I spent a great morning with my wife and daughter on super nice day in June of 2017. The park actually sits on the border of Anamosa, separated by the Wapsipinicon River. On the northwest border of the park is the local golf course. So there is almost always someone nearby enjoying the trails with you.
There are a ton places to park throughout the park. So if you just want to check out a specific feature, chances are high you’ll be able to park next to it.
Now we parked at the playground (orange star) where there would be restrooms accessible. As my standard, we hiked the park in a clockwise direction, heading to Hale Bridge (green star) which was relocated to park by the National Guard in 2006. It is a short paved walk from the road to the bridge that has been converted into a pedestrian bridge.
From there we began our actual dirt walking on the Prairie Trails (yellow), sticking close to the river.
For the most part the prairie trails are mowed grass. They are well maintained and easy to follow. My only criticism would be the junction where you need to turn westward back into the park (blue star). There could be a sign so you don’t accidentally continue down the river path like I did the first time I hiked the park.
As far as challenging, this is probably the closest this park comes with a decent climb up to the southern-most point. From there it descends to a 4-way intersection (pink star) where you could choose to take the other climb up to the overlook (purple star), or the better choice of heading west into the piney wood! (gray star)
Now this is the real highlight of this park. The best kind of woods walks are those that take you down a pine flanked trail. The colors, the sounds, the smells. All mind soothers. All of ours in Iowa are too short, and this follows suit. However, just slow your pace and it’ll feel longer. 🙂
Once we got to the end of the trail, we hooked west/southwest and followed the creek back toward Horse Thief Trail and the cave (black star). It is a shallow cave, but would have been more than sufficient to provide shelter to any horse thieves back in the day. Heh.
We quickly walked the road back to the car we drove up to the lodge by the overlook (purple star), and walked the short distance to check out the view. Mostly it is just a big hill that lets you see the park from edge to edge. Baby girl had a blast running around in the grass, picking the clover blossoms, so still a win.
Finally, we can’t leave off without discussing the playground. Super good playground. I know a certain 18 month old that thought it was the best place ever! If you want to enjoy those giggles, head on over to the Youtube video and see for yourself!
I hope you enjoy Wapsipinicon State Park as much as we did, and make sure to bring the little ones.
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 McIntosh Woods State Park. 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.
Beed’s Lake is a small little lake in north central Iowa that has a simple 2 mile loop circling it.
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 hour drive. So it’s 4 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.
We opted to park on the north side of the lake where there is a small little picnic and parking area. This is another one of those state parks where you have to walk in people’s back yards as part of the trail. The houses on this lake are a bit closer than other I’ve experienced though. I could easily look inside their homes from the trail. It always makes me feel a little weird, but I’m getting more used to it.
For the most part the north and east shores were pretty generic if I’m honest. Nothing really stood out as a must see. As we rounded the the southeast corner we came across the dam (red star). We played with our lenses to see if we could capture something, but the overcast day provided some lackluster lighting.
We continued on after crossing the stream and found ourselves in the main area of the park. There are a good number of camping locations and a lodge (blue star) that is available for rent. As we wandered past the lodge we came across a National Guard function. I’m going to guess that it was a pre-enlistment activity for some area high school students that are waiting to graduate before leaving for basic training.
The lodge was pretty nice looking from the outside. We tried to sneak a peek inside, but didn’t get much of a view. From here the trail leads you across a narrow path through the lake (purple star). It was quite neat to walk along the trail here. I feel the best image of the day was captured here by my friend Jessie.
A short report, for a short hike.
As for difficulty and challenge; this is a park that is as easy as they come. There is only a minimal amount of elevation change in the 20 feet you have to descend and climb at the dam. Outside of that it is completely flat. With a 2 mile distance, this should be achievable by almost anyone able to walk.
Even though I am a stickler about making sure you bring your trail maps, this is one that I’m pretty sure you can forgo that particular safety feature.
The trails were very well maintained, and the fishing activity seemed to be high. So if you fancy a short a hike or a new place to try your luck at fishing, Beed’s Lake is a pretty nice place to visit.
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.
McIntosh 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.
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.
After 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.
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.
The 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.
