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What do you mean it’s June?!

DSC_3543Well then, for those that read the last update and remember me saying something about April being super busy but May was looking pretty good… I was wrong. May turned out to be pretty packed after all. I took a new position at work so there have been fewer days off with the related training and such. Plus I decided I needed to rehab my deck, so that ate up a couple of the nicer weather days as well.

I almost didn’t make it out on a trail at all last month, but luckily the weather was beautiful over Memorial Day weekend and the wife and I decided to take the girls and one of their friends over to Illinois for some waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. I’m still processing the photos, but should be posting some of them on Instagram soon. (Here’s a sneak peek.)

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After seeing them with flowing water, it is amazing how massive they can get once they are frozen. That park truly is two completely different parks when you compare them winter to summer. (This is the same waterfall.)

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With the help of the WordPress staff I was able to get the map section to work. I plotted out the parks on my list in Google Maps so you can scroll around and zoom in and out to find parks that you may be curious about, or didn’t know existed. If I have posted a trail report for a particular park you should be able to click the link and go straight to the post to read about it.

June isn’t looking much better for getting out, but I have the last weekend off. Here’s hoping the sunshine holds, the temps dip back down into the 70’s or 80’s, and my honey-do list remains empty! Now come July, I am finally using some vacation and taking some time off work to explore some new places. Super excited!

I’m only about 25 miles into my 214 mile goal for the year, it’s time to take the camera for a walk.

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Gull Point State Park (plus Hawkeye Point)

 

DSC_1104Hawkeye PointGull Point State Park is located in northwest Iowa on the southwestern shores of the Okoboji Lakes in Wahpeton.

I visited Gull Point with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods on our third stop of the day over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months). Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

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The park has a short interpretive trail across the road from the campgrounds that produced a couple surprises. Now the park is pretty much flat with a small amount of grade to it at points. That being said, it was a pretty quick little trail to close out our hiking for the day.

DSC_1068aThe weather continued to decline as we left Fort Defiance and some very light sprinkles started to show up. We put the rain cover on the child carrier and marched once more down the trail. I’ll just say that for an interpretive trail, it wasn’t overly interpretive, just sign-less trail. We started at our orange star as usual and immediately found ourselves on a well worn trail.

I had almost decided to cut this one off the list, but I’m glad I decided to create these park tour trips and was able to fit it in, because the wooded surrounding were very pleasant. We hung a right at the first intersection and found a nice little chapel nestled quietly in the trees (red star). I later learned that it is considered the Boy Scout Chapel as it was built as a memorial to a boy scout troop that is no longer around, but was apparently quite popular.

DSC_1074We headed south from there and crossed the bridge toward the large loop. A few yards west of the bridge there was a canoe launch that looked to be part of some camp, and a neat little overlook (green star) that suggests that the park must be pretty active. The next surprise was at the blue star where we found a small scout camping area that had a bench overlooking a small nature space.

DSC_1080The rest of the trail was simple path flowing smoothly through the woods. All in all a small little gem I did not expect. The Okoboji Lakes are a very popular destination in Iowa and this little walk is definitely worth hopping over to.

A short and simple little review for a short and simple little hike. The 1.5 mile loop only took a touch over 30 minutes to hike. It’s flat and fast, so the only thing I would suggest is to bring your map!

DSC_1092This tiny treat completed our hiking tour for the day and Adventure Baby did great! She did finally start to express a little fussiness while were buckled her in this time, but once we were moving she continued to enjoy the ride. Day 1 test: success! Now on to a quick visit to Hawkeye Point before heading to our overnight in Sioux City.

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Bonus: Hawkeye Point, Iowa

DSC_1170Hawkeye Point is located near Wilson in the far northwest corner of Iowa.

Given the rugged, rocky hills of northeast Iowa, most people tend to think that the highest point in Iowa would be in that part of the state. In actuality it is in the northwest corner at Hawkeye Point.

DSC_1135At 1,670 feet, Hawkeye Point is the summit of Iowa. It is a small patch of ground that was donated to the state by the original family who worked the surrounding fields for decades. I was a little apprehensive as I pulled into the standard looking farm driveway that split the old farmhouse and barn, but once I got past them I saw the signs and knew I was going to the correct place. There are plans to build it up into a park with camping, but for now it is still just a spot on an Iowa farm. It is pretty simple in design; a tiled mosaic marking the point surrounded by a flag pole and posts with signs pointing to the other 49 highest points in each state with their elevations and distances away. Most of the work was done by local 4-H and youth groups.

