Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Ft Dodge.
In terms of state green spaces, it is relatively young. Like many places in Iowa, everything about it is man-made. It was once what it’s name suggests, a creek running through a canyon. Then in 1967 the Iowa DNR proposed damming it up and creating the lake. There was nearly 20 years of kickback before it was finally approved. Today Brushy Creek consists of the lake at the northern end of the park, and a large network of equestrian trails to the south. In fact, if you look at the larger trail map of the Lake Trail below, you can see where the original Brushy Creek wound through the canyon that filled up to create the lake.
In total, they have about 45 miles of trails to walk. While I have completed my exploration of the park, I did not do it in one outing.
The focus of this post will be on the middle network of trails between the turquoise Lake Loop, and the southern “legs.”
This was my second trip to the park, so I had an idea of what to expect. The weather was pretty hot and humid in early August, so when there was a momentary drop in both I jumped on the chance to get outside.
The day was beautiful with clear skies, comfortable temps, and low winds.
I parked at the campgrounds and the first thing I noticed was just how busy Brushy Creek is! When I hiked it the year before with Jessie, there was barely anyone else around.
Every camp site was full, and the majority of them had horse trailers. As I found during my hike, this is a pretty popular spot for equestrian traffic. The morning started out with almost no one else on the trails, but by 9 AM I started running into riders on a regular basis.
As I mentioned, I parked at the entrance to the campground in the center of the map (Red Star). I opted to travel in a clockwise direction like usual, and the path I ended up following is the orange line. I knew it was going to be a good day when the first image I saw as I crossed the road to the first trailhead was the scene I used for my featured image. The bright morning sky, with the remnants of the fog rising from the creek was a real mood setter (here it is again).
Immediately I saw that this section of trail was going to be different than the Lake Loop. The Lake Loop is a graveled path where you spend most of your time walking in the open. This network is a hard-packed dirt trail, wandering through a thick wood.
Like most lake area trails, they are pretty flat and flow well over the rolling hills. Now personally, I’m not a big fan of spending a lot of time on an exposed trail, so I intentionally skipped out on Pond Trail. Recognizing on the map that it is an exposed trail, mostly for equestrian use, with a good portion of road walking, I wasn’t excited to try and work it into my loop. So I stuck to the trees.
I was definitely enjoying my hike in the woods, but I noticed that there was very little animal life to capture with my camera. As I exited the Clay Hill Trail and hit the southernmost portion of the Lake Loop I finally caught this fawn, who saw me well before I was able to get within range for a close up shot. Shortly after I was able to get her in frame, she bounded away into the tall grass. Aside from a toad and a couple bugs, that was the extent of the wildlife that trip.
The sun was burning strong over the prairie grasses during this short walk before I returned to the woods. If you attempt to string together the multiple sections of the park, this is the connector between the Lake Loop and the middle network.
From there I entered Preserve Trail and began heading back south. The point of note I’d like to chat about is a potential rest area that could be improved a slight bit (Yellow Star). At the first curve of the trail is a little bench, looking down to the creek. Now as it is, it is a good place to take a pause if need be. The bench is a little worn, but it is functional. Now what could be nice, is to drag in a picnic table, replace or clean up the bench, and clear up the view a bit by cutting down some of the foliage. Now that could create a desired picnic spot.
Not too far from that point I ran into a little guy climbing his silk. I made a valiant attempt at getting it nice and sharp without actually having a lens designed for that close up macro view point. It was a fun little break in the hike regardless.
The next point of note was a creek crossing along the Meadow Trail (Blue Star). Originally I had planned on following it north to the Lake Loop again, then road walking down to Big Rock Trail where I’d have to cross again. Honestly, I didn’t notice there was a creek before I set off. However, after I ran into it, it became clear that it was on the map. I just wasn’t looking for it.
You might have to look close, but that is a swarm of mosquitoes. Also, there aren’t really any stepping stones to help hikers across, so you’ll have to get your feet wet. I do like it when they place ways to cross streams to help keep your feet dry though (hint hint DNR…). In this case, since it was only going to be about 1.5 – 2 mile loop (Yellow Loop) and come back to this point, I chose to avoid the swarm and wet feet.
Continuing on the trail I found it to remain pretty consistent. The only portion of the network that I was unsure about as I planned my trip was the upcoming Bridge Trail. It looked as though you had to cross the road and then walk alongside it for a bit, which isn’t overly normal for a marked trail. Once I got to that point though, I realized that the trail actually went under the bridge, then you walked trail on the north edge of a fallow field, before taking a gravel drive south where you can re-enter the tree line.
If you want to stretch it out a bit more for mileage, you can continue along the road as it turns into Cemetery Trail, but it is an exposed trail that goes around the septic treatment pits.
The Bridge Trail that I stayed on terminates at a 4-way intersection of trails, a place where Bridge, Cemetery, and Creek trails all meet. I was originally going to take Cemetery at this point, but a pair of riders where heading down that direction and their horses where acting pretty skittish at sensing my presence. So as you can see on the map, I went straight and looped back around to cross over my previous path instead. After that it was a short walk up Creek Trail, then through the campground and back to the car.
Since I mentioned the connectors to the Lake Loop, I should comment that where Cemetery terminates into Day-Use Trail is where the connector for the southern trails is. With such a large trail network, one thing that is nice about Brushy Creek is that their trails are very well marked, with only one hiccup on the SW leg I’ll discuss in that upcoming trail report. So that being said, make sure to take a map with you just to verify you’re on the right path.
Overall, a really enjoyable little hike. The route I ended up finishing netted 8 miles and took a little under 3 hours. It is a fairly smooth trail that most anyone can tackle, with plenty of options so you can stay within your known limits. On the other side of that, with that extensive network, it also offers opportunity for those looking to really crush some miles to build a hefty hike for themselves. I know this hiker is looking to challenge himself with an attempt to hike all three sections in one day. I’ve estimated it should be roughly 34 – 40 miles for the entire attempt…
Make sure to check the DNR website if we’ve been having some wet weather since the trails are dirt. Last year the only available trail was the Lake Loop as the middle and southern sections were closed. I know Volga was pretty much taken out of commission for a while due to riders not adhering to the postings and riding anyway.
So check out the video on YouTube, stuff your pack with water, snacks, and your map, and enjoy your walk!