Madera Hammocks

CJP_6864So I took opportunity of the great weather today to get out for some snowshoeing down at Lake MacBride State Park. The lake was quite frozen and I used it to take a shortcut back to the car after I got the photos that I set out to capture. Besides, my camera battery was dead… 180-some shots and my favorites are the pano up top, and two close ups of the snow.



While I was looking for some nice winter shots to capture, they weren’t the actual intent of the hike.

CJP_6865The actual intent was to get some pictures of the new Madera Hammock I just got the other day. Now this one is Cheryl’s, the one I ordered for me is a pre-order and isn’t expected to ship until the end of February. Now this is my first hammock experience, but I have been researching them for a while now. Like a couple years “a while.” The construction seems to be pretty solid, and the cost wasn’t too bad. This was just a simple taste test for practice’s sake. I’ll have to post a review after I get more experience with it.


So far I’m starting to understand where the draw to hammocks comes from. Even though it was cold, it was quite nice to lay in it and just… chill. lol


Now the other reason I wanted to get out and take some product shots was to be able to announce that even though I don’t have any experience with hammocks, the company thought my passion for the outdoors was a good fit for their ambassador program.

So periodically I will post about their brand, offer discounts for their products, and provide reviews. In return, if you decide to purchase through the links I provide, like this one:

I get a small commission.


So if you are curious about hammocks and don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars on your first one, they are almost always running sales. I got Cheryl’s for about $50 with the tree straps.

As always, I hope you enjoy your walk!


FW Kent County Park


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


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


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!

Wapsipinicon State Park


Wapsi MapWapsipinicon State Park is located in east central Iowa on the edge of Anamosa, about 40 mins east of Cedar Rapids on Highway 151.

It was my first hike of the year for 2016 in late February. The geese were out, the wind was a constant light breeze, I definitely needed my gloves and jacket, but I had a great time finally getting outside again.

Wapsi trail.jpgThe park is a mix of prairie and wooded trails over a mildly hilly terrain. The route I took was roughly a 4.5 mile loop with a short section of road walking. You enter the park from the north at the dam, and follow the road skirting the river on its north, and the golf course to the south. It’s a nice little entrance drive with some parking areas along the river before you pull into the trailhead for the prairie (orange star).

DSC_7589The first thing I checked out was a short path to an old bridge called Hale Bridge Trail (pink). A neat bridge that was restored and relocated to the park in 2011. I strolled out onto the bridge to check out the view and get some photos before returning back to the Prairie Trail (yellow).

DSC_7602The Prairie Trail is primarily a mowed grass path. I elected to hike it clockwise and traveled along the river first. It was pretty sparse, as prairies are, with a few patches of trees. It was late February, but the grasses were still long in some sections and I imagine in the height of the summer when everything has bloomed it is likely a pretty sight. Once I got to the southern portion of the trail there was a small hill to climb that reminded me I hadn’t been doing anything all winter. It continued arching around until I was headed north toward the overlook (red star).

As I headed to see what the overlook was all about, I did descend a bit before climbing to the crest of the hill. The overlook it self is the high point of the park looking off to the east with an expansive view of the prairie below. After looking around for a bit I retraced my steps back to where the Prairie Trail connects to Pine Trail (green).

DSC_7629As I said goodbye to the prairie, I entered the wooded section and what I feel is the most attractive part of the park. There is a small little pond (green star) at the beginning of this trail that may have photo potential in better weather when wildlife would likely venture to it. On my trip it was still frozen over. After a couple dozen yards the trail developed into a nice path that cut through the pines. Eventually the trail had to end, and when it did I found myself at a three-way intersection of park roads along a creek (blue star). I hopped on Dutch Creek Trail (purple) and headed south. The trail was short but had the nice little creek on the west side with some moss-covered outcroppings on the east.

DSC_7672It terminated at a clearing that led to an attractive stone bridge to get to the remaining trail I hiked; Horse Thief Trail (blue). This trail is a short one that leads to a cave (yellow star) that has been developed into an obvious point of interest with man-made stairs. I tried to get some good shots of the cave as it is a neat little spot, but I didn’t have as many lenses then, and couldn’t capture it all. Another time it looks like. DSC_7683Once I had explored this area to my fill I decided it was time to head out. I followed the trails back to where I had left the Pine Trail (blue star), and started the road walk back to the vehicle (red).

DSC_7692Along the way I found that the roads where actually blocked off at the playground area (purple star). So the only accesses to the park during that time of year were the bridge parking areas (a small lot on each side) and the playground. Something to be aware of if you planned on driving deeper into the park.

Since this park is approaching the 5 mile mark, I would very much recommend water, food, and a map. The terrain isn’t overly difficult, having only a couple good climbs, so trekking poles are up to the user. I have become more of a proponent for them having started carrying a baby and more camera gear these days. They really do help with balance, especially over any non-flat ground. I was solo on this adventure which allows me to move a little faster. Keeping that in mind, I was able to complete the hike in an hour and 45 mins, but if you aren’t sure of your pace or are hiking with a friend or more, 2 miles an hour is always a good base number to estimate with. If it is a particularly photogenic day, then that might delay your pace a bit more as well. Things to keep in mind.