DSC_1168The wind was really whipping through and the temps had dropped a good chunk by the time we got there, so we only stopped for some quick pictures and hopped back in the car to head to our room for the night. Adventure Baby had definitely had her fill of adventure for the day and proceeded to take a solid nap!

DSC_1153Thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!

Fort Defiance State Park

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Ft Defiance google mapFort Defiance State Park is located on the outskirts of Estherville in northwest Iowa.

I visited Fort Defiance with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods on our second stop of the day over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months). Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

Fort Defiance State Park gets its name from the old fort that once stood in what is now Estherville. It was built to protect the area from the Dakota Indians following their attack on settlers at the Spirit Lake Massacre in 1857. However that would be the only attack by the tribe. The Dakotas were eventually expelled from Minnesota, and the Civil War required resources and manpower, so the fort was decommissioned not long after.

Ft Defiance Trail Map.jpgFort Defiance has a lot to offer in its number of trails and terrain. We ended up cutting ourselves short sticking to the trails on the outer edge of the park, partially due to some frustration caused by low maintenance issues in places. We planned for around 5 or 6 miles, but ended up only knocking out 3 when all was said and done. Let’s get to the hike.

DSC_1001aWe parked at the lodge (orange star) and got Adventure Baby all prepared with a snack and a clean diaper. The temp did dip a touch since leaving Ambrose A Call State Park, so we put her winter coat and pants on her and buckled her into her pack. Then we set off to the west to begin our counterclockwise hike around the perimeter of the park. The initial hundred or so yards was a road walk to the first trail head, the mini Spring Creek Trail (tight purple dashes). This trail was a steady downhill that immediately awarded you with a sense that you were in the woods, our smiles were genuine.

DSC_1008Eventually it met up with the actual Spring Creek Trail (aqua). This intersection was the first point where low maintenance showed its head. There were a couple downed trees across the trail that had been there for a while. A makeshift attempt to go around the trees had been attempted by a few people before us, but not enough to really make it easily passable. We eventually got around the road block and back on the trail. The rest of the trail was very enjoyable and passed without incident.

Spring Creek Trail terminated at a road where it meets up with the two prairie trails; East and South Prairie Trails. We hopped on East Prairie Trail (purple) from here which turned into a grassy walk on what was probably the least scenic of the park. About 2/3 of the way down the path we discovered it met up with the road where we found a bench swing looking off toward the center of the park (red star). The view from the swing was great, making this a neat little road side pull off site. DSC_1033After a few photos, we continued along and found ourselves wandering a bit through a section of trees where the trail wasn’t overly noticeable. While I normally grumble about them chewing up the trails, luckily horses had been through earlier so their tracks were easy to follow to the end of the trail.

DSC_1037I was able to get us back on track and entered the descent of East Trail (yellow), and quite a descent it was. It didn’t last long as we were only on it for a few dozen yards before branching off onto Ridge Trail (gray) (and a new climb…). Ridge Trail was great as it wove through the trees overlooking the valley below. We noticed that there are a few lucky people with backyards that meet up with the northern border of the park for ready access.

DSC_1052Low maintenance appeared again where Ridge and North Trail (orange) met, and sporadically came in and out throughout its length. The North Trail was kind of scraggly in places before turning into a pretty good descent into the valley floor where Flume Trail (blue) followed the creek. The area surrounding Flume Trail felt very open and was quite attractive. In hindsight, I wish I had known and planned to hike more of the green circled area. I would probably have hiked the full length of Flume Trail, re-hiked the small section of Ridge Trail until it met with East Trail again and taken that back to the lodge.

DSC_1047As it was, we didn’t hike as far as we thought we had on Flume Trail, and once we could see the lodge, we accidentally exited the trail about a 1/4 mile early by following a game trail up the ridiculously steep climb thinking it was a low maintenance trail heading up the hill on the east side of the lodge. Once up top, we walked the 50 yards or so to the car and prepared for our next stop.

