Pikes Peak State Park is located on the southern outskirts of McGregor in northeast Iowa.
Now the air needs to be cleared, this is THE Pikes Peak. Not that little hill in Colorado that gets all of the fame…
The story is that in 1805 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was sent to the region to survey for a military fort to be built on the northern Mississippi River. He chose the location where our Pikes Peak is now, but the government later decided to build on the Wisconsin side by Prairie du Chien. Then in 1806, newly promoted Captain Pike took another expedition through Colorado and attempted (but failed) to summit what was then known as El Capitan. It was long after Pike’s death that the mountain was refered to as Pike’s High Peak, then later shortened and officially renamed to Pikes Peak. So you see, first come first serve. After all, we have trees to go with our snow. I mean, what do you do with all of that gorgeous view anyway? /wink
So Pikes Peak State Park is one of the most visited and photographed parks in Iowa. It consists of two units, linked by a connecting trail. The northern portion which is the lesser traveled, consists of most of the more rugged hiking trails; whereas the southern portion is the most visited with the overlook and the small waterfall whose trails are short and highly maintained.
One of the biggest attractions of Pikes Peak State Park are the fall colors that cover the area in late September. The entire northeast of Iowa has a lot visitors around that time of year, with some making it a long weekend to drive through all of the parks in the surrounding area, such as Yellow River State Forest, to see the colors.
There are a few different ways to hike Pikes Peak. You can break it up and just hike the north, south, or the whole thing; varying which trails you want to take and make your hike as long or as short as you want.
If you choose to hike just the north unit, you can drive through the south part of McGregor and park in the northeast corner. It is a pretty steep climb up to Point Ann on the Point Ann Trail (blue), then you can hook up with Horn Hollow Trail (maroon), and finish on Chinquapin Ridge Trail (green) in order to create your shortest loop of about 3.5-4 miles. You can also stay on the Point Ann Trail until it connects to the Chinquapin Ridge Trail, or use the Bluebird Trail as a connector, for a 5-6 mile loop.
The trails are thickly wooded with very well maintained crushed rock trails that weave through the ravines. The scenery is great and I’ve never had a bad hike there, even when a light rain kicked off a bit after we had just started down the trail. This is in the drift-less zone of Iowa (where the glaciers didn’t smooth it out during the ice age), so expect some good climbs and descents in this area.
Point Ann is the northernmost point and offers a nice view of the Mississippi River. The only other place in the north unit you get river views will be along the eastern ridge-lines of the Chinquapin Ridge Trail.
If you are just looking to hike the southern unit, the most common thing to do is to park in the lot (orange star), then walk the 100 feet to the overlook (red star) where you can view the river and Wyalusing State Park across the river in Wisconsin; then hike the Bridal Veil Trail (yellow) to the falls. This trail is very built up being paved until you are almost to the Crow’s Nest, where it turns into a wooden path all the way to the Bridal Veil Falls (green star). There are some stairs, but otherwise this .75-1 mile down and back is fairly easy. On the return you could also pop onto Myotis Trail (yellow dash) if you wanted to shorten it a bit and walk on some dirt.
You can also put together a loop by leaving the parking lot and heading west along the Weeping Rock Trail (purple), choosing to break off of on either the West Hickory Ridge (light blue), or the East Hickory Ridge Trails (green), and then taking the Bridal Veil Trail back to the parking lot for a roughly 1.5-2 mile loop. While there isn’t as much climbing and descent in the southern unit, there is still a decent little ravine running down the center to get the legs burning a little bit.
If you are looking to cover some ground and want to hike the whole park, here is my 9.7 mile route I enjoy (red). I park in the south lot (orange star) and jump on Weeping Rock (purple). Where it connects with Chinquapin Ridge (green) you’ll find the ranger’s home and the original concession stand that was restored and relocated (blue star).
Then I take the Point Ann (blue), to Horn Hollow (maroon), to Chinquapin route for the north; and then the West Hickory (light blue) to Bridal Veil (yellow) route for the south. Altogether it is a good amount of hills that will often leave you ready for the adventure beverage waiting for you at home.
When it comes to recommending gear for your hike at Pikes Peak State Park, it all depends on what you want to do. If you only want to do the overlook and falls, then you don’t need to worry about taking anything, except maybe some bug spray. Just stay on the constructed paths and enjoy the views. Similarly, if you just want to check out the southern loop, I would advise making sure you use a map so you don’t accidentally head toward the north unit.
If you want to knock out the north loop I would say you should bring your food, water and your map. In addition, you might want to put a jacket in your pack for potential weather changes and a first aid kit as the terrain is a little more rugged. Now if you desire to hike the entire 9.7 mile route, expect a 3.5-4 hour hike. So make sure you have plenty of water and calories to keep you going. Of course the same suggestion of putting a jacket, bug spray, and first aid in your pack. You should also make sure you definitely have your map for this hike. There are a lot of options for you to take so you’ll need the map to help keep you on your planned route.
Now while Iowa’s Pikes Peak State Park may be the lesser known little sister to Colorado’s name stealing mountain, she is still one of my favorite parks to visit. My wife and I try to make it an annual visit to check out the leaves. During summer visits we like to sneak into McGregor afterward and have lunch at the marina bar and grill; just your standard short order food, but it is nice to eat out on the deck on the edge of the river.
Pikes Peak is a great place to spend a day out on the trails, and I hope you get the chance to enjoy it soon.
Thanks for reading!