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The lake is used by a few fishermen, with a 5 mph speed limit that is enforced, and hardly any canoeists. Even on July 4, with comfortable weather, there are very few people. One can paddle a 10-mile loop trip that ends with a short portage to the Missouri River, a 2-mile run down the river, and a short portage back to the lake. Out and back trips can be any length up to 16 miles.
There are a variety of birds, including wood ducks, geese, herons, and plovers. The lake is very clean and well-kept. People are not permitted on the outside shore, but there are some picnic grounds on the inside shore that offer a nice place for a break.
As an added attraction, the visitors' center on the north end of the wildlife refuge displays artifacts that were on the Steamboat Bertrand when it sank in Desoto Bend in 1865. The steamboat was found and excavated in 1968.
Almost all flatwater in the Great Plains is in the form of large lakes formed by impoundments in a river. Typically, the shoreline is highly developed and the canoeist must contend with motorboat traffic.
DeSoto Lake has the appearance of a natural lake, with only minimal development. For flatwater canoeists, it is like having a small bit of Minnesota in western Iowa.
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