If the goats are still there and out munching on the invasive grass, all the better!
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!
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.
Knowing 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.
On 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.
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.
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.
After 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.
The 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.
One 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The annual glamping trip with the wife’s family has come and gone for 2017. This year I found us a cabin up in the northeast corner of Iowa. As they are officially known, Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins are located just outside of Decorah.
There are a total of 6 cabins on the property that sleep anywhere from 6 to 17 people per. Our large group of 16 (7 adults, 4 teens, and 5 children) stayed in Pine Cabin which sleeps 17, and it was plenty comfortable! The owners where nice enough to open up 3 of their other cabins that were empty that weekend for me to check out, so I’ll chat about those as well.
Lets go over Pine Cabin first since that is the one we stayed in. The cabin is well furnished and spacious. While it was clear that it was a cabin with fewer finishing touches than a residential home, you didn’t overly notice it unless you were looking for it. There are three levels with four sizable bedrooms.
Upstairs there was a loft area with a futon next to two of the bedrooms. All three areas had a nice skylight that provided plenty of light during the day… and the evening. This actually bothered my wife as it was a full moon in a clear sky and the light was bright enough to actually keep her up on the first night. I would suggest possibly finding a way to hang a shade in the bedroom skylights to help alleviate this in the future.
The first floor had a nice open feel in the living room area. The kitchen was a little cramped when we tried to get more than a couple of people in there trying to cook breakfast for 16 people, otherwise it was fully functional. They had everything we needed for cookware and dishes, the only thing we were glad we brought were the counter-top griddles for pancakes. They have a TV available with a DVD player for the little ones. We found this to be very helpful with baby girl as it eventually got to the point that she needed to settle down from the fun of playing with her big cousins and the only thing she’ll sit down for is her puppy movie (The Secret Life of Pets).
One of the best features of the first floor (to me anyway) was that there was a patio door that stepped out onto a porch that wraps around the east and south sides of the cabin. I love sitting out on porches, and I spent a good amount of time with my camera farting around with long exposure shots throughout the day and evening.
The basement level has the remaining bedroom and bathroom, with a secondary kitchenette and living area. The living area has a walk out patio door that leads to the yard. The downstairs bedroom is the only one with two beds in it. There is a small bed just outside that room, which I’ll admit at first seemed kind of out of place, but a bed is a bed and a 17 person cabin is about getting people together.
All in all, no one really complained about their sleep except my wife with the moon, and baby girl had issues being a little warm sleeping in her pack n play in our room during the first night. The second night my wife and I switch sides of the bed to help keep the moonlight out of her eyes, and we moved baby girl to a different spot where she could get more airflow from the overhead fan. That seemed to fix a lot of their issues as they slept through the second night.
Outside of the cabin, the views of the rollings hills of northeast Iowa are great. The first morning offered a great view where fog had rolled into the valley below us, with the sun rising behind it. Surrounding the grounds is a field of prairie grasses full of birds and bugs. You’re not allowed to venture out into the fields, so be aware of that, but I spent a little while walking around the perimeter with my camera. On the last night we stoked up the fire pit for s’mores and one last night of reflection, well those of us that didn’t wander off to bed early.
On the second day I noticed that it didn’t look like the other cabins had a lot of traffic, so I contacted the owners to ask if I could have a peek into the empty cabins. The owner, Shanyn, stopped by and said the Cedar and Balsam Cabins were rented, but she would go unlock the three vacant ones for me.
The first one I looked at was Spruce Cabin (I somehow forgot to take a picture of the outside of Spruce and Birch, so I stole their exterior shots off their website.). Now I will say that the first two I looked at had more of the traditional simple rustic cabin feel. Spruce is two levels that sleeps 8, with an open area ground floor that has stairs leading up to a loft. There is a small bed in what was probably the original mudroom across from the bathroom. Even though my first impression when I walked in was that it looked somewhat cramped, I spent sometime looking around and found it to actually be quite cozy. My favorite feature of this cabin was in the loft. There is a door that leads out onto a little balcony that has a couple benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery.
