Dolliver Memorial State Park

dolliver google mapDolliver Memorial State Park is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Fort Dodge.

I ventured out that way in the spring of 2017, somewhat reluctantly to be honest. Mostly due to the drive time versus hike length. It was 5 hours round trip, for an estimated 5 to 6 mile hike. Fortunately Dolliver was a very pleasant surprise, well worth the drive.

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When I first arrived to the park I was surprised that it appeared to sit in a canyon and reminded me of driving through some of my favorite northeast Iowa parks. I parked at the southern entrance (orange star) and hiked in a clockwise direction.

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I put my camcorder on the charger the night before, but it didn’t actually charge. However, I did just happen to purchase a GoPro shortly before the hike, so this park became it’s first test to help salvage the YouTube video.

 

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Throughout the park the trails were well worn and easy to follow. The Copperas Trail is an interpretive trail with some high quality signage. That was my first indication that this park is well taken care of.

About halfway down this trail is where I found my first highlight (yellow star). There was an old moss covered stone stair heading up the bluff. The craftsmanship was very reminiscent of the style of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that you find in our older parks.

Once I got home I researched the park and found that Dolliver is actually our third state park after Backbone and Ledges. It was dedicated in 1925, but the interesting part of that is the park was basically formed on a hoax. In 1915 a young girl found a tablet on the grounds that was written in Latin. It stated that explorers from France laid claim to the area in 1750, with a reference to Father Louis Hennepin. Due to the fact it could change Iowa’s history, the tablet brought in researchers. It was quickly found to be fake due to the poorly written Latin, and the fact that Father Hennepin died in 1706. Soon after two local boys confessed to the hoax, saying they planted the tablet in 1913 as a prank. However, the hoax brought in Edgar Harlan as a researcher, and he fell in love with the area and helped put everything in place to preserve the area as our third state park. Some fun history for you.

Shortly after that the CCC arrived and from 1933-1935 they helped build a lot of the infrastructure of the park.

The Copperas Trail followed the bluff until it met up with the Central Trail that runs a big loop around the center of the park. You step down into a valley before climbing to the next bluff to continue on. The Central Trail is where I met most of the curious inhabitants of the park. The majority played shy, but I got some shots of a couple.

Cheryl loves her bridges, so I always look out for some good ones to show her. The best bridge in the park was right before Central turned into the Boneyard Trail. You approach it from above, and the scene immediately jumped out as something I wanted to capture. I need to return and capture it again in various seasons (and with my upgraded experience).

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What I didn’t know at the time, was this was going to be the beginning of the best part of my hike.

dsc_2904As I rounded the top of Boneyard Trail, I saw a canyon that I wasn’t expecting to see (green star). It really intrigued me and I found my way down into it. I spent a lot of time farting around and exploring. The colors were great with a mix of orange rock covered in bold green moss. The creek running through it just added to the vibe.

When I was researching for the CCC connection I found that there was quite a lot of significance to this canyon. It is called Boneyard Hollow because they found a large quantity of bison bones throughout. It is believed that ancient Native Americans would either stampede herds of bison over the edge, or they were herded into the canyon from the nearby river where they were slaughtered and processed.

dsc_2924Eventually I had to move on and leave the canyon behind. As soon as you leave the canyon you come to the River Trail. The trail is super short at barely a half mile. Mostly it just gives you a break from the road walk down to Indian Trail.

The entrance to Indian Trail was a little further than I realized, leaving me to wonder if it was still maintained, or had gone the way of neglect that you sometimes find of trails that aren’t part of the main segment. Eventually the trail-head jumped out at me in the middle of a nice day use area (blue star). There was a nice little playground space with a picnic area, and it looked as though they may have been preparing to add more. The Indian Trail actually started here on a bridge that crossed the stream heading to the Des Moines River. While on the bridge you get a nice view of the little dam they have there.

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Here is where the fun “stopped.” If you notice in the picture, the left side of it is the beginning of a bluff. That is the direction you are walking to get to Indian Trail… this bluff required switchbacks… and benches… several. Tired. Good view though.

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Up on top of the bluff I came across a couple frog saturated ponds, before descending back down to the car. That is one thing about Dolliver, there was no lack of water.