DSC_1063I would still say there are a good 6 miles worth of trails to snag out at Fort Defiance State Park, 6 rugged miles. That being said, as you can tell from the map and my report, you can plan as many miles as you want. You should keep your personal conditioning in mind when making your plans. I had put in a good number of miles that year and found myself breathing pretty hard on some of those climbs. Due to the ruggedness I would suggest a minimum of a pack with water and snacks. I would also promote the use of trekking poles here for sure. While not necessary, they really do alleviate some of the stress on the knees during the climbing and descending. Obviously I would say that a map is a must as I got a bit off trail even while using it, imagine if I didn’t have one.

Now don’t take any of the negative chatter within this post as the park being a less desirable location to visit. I really did like that park a lot and feel that with a little more attention to trail maintenance it could be an awesome state park! If you head that way to check out the fall colors, Fort Defiance State Park will provide an excellent scene. Now on to Test part 3: Gull Point State Park.

DSC_1005Thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!

Ambrose A. Call State Park

 

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Ambros A Call Google MapAmbrose A Call State Park is located up by Algona in northwest Iowa.

I visited Ambrose A Call with my wife and my little Adventure Baby for a nice stroll through some woods as our first stop of several over a Halloween weekend to check out what northwest Iowa had to offer. Let me just say, even though it was slightly chilly, the weekend did not disappoint!

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The whole idea for the weekend was to spend some family time in the woods checking out the last remnants of the fall colors and to see how much Adventure Baby could handle riding in her chariot (she was just shy of 11 months).

We parked at the orange star next to the lodge and got baby girl all secured into her pack. One thing I noticed right away is that they appear to have a really nice disc golf course around the main recreation area of the park, complete with signage and maps of each hole (yellow star). It suggests that they put a good amount of effort into the park and speaks to its potential.

DSC_0950Overall the park has a short 1.75 mile trail system through some very pleasant woods set on a good-sized hill. We started our hike on the Woods Trail staying to the outer loop in a counter-clockwise route. As the map suggests, a .2 mile trail is super quick to complete. The trail was pretty well maintained for the most part, however at the red star this one got a little over grown and confusing until we came out at the southwestern most picnic area. That was our only hiccup with the trails though. After that, all of the other trails were solid and easy to follow.

DSC_0961As we started our trek eastward from the picnic area we followed the road for a few feet until we found the trail-head to Creek Trail. It started with a good downhill descent and then turned into the most enjoyable section. The scenery was great as we followed the creek in a northeasterly direction toward the park entrance. Adventure Baby was having a blast slapping the back of my head and pulling at my ears most of the way.

DSC_0969DSC_0948Eventually we had to climb out of the creek bed and found ourselves on the main park road. I snuck down the road to catch a picture of the entrance sign (something I often forget to do…) and then back to jump on the last section of trail, High-Low Trail. Now this last section did have a couple of spots at the beginning where you could easily follow the trail, but it was a little tough to pick it out until you were right on top of it. As we rounded the bend at the northern most point we were met with a long, steady, incline back to the top of the hill.

DSC_0997Once we got to the top, there was a moment of, “oh hey, isn’t that grass over there pretty.” Chuckles aside, at the top was a home of one of the original settlers to the area. It had been preserved and relocated to the park a number of years ago as a representation of the original home of the family that donated the land to the state that once sat in the park. From here it was a road walk back to the car to complete our hike. Adventure Baby had a blast, but was ready to be done and get something to eat. Test part 1: success.

Given the short length of the trails (1.75 miles over a casual 50 minutes), gear is more of a comfort item for this hike. I would still suggest bringing some water and your map of the park. Since they are small, I’m never opposed to taking something like a Clif Bar as a snack for just in case you get hungry (ya never know). There was a good amount of climbing/descending, so I would also recommend trekking poles for those who want more stability.

I tend to shy away from these shorter length parks as I enjoy chewing up the miles, but Ambrose A Call State Park is definitely a beautiful fall destination. If you’re just looking for a quick stroll, or introducing some little ones to the outdoors, this park gets my stamp of approval (if I had a big ole’ stamp to approve things with). Now on to Test part 2: Ft Defiance State Park.

DSC_0968Thanks for reading! Now go enjoy your walk!

