With Native American meeting places, ancient caves, and gorges waiting to be rappeled, Iowa's state park system is burgeoning with enlivening experiences. Watch bald eagles soaring overhead, whitewater raft on the state's rushing rivers, or sink into a slower pace of life on its lakeside beaches. Read on to discover more about the unmissable experiences promised by the state's best-kept secret.
From winter cross-country skiing to eagle spotting and pleasure boating, Iowa's state parks promise thrilling entertainment for families. Come and meet indigenous wildlife, have a go at archery, or marvel at a Native American burial ground. Here's where you'll find Iowa's most exciting family days out:
Yellow River State Forest
Families will find that the canoe trails at Yellow River are the easiest to paddle in the state, though there are enough rapids to keep things interesting. As the river snakes through the park, you'll enjoy views of picturesque bluffs and woodland. Every five miles or so, there are boat launches, so you can stop off whenever you like for a picnic or wildlife watching. These 9,000 acres of parkland are a vast playground for hiking, hunting, and skiing in the wintertime.
Mines of Spain State Recreation Area
A unique park that satisfies explorers and animal lovers alike, this 1,300-acre park is home to a veritable Noah's ark of animals. Bobcats and deer scurry through its meadows, while bald eagles and hawks hover overhead. Try your hand at archery, or take mountain bikes into the wilderness.
Lacey-Keosauqua State Park
Some 20 Native American burial grounds draw crowds to this stunning 1,600-acre park, which is also home to a historic pioneer river crossing. Many of the trees in the park date back to those days. After hiking to explore this unique scenery, take a boat out, or swim in the 30-acre lake.
The Best Iowa State Parks for Hiking
Plunging gorges, stunning caves, coyotes, and beavers are some of the attractions of hikes in Iowa's state parks. Here are some of the most impactful hikes in the state:
Springbrook State Park
Almost 1,000 acres of parkland combines wide-open prairies with dense forests. Trails transport you to some of Iowa's most enthralling wildlife areas. If you're lucky, you'll spy beaver, deer, coyotes, and waterfowl in these parts. Explore 20 miles of meandering trails and be sure to bring your camera phone.
Waubonsie State Park
Sequestered in the Loess Hills, this state park is blessed with seven miles of hiking trails and eight miles of bridleway. Go on a journey through some of Iowa's most diverse landscapes, including dramatic gorges and fertile valleys. Interpretive trails alert you to wildlife and geological features unique to the area, and you can also embark on hikes along the enthralling Lewis and Clark Historical Trail. New points of interest await around every bend.
Wanderings in this intriguing state park yield visions of stalactite-adorned cave interiors, museum exhibits showcasing ancient Native American curios, and settler history. Six miles of wildflower-lined trails lead to fascinating geological marvels such as the Dugout and Dancehall caves. Discover prairie land and savanna chirruping with wildlife, the 50-foot high Natural Bridge over Raccoon Creek, and the precipitous Balanced Rock.
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The Best Iowa State Parks for Adventure Sports
With watersports or mountain wanderings, intrepid voyages or natural assault courses, the state parks of Iowa hold almost endless adventures for sports fans. Here are some of the most bounteous:
Elk Rock State Park
Iowa's largest lake is so vast that it deserves multiple trips to its remoter coves and inlets. It's also a haven for watersports fans. Paddle through serene backwaters and spot migrating birdlife in its wetlands. Kayakers, sailors, anglers, and jetskiers make waves on Lake Red Rock, an unforgettable pleasure boating paradise.
Rappel down limestone ledges or scramble up rock faces in Backbone State Park, where a spine-like range of mountains make the perfect assault course for adventure addicts. Meanwhile, the Maquoketa River ribbons sinuously through a lush valley, offering visitors scenic fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
Lake of the Three Fires State Park
Canter through history at this thrilling state park, which was once a rendezvous for Native American tribes. Snowmobiles replace horses in the wintertime, while hunting and fishing are popular in season. Summertime attracts visitors to the sandy beaches of the lake and the volleyball courts. Nearly 700 acres of woodland are stitched with hiking trails, and there's an elegant golf course to be played in nearby Bedford.
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