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Overall, Dolliver was a highly enjoyable hike that I can’t wait to visit again. It is one of those nice hidden gems that doesn’t get talked about enough. If you are looking to head out that way, my only recommendation is to know your fitness level. The climbs can be steep, but they aren’t mountains by any means. Most of them are just punchy little climbs, followed by some flat walking.

One thing you have to do is the Boneyard Trail. Just be prepared to have wet feet on a heavy rain year if you decide to venture off-trail any.

dsc_2834Given the elevation changes, and that it is 5 to 6 miles, I would also suggest to bring a snack along in case you get a little hungry. At a casual meander, it should take you around 3 hours to hike the full length of the park. As always, make sure to bring water and a map of some sort to at least know where you are. It is a series of canyons, which typically means reduced cell service if you are planning on using that.

I hope you find yourself enjoying Dolliver as much as I did!

Now get out there, and go for a walk!

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Red Haw State Park

Red Haw google mapRed Haw State Park is located in south central Iowa, down by Chariton.

I visited the park with my wife and daughter in early October of 2017. We had originally planned for a multi-park tour, but weather started to move in by the time we got to our second park, and we didn’t want to risk CJ out in it.

DSC_5096Since it was going to be a longer day, we left the house when it was still dark. This allowed CJ a little more time in her PJ’s as she continued sleeping during the drive out. This also ended up allowing her a little more bink time than we normally let her have. Typically it’s only allowed for naps and bedtime, but since she had little choice but to tag along we caved to her smiles.

CJP_5759Now as for the park itself, the day started out a bit chilly, but beautiful. Nice bright sky, and I was out with the wife and baby. It was gonna be a good hike.

Red Haw trail map route.jpgWe parked at one of the shelters on the northern portion of the park (Red Star). There was a small beach with a lily pad filled inlet next to it. We had to walk around the inlet toward the north before we found the official trailhead.

For the most part the trail was a mowed grassy path, not my favorite as I prefer dirt, but it appeared well maintained. There were a good number of paint markings at the beginning and at the end of the trail, suggesting there was a 5k, as well as a middle school and high school cross country race held there. So Red Haw must be a pretty busy place for the locals.

The trail is a 4 mile loop around the lake. We stuck to the trails running along the shoreline for the duration of the hike. The east shore is where most of the interesting things we found were. First off, I got to introduce my wife to a locust tree. Now I will admit, that while I was familiar with the tree, I had only recently learned what kind of tree it was. Locust trees are hard to miss, they are covered in long, sharp thorns that will rip you up if you aren’t paying attention.

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The other thing I got to show her is what we always called spider balls. Not actually sure how much truth there is to it, but I was always told that they have magical powers to scare away spiders. lol. Basically a moth ball for spiders.

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We eventually made it to the center of the park where we took a quick bio break at the handy bathrooms (Blue Star). This is the best view of the lake being that it is the most elevated point overlooking the lake. From there it was a quick walk to the westernmost point in the park where the campgrounds are (Green Star). This was also the busiest part of the park with a good number of trailers and boat launches.

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There was a quick road walk across a bridge before the brief return back to the car. Overall we really enjoyed our hike at Red Haw State Park. It wasn’t very challenging, which was fine by me with baby girl on my back.

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At 4 miles of flat trail, this hike should be accessible to almost anyone. Even though there are very few offshoot trails, I would recommend carrying a map with you to at least track your progress. It is always a good idea to consider water and snacks as well. I can’t determine your level of fitness, only you will know what you need in that department.

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If you’re looking for a short hike in south central Iowa, Red Haw State Park might just be up your alley. It isn’t overly challenging, and should be accessible to almost anyone.

As always, don’t forget to pop over to YouTube and check out the video! You won’t be sad, there’s a lot of baby girl cuteness, I promise.

So I hope you get out there, and enjoy your walk.

McIntosh Woods State Park

McIntosh Google MapMcIntosh Woods State Park is located on the shores of Clear Lake in north central Iowa.

The park is a short little hike that I checked out during the fall of 2016 with my hiking buddy Jessie. It was a three part tour that included Pilot Knob and Beed’s Lake State Parks. I’m just now getting to the trail report do to an editing issue. Jessie had just purchased a camera and was taking it on his first hike. Well, he wanted to make sure it had a full battery and ended up leaving it on the charger. I just happen to have the same camera, but only one battery (which I’ve since purchased a second one…). Since I had my camcorder, I decided to let him use my battery so he could use his new camera, and I would just stick to the video.

