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!

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!

Cruisin’ the Upper Iowa River

 

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Upper Iowa River MapHere we go on another water adventure! This time we traveled to northeast Iowa and paddled through the bluffs along the Upper Iowa River.Upper Iowa River

Our group was made up of four families that formed a small armada of 5 canoes and 4 kayaks. While two of the kayaks were brought by one of the families, the rest were rented from Chimney Rock Campground (red star) who also provided the shuttle and return service. They offer 7 different floats where they shuttle you upriver for a 2, 4, or 6 hour float back to the campground, or you can launch from the campground and float 2, 4, 6, or 8 hours downriver (and the times are pretty accurate). You can also combine floats for a shuttle upriver and a pick up downriver past the campground. When I called to make the reservation for our trip, for the best views they recommended doing 2 hours upriver, stopping at the campground for lunch, then doing 2 hours downriver, so that’s what I booked.

DSC_0231This area is very popular with river goers and there are a good number of canoe services to choose from. Full disclosure; our trip did not start smoothly as they had a couple of their shuttle workers not show up for work and one of the shuttle vans broke down. We didn’t get our launch until almost two hours after our scheduled time. They did refund us a portion of the fees, where genuinely apologetic, and busted their tails trying to keep up with the demand on them. I will return to this river, and will more than likely use their service again. Now, on to the water.

We were going later in the summer when traditionally the water levels are lower. I had been watching the river levels through the US Geological Survey site for a couple of weeks leading up to our date to make sure there would be enough depth. There was nothing to worry about. With the amount of rain we had received throughout the spring and summer the Upper Iowa River was a good 3-3.5 foot deep and flowing a little swift.

DSC_0279DSC_0266The swiftness was one of the first things I noticed as we were holding the canoes steady for people to climb in and launch. By the time we got everyone in the water, there was a good spread within the group. We closed the gaps and our armada was under way. It didn’t take long for the bluffs to enter our view and the frustrations of the rough start to melted away.

It was a gorgeous day and I shot some pics and played with my new GoPro during this first portion of our trip. The pictures turned out well, but the video footage is a little random and limited. For the most part, the first 2 hour section had a nice casual flow that allowed the inexperienced paddlers a chance to get used to being out on the water. Which we found to be a good thing.

As we neared the campground, the speed of the river picked up and every now and then a canoe would get caught in the current. Nothing major, some casual instruction would help them straighten it out. When we reached the campground it was a little harsh landing as they didn’t really have anything built up for the canoes to run aground on, and there was only about a 6-8 foot width on a semi-steep bank for 9 vessels to rapidly land and get out of the water. Not to mention other groups arriving at the same time trying to get out. With the river flowing as fast as it was, there wasn’t really a way for the canoes to sit in a holding pattern out on the water to wait their turn. Not the worst thing in the world, but something that could be improved.

While we were eating lunch and taking a break from the river I decided to leave the cameras behind in the vehicle and focus more on enjoying the moment. Unfortunately, the second half of the journey had the best views! Next time for me, but it could be an important note for you.

DSC_0462Once we gathered up the party, we shoved off on what turned out to be the best section of the river. The towering bluffs were beautiful and there wasn’t an unhappy face to be seen.

As I mentioned before, the swiftness of the river increased around the campground and remained that way for the duration of the float. We had two incidents where a canoe and kayak got caught up in the current and capsized when they struck a downed tree. No one was hurt, just momentarily shaken before laughing it off. Another paddler from a different party actually commented on how their canoe was currently stuck on the bottom of the river after they capsized and the current was forceful enough that they hadn’t been able to pull it out of the water yet. All along this final stretch we came across several canoes that had tipped, so be wary if the river is up that it could get dicey.

DSC_0497After passing Bluffton, the swiftness spread us out a bit and we all started arriving at the landing one by one, which turned out to be a good thing. That particular landing definitely needs to be improved. It was a very skinny 3-4 foot wedge on a super steep river bank that didn’t have a place to run aground. You had to attempt to broadside the shore, and grab onto anything you could in order to stop your momentum, so you could get out and crawl your way up the super slippery bank, pulling your canoe. It wasn’t very fun and would be very challenging to try and get multiple canoes out at once. Luckily, people from another party were landing there as well and helped as the rest of our group started to arrive. We worked together and got everyone out safely.

DSC_0340We didn’t have to wait long before the shuttle van arrived. We helped the over-worked guys get the canoes and kayaks loaded, piled into the van, and headed back to the campground.

Even with the hick-ups and challenges, some of which are just what comes with outdoor adventures, we all had a great time in the end. The day was beautiful, the scenery was amazing, and the company was great. I will always be looking forward to a return to the Upper Iowa River, and it’ll remain an option every time the talk of planning a float comes up!

DSC_0432Thanks for reading and enjoy you float!

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park

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Lacey Keosaqua MapLacey-Keosauqua State Park is located near Keosauqua in southeast Iowa, just north of the Missouri border.

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park left me with mixed feelings. There is without a doubt plenty of potential for the park to be a great place to hike, however very low trail maintenance and poor trail markers left me pretty discouraged at points.Lacey Keosaqua Trail Map planned route.jpg

The above map (which misspells the name of the park) was my planned route that I estimated to be roughly 11-12 miles long. The below map is what I ended up being able to hike, although I still did end up covering just shy of 11 miles.Lacey Keosaqua Trail Map 2

Let’s just get into what happened. So I drove down to the park and made my way to the beach (orange star). I went down to the small beach from the elevated parking lot on a nicely groomed, stair-stepped path. As the sun rose over the trees, it revealed a nice mist hovering over the top of the pond.

