7 Most Popular State Parks and Recreational Areas In Iowa (2022)
Beyond its enormous cornfields, Iowa is also known for its incomparable natural beauty and variety of beautiful and diverse landscapes. From glacier-carved valleys to rolling hills, prairies, trails, caves, water bodies, and more, the geological diversity of this State has known no bounds. And to find and explore all of them in one single place, the best idea is to explore Iowan State Parks and other outdoor recreational areas. Iowa is home to nearly 83 State Parks and Recreational areas. This outstanding array of outdoor playgrounds covers lakhs of acres of land, of which a certain section is available for public fun and enjoyment.
Iowa’s State Parks play a prominent role in its economic and tourism sector. The State Parks in Iowa alone draws about 15.5 million visitors annually. And these visitors aren’t just the ones from State but Nation and from other parts across the world. Here is a roundup of the best and must-visit State Parks in Iowa. If you happen to enjoy outdoor recreation, then include at least one of them in your itinerary. Here were go with some of the finest options, have a look:
The 7 Most Popular State Parks and Recreational Areas in Iowa
1. Pikes Peak State Park
If you are interested in observing and capturing the most scenic views of Iowa, then visit the Pikes Peak State Park. It is located in the eastern part of the State along the northeastern border of Iowa and southwest Wisconsin. Pikes Peak features a 500-foot (150 m) bluff overlooking the Upper Mississippi River right opposite where it meets with the Wisconsin River. This scenic overlook of the park is known for offering Iowa’s most incredible natural views. Visitors often choose to hike through the sheer limestone walls, climbing up the areas to enjoy an afternoon picnic. Pikes Peak is also a part of the Great River Road Scenic Byway, which draws in more and more attention plus the crowd here. So, for someone who is awaiting stunning water and nature views, look no beyond Pikes Peak State Park.
2. Maquoketa Caves State Park
Presenting sheer wonders of nature, the Maquoketa Caves State Park is the most popular State Park in Iowa. One of the first state parks in Iowa, Maquoketa is popular for its rugged limestone bluffs, hiking trails, a natural bridge, and of course, 16 splendid caves. Be it the 1100-foot Dancehall cave or the tiny caves that require crawling inside, the caves at Maquoketa are the centerpiece and highlight of the park. Besides that, the hiking trails here in the park with tons of wooden walkways interest enthusiasts the most. These trails lead towards unique geological features and an abundance of recreational opportunities. Thanks to the unique geological setting, the State Park is also popular for activities like mountain climbing and rock climbing. Enthusiasts who are looking for outdoor fun can also indulge in bird watching, fishing, and camping.
3. Backbone State Park
The Backbone State Park is the first state park in Iowa, established in 1920. Backbone is also one of the most geographically unique areas in the State. Also known as Devil’s Backbone, this region is known for the steep and narrow ridge of bedrocks. These stone bedrocks also form a devil’s staircase that makes up for haven for advanced hikers and climbers. The State Park is also home to a unique set of structures like a stone lodge now turned museum, a 1930 bathhouse, a stunning stone barn, and two sets of stone trail steps. The best views of the park and across are to be found hiking via a 1.5-mile loop which is popularly known as Devil’s Backbone Trail. Since the state parks deserve more than a day trip, they offer several options to stay back. Visitors can choose from 2 huge campgrounds (multiple campsites) and 16 cabins. The park is also popular for boating, swimming, and fishing in the Maquoketa River.
4. Ledges State Park
Another popular State Park in Iowa, the Ledges State Park, is a must-visit for nature lovers and wanderers. It is also known for being the most historic and unique nature destination in the State. The State Park is nearly four miles south of Boone and is quite popular amongst hiking and camping enthusiasts. Ledges is home to a sandstone gorge carved by Pea’s Creek, which is also a tributary of the Des Moines River. For hiking enthusiasts, there are multi-purpose trails ranging from short, long, easy, and advanced ones. No matter which trails you choose, most of them take you deep into George via different pathways. Ledges State Park is also home to a nature interpretive trail where one can walk and grab information about the history and geology of the park. Other popular recreational activities that are popular here include swimming, non-motorized boating, fishing, and picnicking. Enthusiasts who want to extend their fun time can stay back via primitive or modern camping methods.
5. Lacey Keosauqua State Park
Located towards the southwest of Keosauqua, the Lacey Keosauqua State Park is the largest State Park (by size) in Iowa. It is Iowa’s second state park and is named after Civil War officer Major John Lace. Lace was also known as the father of the Iowa state park system. Lacey Keosauqua is one of the most pristine regions in the State and is home to 200-year-old oak trees, along with colorful plants and shrubs everywhere. The State park is also a part of the Mormon Pioneer Trail. The multiple small trails here within its boundaries follow the valleys and cliffs of the Des Moines River. Hiking upon them, one can spot undisputed natural beauty, different birds, and common wildlife like deer, raccoons, red foxes, grey squirrels, etc. The State Park is also home to a 30-acre lake with a beach, 76 campsites, six cabins, and two lodges. The park is also popular for its picnic facilities amongst locals.
6. Mines of Spain State Recreational Area
Mines of Spain is a splendid wooded and prairie land located south of Dubuque. This 1437 acres of beautiful recreational area is also a National Historic Landmark and the most popular Watchable Wildlife Area in Iowa. French explorer Julien Dubuque initially discovered the Mines of Spain as an archaeological site. Later it also became Dubuque’s final resting place on earth. Some of the popular places to visit inside this recreational region include the Betty Haputli Bird and Butterfly Garden and the E. B. Lyons Nature Center. Besides that, it is also home to 15 miles of hiking trails and four miles of skiable trails that are major winter draws. Amongst the individual from the neighbourhood, Mines of Spain is also popular for afternoon and evening picnic fun. However, beyond all of these, the highlight of this region is something unique. Horseshoe Bluff, a horseshoe-shaped area, is what draws visitors to the Mines of Spain the most. The bluff offers visitors to observe Ordovician dolomite and stunning rock features.
7. Dolliver State Park
Also known as Dolliver Memorial State Park, it is one of the most popular state parks in Iowa. The park is spread over 594 acres featuring high bluffs, deep ravines, and the beauty of nature. Its geological setting and panoramic views also make Dolliver one popular Iowan landmark amongst photographers. It is home to two prominent natural attractions: Dolliver Memorial State Park, Entrance Area (Area A) and Dolliver Memorial State Park, Picnic, Hiking & Maintenance Area (Area B). In addition, Dolliver is a popular recreational area known for activities like hiking, horseback riding, cycling, bird watching, and wildlife spotting. The State Park is also home to a beautiful lake that allows for water-based fun, including fishing, swimming, and kayaking. The state park features campsites, lodges, and family-friendly cabins for visitors who want to stay back. And for day visitors, there are several picnic shelters to sit and enjoy.