So after we got home, he gave me the photos to use. Long story short, I had to upgrade my software to help edit the photos before I was able to post them. Don’t forget to pop on over to YouTube and watch the video, and now on with the trail report.

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Clear LakeMcIntosh Woods is a state park on the northwest shores of Clear Lake outside of… Clear Lake, Iowa. There is another state park on the southeast shore of Clear Lake, you guessed it, Clear Lake State Park. Enough Clear Lakes yet?

Now one issue I have with trying to explore as many state park trails as I can get to, are the parks that only have 1-2 miles of trails. For instance, this one only has about 2 miles of trails, but it is a 2.5 hour drive. So it’s 5 hours of driving for an hour (or less) of hiking. So to help accomplish this, I’ve come up with what I call hiking tours. I sector off the state and find ways to have a goal hike of a moderate length, then find the short ones near by that I can combine into a “tour” that can be achieved in a single day. This one started with an early drive to the target of Pilot Knob, then had stops at McIntosh Woods and Beed’s Lake on the drive home. It works quite well for justifying the drive to the shorties.

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Now as I’ve eluded to, McIntosh Woods can be quick. The red is the route Jessie and I took in a clockwise manner. In total we logged 1.83 miles. The elevation was pretty much flat, but that doesn’t mean this park was without character. From the parking lot (P on the map), it’s a few dozen yards to the beach. They have a sign that warns of zebra muscles, so make sure to wear your shoes if you decide to go for a dip. Now one thing that was very apparent, this is a very popular fishing lake. There were boats and birds everywhere.

JPA_0263After we’d had our fill of the sand, we turned around and headed northwest. The trails were well defined and easy to follow. The first surprise we came across was an observation blind built by a local Eagle Scout. Scouting is one thing I wish I never quit back in the day, so I appreciate the work done by those that achieve their Eagle.

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The blind overlooked a pond with plenty of vegetation and such to provide for some nice scenery to accentuate the scene. On this day the only activity we had were a couple of mallard ducks bathing.

The next stop on the trek was at the northwestern edge of the park where the two yurts are located. Now these yurts still have my interest sparked. Ever since that hike I’ve kept them in the back of my mind as a  place to take my wife and toddler. I’ve never stayed in a yurt and I’m kind of curious. Iowa DNR, needs to start reading my stuff and hook me up! 😉

Now, I’ll be honest and say that at this point the mosquitoes were wrecking us. They decided it was time to appear. That is one risk with parks near water in Iowa. We pushed on harder at this point. Once we got a little further into the eastern portion of the trail they did lessen in their veracity.  Now one thing we were bummed about is that we never did find the goats that were supposed be hanging out at the park. There was/is an issue with an invasive plant that the goats targeted. So the state rented the goats to attack the invasive vegetation. Unfortunately, the weather must have been risky to allow them to roam on the day we visited.

McIntosh Google SateliteThe last thing to touch on is the eastern border. On the eastern edge of the park is the Iowa Regular Baptist Camp. Now I have to admit, it looks like they have some pretty cool stuff over there. We peeked across the no trespassing signs trying to figure out what they were, then headed back to the car.

All in all it was a nice little hike to add on to the day.

As far as challenge, there wasn’t really one. I think anyone can hike this trail. It is by far short enough to not challenge anyone to the extent that they would need food and water. After all, it is only 1.83 miles. The biggest challenge with this park is keeping the bugs away.

DSC_4958If the goats are still there and out munching on the invasive grass, all the better!

I hope you get out and enjoy your hike!

Pilot Knob State Park

Pilot Knob google map

Pilot Knob State Park is located in north central Iowa near Forest City, the home of Winnebago.

The park is a nice little hike that I checked out during the fall of 2016 with my hiking buddy Jessie. The video has been out over on YouTube for a while now, but I’m just now getting to the trail report do to an editing issue. Jessie had just purchased a camera and was taking it on his first hike. Well, he wanted to make sure it had a full battery and ended up leaving it on the charger. I just happen to have the same camera, but only one battery (which I’ve since purchased a second one…). Since I had my camcorder, I decided to let him use my battery so he could use his new camera, and I would just stick to the video.