Overall, I really enjoyed my hike at Wapsipinicon State Park, more than I thought I would. I want to return for another hike at some point. I was kind of hoping that we would have a good snowfall this year as I was thinking it would make for a fun snowshoeing area. It will continue to be one of those short notice options on my list going foward.


Thanks for Reading!

Palisades-Kepler State Park

dsc04870palisades-state-parkPalisades-Kepler State Park is located in east central Iowa just outside of Cedar Rapids along Highway 30.

Now this park’s review is well overdue considering it is right outside the town I live in and therefore should be considered my “stomping grounds.” I do in fact hike this park quite often since it is so close and an easy spur of the moment hike that is an enjoyable time.

Palisades.jpgThere are two main ways most people hike Palisades; they park at the orange star and either do a short 1-1.5 mile down and back along the river (blue trail), or they do a 3 mile loop incorporating the down and back with a pass through the center (blue, gray, green, yellow). If doing the loop an alternate place to park is at the lodge (red star) or at the shelter where green and yellow trails meet. Most often I prefer to hike the park in a loop for the greater distance and exercise since the terrain you have to go over is a bit more hilly on that route. Also, I normally park at the orange star and hike counter-clockwise in order to knock out the road sections first so I can end on the more enjoyable wooded section.dsc04882

dsc_2354If you elect to do the loop in the manner that I do; depending on the river’s water level, you will begin your hike at one of the beaches / grassy shoreline where geese often like to hang out. If you look across the river you can see built on the edge of the cliff the old vacation home of the Brucemore Mansion family whose house in Cedar Rapids is a historic tourist location (purple star). Side note, in 2015 this little cottage was restored and sold for $1.75 mil.

dsc01482The shoreline will eventually turn into a patch of trees where Overlook Trail (yellow) starts which offers a couple of views of the river and the dam (yellow star). As you can see on the map, at about the dam you have to the option to continue along the trail until it ends at the other beach, or take some stairs up to the shelter. regardless of which route you decide to take, you’ll have to walk along the road a short bit to get to the green trail.

dsc04850Now, no offense Palisades, but this is your most boring trail to walk (it’s ok in the fall I’ll admit). It simply follows the road on a steady uphill grade that isn’t steep, but you feel it if you haven’t acquired you trail legs yet. This trail leads past the lodge to its west and continues along until it ends near one of the picnic areas. You won’t actually take this trail until it terminates, but rather cross the road to begin Cool Hollow Trail (gray). Cool Hollow is marked with large logs painted brown, with Cool Hollow Trail in yellow. You’ll have to keep your eye out for these logs so you can find the entrances when you cross the two roads on this trail.

I personally enjoy Cool Hollow, you walk through some thick woods while climbing and descending a couple good-sized hills. At the bottom of the first descent, you come across the new bridge built across a little creek. A tree fell on the old one a couple of years ago. The old one was pretty basic, but the new one definitely has more of a rustic-artsy flare to it; I like it.

dsc01720You immediately begin to climb the next hill. The eastern trail will take you to the road, where the western trail will dump you at yet another picnic area (there are quite a few in the park). Whichever you decide to take, you have to cross the road and find the marker to continue along the trail, which is another good descent that heads down to the river and Cedar Cliff Trail (blue).
dsc_2280The point where the two trails connect you are met with a stone bridge and your first look at the craftsmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that built this park, and the majority of the Iowa state parks and beyond during the 1930’s. I like to cross the bridge and head north up the rock stairs that are kind of carved into the steep incline to get to the trail riding the cliff edge.dsc01488

This trail is a little difficult to find the end as it sort of melds into the woods and turns into private land. It would be nice if the DNR would make an obvious sign that announced the termination of the trail. Better yet, it would be great if they were to build a lookout point or something along those lines to create a goal to walking this section of trail. The views are nice along the way, but once you get to the end it is kind of a lackluster payoff.

dsc01723Once you figure out the end, you turn around and head back to the stone bridge. From here we follow the river south and are treated with many nice views of the rocky cliffs and thick woods. Eventually we come to the more prominent item built by the CCC, the round tower overlook (blue star). This is always a neat little spot to stop for photos.dsc01158

dsc_2332Immediately after you leave the tower you have to choose whether to continue along the upper route, or if you want to dip down toward the river. The two trails run parallel to each other and are only separated by a couple dozen feet or so. When the river is running high the lower trail is almost always wet so the majority of the time I just always take the upper route anyway. Now along the upper route is access to the cabins and campsites which could have been your entrance to these trails as well. It doesn’t take much longer and you exit the Cedar Cliff Trail at your vehicle.

dsc_2343Palisades-Kepler State Park is not overly long, nor is it too difficult. There are a couple of steep climbs and descents to be aware of, as well as the rocky and uneven stairs. If you have balance issues this is one park I would recommend taking trekking pole(s) to help you out. Now I always recommend the important 3: Water, food, and a map. Your first time here it doesn’t hurt anything to be prepared, but this is one park that only took me a couple of times to learn I could come with nothing and be fine. Now make sure you consider your fitness and the weather. 3 miles of even moderate effort can be a lot on an Iowa 100 degree day with 100% humidity, bring water those days for sure. In other words, most anyone should be able to hike most of the trails this park has to offer, but it is never bad to be smart and come prepared.

dsc01491I hope you’ll visit Palisades-Kepler State Park if you’re in the area and enjoy it as much as my family does. It is a nice walk in the woods with rocky cliffs that offer pleasant views of the flowing river.

dsc04864Thanks for reading!