DSC_8874I hung out for a bit and took some photos before heading back up the stairs, and then off on the trail heading north. The short path was quite nice and led to the road where there was a boat ramp. However, this is also where I ran into my first frustration with this trail (orange circle). Once you exit the short trail from the beach, you are supposed to be able to cross the road and get on more trail. Unfortunately, I looked all over and could not find an entrance to the trail anywhere along its entire length. Instead, I had to walk the road until I got to a picnic area with a shelter. There I found a trailhead leading off to the River Trail.

DSC_8950Once again, the trail was a nice path on a decent climb as I veered to the south once it split. As it continued along I found that the maintenance started to get a little lax until it crossed over into Shimek State Forest (red circle) where it pretty much felt almost non-existent. I attempted to take a spur to the south where there was supposed to be a tower of some kind, but got fed up with the weeds and turned around to just finish the park and head home.

DSC_8910I pretty much plodded my way northwest until I exited Shimek and found the trails to return to a maintained state with bridges and a small climb that eventually ended in an open space at Lacey-Keosauqua’s northwest entrance (green star).

DSC_8902There was a neat little building at the entrance that had several plaques with photos talking about the history of the park and its construction. I had heard of the Civilian Conservation Corps and had seen the CCC referenced, but it wasn’t until I came across these plaques that I actually learned about who they were and they did. Later I popped on the internet and read more about them and how they pretty much built the majority of the parks in the nation during the 30’s and 40’s, until WWII.

DSC_8905I wandered around and checked out what I could of the lodge that is available to rent before jumping on the River Trail. My mood had increased and I was all about exploring and enjoying the trails again. This almost hampered my day again as I decided to check out an unmarked trail that headed up a hill. Once I got to the top I found that it led to a memorial marker for the Army officer, Major John Fletcher Lacey, who was in charge of the construction of the park (blue star). As I backtracked to the River Trail again I found myself on a spur trail that ran parallel to it. Even though I could see the trail I want the whole time, the foliage was too thick to simply bushwhack over to it. Finally I found myself at a restroom along a park road by a picnic area. I pushed back my annoyance and continued forward until I found an access trail that led back to the River Trail, this time deciding not to explore anymore unmarked trails.

DSC_8945Now, all that being said, the River Trail is by far the best maintained trail in the park. There are several nice little bridges along the trail and plenty of scenic river and wildlife. My yo-yoing mood peaked again as I spent more time on this trail and then crossed paths with some locals who recommended the trail around the pond for some bird shots. Eventually, my mood had to fall as is the pattern with this park. Once I got to the red star I had trouble finding the trail that was supposed to lead off into the green circled area, so I just followed the trail that ended up leading back to the original picnic area where my orange circled road walk ended. Quite a surprise since once again it was another unmarked trail that shouldn’t have existed.

Mostly fed up, I speed walked the road back to the boat ramp, paused and looked to the south, the direction of my vehicle. I contemplated calling it quits, but I knew at this point in my hiking that this website was something I wanted to do. This means that in order to provide the best information I can, I have to suffer through and finish when the fun has sometimes been left behind. So I instead picked up my feet and headed east to finish the pond trail, after all, the nice couple did say that there is normally some good birding on the trail.

DSC_8970So Lake Trail as they call it, was in need of some good maintenance. It was still very hike-able with some sections that once had nice work put into them, but they appear to have been allowed to return to nature. The trail did boost my spirits up enough that I left the hike ready to leave, but not disliking the park. One thing of note; there were some oddly placed benches that were shrouded by trees (pink circles). At first this seemed kind of neat, a place to look upon the water where one could be obscured from view. Then I noticed that both peered across the pond/lake at the beach, where children play… maybe not the best positioning.

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If you are going to be heading down to Lacey-Keosaqua State Park I would suggest you make sure to take a solid amount of water and snacks as you would likely be out on the trails for a while. Even though their map is obviously outdated, make sure to bring it along as it will at least give you an idea of where trails should be. It is relatively close, just missing a few key points that led to my frustrations. There is a mild amount of climbing as well, so those that desire the extra balance may want their trekking poles.

Even though I had a somewhat rough time at the park, I still maintained a good pace and covered the 11 miles in 4 hours. I don’t want to completely discourage anyone from visiting the park as it has a lot of potential. For the time being I would recommend sticking to the Lake Trail and the River Trail. Heading off into the Shimek State Forest area is where you may likely run into frustrations of your own. If the parks service, or a local Boy Scout Troop, would put some good effort into the park, and they would update their maps, then Lacey-Keosauqua could be a great spot for a hike rather than just a good one.

The video report for this trail is up on YouTube, so go check it out!

DSC_8941Thanks for reading!

Pikes Peak State Park (Iowa)


DSC03106Pikes Peak MapPikes 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… Pikes pic

Zeb-PikeThe 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

DSC03114So 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.

DSC03183One 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.

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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.

DSC02098The 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.

DSC02036Point 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.

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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.

DSC03117You 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.

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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).

DSC03140Then 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.

DSC02073When 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.

DSC02051Now 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.

DSC03161Thanks for reading!