When we got back home he gave me the photos to use, but the foggy haze was thick and I only had Lightroom 5 at the time. Lightroom 6 had come out with this amazing new function called Dehaze that actually eliminated most of the fog to bring out what is hidden behind it. It is great! Like I said, I only had Lightroom 5, not 6. I didn’t upgrade until last fall, which is why there is such a delay.

Now on with the hike!Pilot Knob Trail Map

So Pilot Knob was part of a three park tour that included McIntosh Woods State Park and Beed’s Lake State Park. It is one of the oldest parks in the state, having been dedicated in 1923, and much of the construction was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s.

DSC_0735Knowing we had three parks to hike, we got there early and parked on the western edge (orange star). Here it appears is a popular place for ice skating as they had a good number of benches around the pond and a warming house where the trail started.

Thanks to Lightroom’s Dehaze feature, it really cut through the fog in the pictures, but here’s one I didn’t use Dehaze on that really helps to show how thick it was.DSC_0741

JPA_0035On this particular hike we took a counter-clockwise route that sent off on Fork Trail. All of the trails we walked were well-worn and pretty easy to follow. We wandered through the mist as Jessie practiced with his new gear.

It was a pretty flat walk as we rounded Dead Man’s Lake, which was more like a small pond.

This first portion passed quickly and we crossed the road to take Three Bridges Trail that runs the southern border of the park. This is where the look of fall really started to show it self.

We both were very much enjoying the hike so far. About half-way down this we came across a little bench that was facing a pasture (red star). It looks like it is a memorial bench, and the brush was cleared out up to the fence line so someone could sit and check out the trees, or possibly watch horses or cows grazing on the other side.

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Moving along the trail we came across an old amphitheater (green star) that I didn’t know about. I wish there was some kind of history marker I could find about it, because it was kinda neat. You could tell it was built long ago, probably during the CCC days.JPA_0112JPA_0105

We speculated about different aspects of the amphitheater before moving on to the wildlife management portion of the park. Our journey down this trail was short-lived however, as it was pretty nasty and chewed up with all of the wet weather we had been having. So we turned back (purple star) to rejoin the main trails of the park with the East-West Trail. This one honestly wasn’t much better, so we pushed through quickly.

JPA_0171After the push through the rougher trail, we took a break at the campground. The campground was pretty nice, and bathrooms were pretty good for a state park. Everything is next to the small lake inside the park and offers some nice recreation space. There is also a pretty good little playground for the younger kids as well.

JPA_0213The main focal point of the park is just a short walk to the south of the campground. You’ll sneak along Plum Alley Trail for a tiny bit before jumping on Tower Trail which ends at a small parking lot. From the parking you’ll head up to the high point of the park where you’ll find the Pilot Knob Tower (blue star). The park website references that this was a landmark to assist travelers heading west.

JPA_0190One thing is for certain, I wish we had clear skies for the view! It was quite nice as it was, but some bright blue skies would have helped the fall colors really pop. We took some time getting pictures and enjoying the view before we got moving along on our way back to the car.JPA_0189

We retraced our way back to the campground and followed the Plum Alley Trail along the north side of the lake back to the car. The fog had started to lift at this point as we prepared to head on toward our next stop.JPA_0225

In total, the route we took was a little over 6 miles. We chose to stay off of Equestrian Trail, and we turned back on McGrady Trail in the WMA section. So we could easily have stretched it out a few more miles if we wanted to. All in all, a good little hike. One I’ll have to return to with the wife and kid(s), hopefully on a bright sunny day.JPA_0237

As for my recommendations; make sure to bring a map as there are a good number of junctions to navigate (their map link is dead currently. Best bet is to “save as” the above map. I’ll contact and update if the link gets fixed). With all those junctions, you could make this hike as long or as short as you’d like. So bring water and snacks accordingly. The whole park has very little elevation gain, so that combined with the network aspect, means pretty much anyone should be able to spend some time on the trails there. Oh, and don’t forget something to capture the view from the top of the tower.

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So thank you to Jessie from providing me with the pictures to edit and post. I hope this report convinces you that you should visit Pilot Knob State Park in the near future!

Now go enjoy your walk!