Complex when access is allowed. Call ahead for availability.