The May Update

Well it’s May already, and like I predicted, my busy month of April didn’t allow for much hiking work. I was able to get two hikes posted; Rock Creek State Park and FW Kent County Park, as well as the YouTube video for Rock Creek. Not only have I been super busy this month, but the sterotypical April showers have been in full effect! weather.jpg

(Is that SNOW on May 1st? Gotta love the midwest…)

Contract: IA Park: 610107Luckily I was able to sneak in a hike at Dolliver State Park in between rain clouds. A really nice little park over by Ft Dodge.

May is looking to be far better in terms of opening up my schedule. That means I should be able to finish catching up on my backlog of hike data, and get back out on those trails as often as I’d like to be!

Not a whole lot to comment on this update since I didn’t have a very eventful April. Hopefully these spring showers subside and leave room for those photogenic May flowers to bloom!

FW Kent County Park

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FW Kent Google MapFW Kent County Park is located just northwest of Iowa City.

Kent Park is a neat little place with a lot more variety than I initially anticipated. There has been a lot of work put into this park, which made for a very enjoyable hike.

FW Kent Trail Map.jpgI hiked the park with my wife in two parts; we hiked the east loop then drove over to hike one of the west loops. On the website they have two different maps; the one above, minus the trails on the east side of the park, and one that only has the east trails. I took out a marker and filled in the east trails for the one I used during our hike. I just drew them in using Paint for this. The orange lines are the routes we took. (They really should just update their map to have one comprehensive map…)

As you can see, the complete trail system can be connected if you choose to do some road walking. Our hike was a little over 6 miles, and I suspect you could stretch that out another 4 miles at least, if not 5.

DSC04508We started our hike at the Conservation Education Center (orange star) and checked out some of the natural science items they had inside. Then we stepped out and started on the nice little nature loop they had just to the north. I could easily see taking baby girl there so she could play inside and go for a short stroll to check out anything that decided to come out. Once we finished that loop the eastern trail began at the parking lot. Now the first section on the furthest eastern edge of the park was really the only mundane portion of the hike. It was a simple straight line of mowed grass that had a constant gradual descent to it as we headed south.

Which meant that once we hit the southernmost point and began our return north, it was a steady climb. In all honesty, the park is made up of rolling hills aside from that easternmost trail. The view was nice though.

DSC04516As we continued north we began to see more and more ponds, full of croaking frogs and algae. Some of them were quite pretty with the bold greens contrasting with the rich blue skies. There were also a couple bridges along the route that always causes my wife’s mood to perk up. While the east loop did mainly stick to being grass, a few spots did turn into a worn trail in the more wooded sections.DSC04545

DSC04528We discussed how we wanted to proceed with the next section after we got back to the car and opted just to hit up the lake loop. So we drove around the north road and parked at the Twin Fawns Picnic Area (red star). It was a good descent down to the lake (we should have just driven down to the lake and parked at the beach {green star}).

DSC04577Once we hit the actual Lake Loop we both agreed that this was by far the best trail in the park. The park service has put a lot of work into that area of the park. It makes sense as it is the main draw after all. Like I mentioned just second ago, there is a nice beach on the southern side of the lake, and on the north end you have all of the camping and picnic areas. So it is only natural that they build up that part of the park for park visitors.

DSC04591The trail was a very nice crushed limestone, but the neatest part was all of the bridges. Which my wife was super excited about, it is literally her favorite thing about hiking. What makes these bridge unique, is that they are all reclaimed bridges from other parts of Iowa. There is a pretty large one that the Iowa National Guard flew in under a Chinook helicopter. The day we were going through a wedding party was getting their pictures taken in front of that bridge, so we had to wait a bit before we could sneak through. From there we crossed over the dam and moseyed back up north to the car.

DSC04604When you make your visit to FW Kent Park you should always bring food, water, and a map, and the other map. The 6+ miles took my wife and me 2.5 hours. Now you can hike as little as a couple of miles to almost 12, so bring more than you need if you are going long (better to have too much than not enough). If you’re just going for a walk around the lake, then yes, you don’t really need anything. Just be aware of your abilities and related needs. There really isn’t anything difficult about this park unless you’re not ready to push yourself on a longer distance.

DSC04583Once again my wife and I really enjoyed ourselves at FW Kent County Park and will give it another go. It was a very pleasant hike on a beautiful day. I hope you find yourself circling it on your map of places to check out.