Maquoketa Caves State Park

dsc02251Maquoketa Caves State Park is located near Maquoketa, Iowa in the east central part of the state. maquoketa-caves-state

I’d heard of this park for quite a while before I finally ventured in that direction. The park has a good number of caves varying in size from small crawl spaces to large holes in the earth. There isn’t anything on a grandiose scale that one could get lost in, but it was still fun and enjoyable to walk through the bigger ones and watch the kids crawl around in the small ones. As for hiking, there is a decent little trail system connecting all of the caves together. Maquoketa Caves.jpg

First thing first, the bats. Bats really like caves (ask Batman), and a big concern for the health of the bat population is White Nose Syndrome. Before you are allowed to walk around the caves you must first listen to information about reducing the spread of White Nose Syndrome with such things as not wearing the same clothes in different cave systems for 5 years.

dsc02240This is one of the more busy parks that I’ve been to, with parking that felt limited. You park just off the main entrance road in the middle of the park by the nature center where you’ll get your brief. From there you cross the road and head down some stair into a ravine where all of the caves are located. The main cave is located at the bottom of these initial stair and is pretty big. It is more of a natural tunnel honestly, and they have poured a sidewalk down the middle of it, (probably to get you above the constantly flowing water in it) with some overhead lighting. This is the only cave in the park treated that way. dsc02294About halfway through there is one small little cave that breaks off along the path and is a tight squeeze. We found that quite a few people were crawling through this one which end in an opening about 7-8 feet above the ground near the exit of the large  “tunnel.” We opted not to drop from the hole like some younger kids did, so back-tracking was interesting in the tight space with other park goers also curiously trying to find where it leads.

Once we exited the “tunnel” we were met with well up-kept trails that wandered throughout the park. There were a good number of stairs scattered about the heavily wooded park, with a few steep climbs. dsc02276At first the kids were disinterested with the idea of being pulled away from their electronics, but they really started to open up once we got out into the more open areas and they were allowed to crawl around in various caves. It got to the point where they were the explores and we weren’t even around anymore.dsc02332

Overall a very enjoyable experience. The website suggests they have 6 miles of trails in the park, but I feel we covered the park pretty well and only came to about 3 miles. As for pace, throw out any numbers you use to track and estimate your times. This style of exploring isn’t about covering miles. We spent 3 hours to cover the 3 miles, but you could take more or less depending on how wrapped up you get in your exploration. Nothing was too challenging for us, although some of the non-stair climbs might be a little hard for those that might need to work on their conditioning. Aside from the standard water, snack, and map; I would definitely recommend wearing clothes you are willing to get pretty dirty, a headlamp, shoes/boots that can handle rocky terrain, and some gloves like Mechanics brand that are thin yet protective and breathable.

dsc02307Once again, a very fun little park that in the course of typing this up has reminded me how much I enjoyed it. I need to get it on the list for a return visit. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Thanks for reading!dsc02344

Floating the Maquoketa River


So obviously this isn’t a hike, but it is an outdoor activity! I went canoeing with my wife and a few friends on a section of the Maquoketa River just outside of Monticello in east central Iowa.

outback-canoeWe rented our canoes from Outback Canoe Rental at a reasonable rate that tends to be right around the average amounts I have found in Iowa. We arrived early for the full day float which they suggest is about 8 miles and takes 4-5 hours if you include stops along the way. I will admit that we didn’t stop a whole lot, so our trip was closer to 3 hours.

dsc02176That being said, we very much enjoyed the quality service the rental company provided. They were organized and efficient in getting us shuttled up to the launch point in Hopkinton, and in retrieving and getting us out of the water and on our way once we landed back at the site.

The float itself was great! We went mid-July and the weather was superb. The river had a very casual flow to it that really helped increase the enjoyment. The roughest part of the river was at the launch just after the Hopkinton dam. It was moving pretty swift with a soft river bottom that caused the launch to be mildly hectic, enough so that my wife’s sandal was yanked off her foot as we shoved off. It was nowhere to be found so she was barefoot for the day.

dsc02223All in all that was the worst that happened. The river was pretty shallow, calf to thigh deep at most spots with an occasional bottom rub. It was the first time I had been in the water since high school and early college and it simply made me remember just how much fun it is to be floating down a river.

dsc02195The trip sparked a big desire to find more opportunities to get out on the water every year! If it has been a while since you’ve been on a float, or if you haven’t ever been on the water before, I feel this is an excellent choice to get your feet wet… pun intended.