DSC04571Thanks for reading!

(P.S. If there is a bridge in the picture, my wife had the camera.)

Rock Creek State Park

DSC_9020Rock Creek Google Map

Rock Creek State Park is located near Kellogg which is just north of I-80, about halfway between Des Moines and Iowa City.

Rock Creek Trail MapThe park has a single, relatively flat, 11.5 mile trail traveling the circumference of a lake that is a standard model in many of Iowa’s state parks. In this case 3/4 of it is trail covering the southern portion of the lake (blue line), while the remainder consists of walking along the roads to finish off the northern part (green line).

DSC_2799This park did take two visits to be able to complete as it is a park that seems to suffer from low maintenance. The first time I attempted the hike, I parked at a nice little picnicking area (orange star) and only made it to a small pond where everything was completely overgrown and impassable (red star). That is one of the bigger problems with parks with trails that primarily consist of grass. Their trails require very regular mowing.

Good news is, the second trip was far more successful. I was apprehensive about the trip, but felt a sense of relief once I found that the trail was semi-recently mowed.

So I began the trip from the orange star and hiked clockwise around the lake. Another problem with grass trails is that the morning dew clings to it and it wasn’t long before my feet were drenched. Some sections were drier than others, but ultimately I did the whole 11.5 miles with wet feet. (Wet is a sore spot with me, my ultimate kryptonite.) That aside, the trail was easy to follow as it looped around the eastern inlet.

DSC_9032Eventually I found myself on a road for a short bit as I lost the trail near boat ramp/ pseudo marina (blue star). This is one of the areas where there are residential homes along the shore, so it is plausible that the docks here are designated for the homeowners. The next 1/2 mile of shoreline you are basically walking through the backyards of these houses. At least the yards are large, unlike some parks where I feel as though I could see right into their living rooms. This is also the section I got the best pictures in. I found a couple of cranes and a finch at the docks, then all along the shoreline I found some nice flowers.DSC_9028

DSC_9049Shortly after that is when the low maintenance reared its head again. In the park’s defense, is was pretty wet leading up to the hike, and many parts of the terrain in the remaining section (red circle) would be hard to mow. Unfortunately, this is also where the mosquitoes decided to join the party. Rather than digressing into a complaint session, I’ll just say that there is a lot of potential for this area of the park if there would be a little more effort put into keeping the trails mowed (or transitioning into gravel, etc.). I found myself pushing hard to get out of the longer grass and thick mosquitoes. In fact the mosquitoes pushed me off my plan of sticking to the blue trail, and taking the yellow trail to the beach (green star). One positive was capturing some photos of a funnel spider getting a young grasshopper that hopped onto its web.DSC_9086

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DSC_9097Once out of the infestation… I milled around the beach for a bit watching the geese with a bird friend.

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After having a snack I decided to start the road march up and around the northern tip of the lake and back to the vehicle (green lines – dark planned, light impromptu). The road walk was what you’d expect from a road walk. One interesting thing I found was that at the north end of the park is a paved trail that leads east from the park entrance all the way to the town of Grinnell (bold yellow line). Something nice if you happen to live in town. Rock Creek trail.jpg

From here I headed south back to the vehicle, past the campgrounds, and called it a day.

As for my gear recommendations if your journey takes you to Rock Creek State Park: a pack with plenty of water and some calories as 11.5 miles will burn some energy. Some first aid, a map, and of course, bug spray and waterproof shoes… heh. This was one of my faster paces, covering the distance in a little under 3 hours and 45 mins, part of that could be contributed to the literal bugging out at the end. So keep that in mind when planning your timetable compared to your average pace over flat ground.

DSC_2776In the end, Rock Creek State Park has a lot of potential to be a nice stroll around the lake. I think if they could improve the condition of their trails with rock and/or wood chips it would be far more enjoyable. Parks like this are one of the reasons I started this site and the Youtube channel. If more people show interest in visiting our parks to use the trails, then maybe the park service will be more likely to put money into improving the parks that aren’t as popular. During this visit I did see work being done to other parts of the park, we just need to work to get the trails added to the to-do list.

For another look at the park, please check out the video over on the YouTube channel.

DSC_9021As always, thanks for reading and enjoy your walk!