The next cabin I took a look at was Birch Cabin. Birch is the simplest of the cabins on the property and sleeps 9. It has a completely different look to it that leads me to believe that it may have been the original one. It is the only other one with three levels. The top floor is an open loft with 4 beds, the ground floor is a single room with a simple kitchen and living area. The doors here lead out onto a deck that wraps around the north and east sides. The basement has the bathroom and remaining 2 beds with a walk out door to the fire pit. A thing to note for those that have issues with stairs, both sets of stairs are very steep and narrow.
The last cabin I ventured to was Aspen Cabin. She described Aspen as their new luxury model of cabin, and I would agree. It isn’t overly large (sleeps 6), but there was definitely more attention paid to the details and finish work. There are still traits that remind you it is a cabin, like the open ceiling, but the furniture and appliances are of nice quality. Honestly, I’d probably like to have the kitchen in my home. It is a two bedroom layout on a single floor that leads out to a wrap-around porch on the east and south walls. There is a similar view, but if I’m honest, the primary grounds have a better one. There is also a three stall garage next to the cabin, although there isn’t a mention on the website and I failed to ask if that was for the guest’s or the owner’s use.
If there is a negative (because you have to find one when you’re writing a review right?), it’s that the cabins are more of a staging point to access things to do in the area. If you want to hang out with the family in a more secluded spot then this will work great (there is also a small playground for the kiddos). Otherwise, the property doesn’t have much to offer in terms of adventure. Fortunately, it is in prime canoeing territory as the Upper Iowa River runs right by it. We ran into Decorah to check out the trout fish hatchery, there is a pretty nice mountain bike area on the outskirts of Decorah that I’ve biked a couple times, and much more. So there are plenty of things to do in the area, just not on the property.
Once again thank you to Shanyn Hart for letting me check out the vacant cabins. If you’d like to look her up you can find her on Facebook @Shanyn.Hart.Iowa and Instagram @Shanyn.Hart. Don’t forget to head over to YouTube and check out the video walk through!
Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins is nice place to take a weekend to get away and hang out, or to plant yourself to explore the hills of northeast Iowa.
Here we go on another water adventure! This time we traveled to northeast Iowa and paddled through the bluffs along the 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.
This 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.
The 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.
Once 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.
After 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.
We 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!
Now the air needs to be cleared, this is THE Pikes Peak. Not that little hill in Colorado that gets all of the fame…
The story is that in 1805 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was sent to the region to survey for a military fort to be built on the northern Mississippi River. He chose the location where our Pikes Peak is now, but the government later decided to build on the Wisconsin side by Prairie du Chien. Then in 1806, newly promoted Captain Pike took another expedition through Colorado and attempted (but failed) to summit what was then known as El Capitan. It was long after Pike’s death that the mountain was refered to as Pike’s High Peak, then later shortened and officially renamed to Pikes Peak. So you see, first come first serve. After all, we have trees to go with our snow. I mean, what do you do with all of that gorgeous view anyway? /wink
So Pikes Peak State Park is one of the most visited and photographed parks in Iowa. It consists of two units, linked by a connecting trail. The northern portion which is the lesser traveled, consists of most of the more rugged hiking trails; whereas the southern portion is the most visited with the overlook and the small waterfall whose trails are short and highly maintained.
One of the biggest attractions of Pikes Peak State Park are the fall colors that cover the area in late September. The entire northeast of Iowa has a lot visitors around that time of year, with some making it a long weekend to drive through all of the parks in the surrounding area, such as Yellow River State Forest, to see the colors.
There are a few different ways to hike Pikes Peak. You can break it up and just hike the north, south, or the whole thing; varying which trails you want to take and make your hike as long or as short as you want.
If you choose to hike just the north unit, you can drive through the south part of McGregor and park in the northeast corner. It is a pretty steep climb up to Point Ann on the Point Ann Trail (blue), then you can hook up with Horn Hollow Trail (maroon), and finish on Chinquapin Ridge Trail (green) in order to create your shortest loop of about 3.5-4 miles. You can also stay on the Point Ann Trail until it connects to the Chinquapin Ridge Trail, or use the Bluebird Trail as a connector, for a 5-6 mile loop.
The trails are thickly wooded with very well maintained crushed rock trails that weave through the ravines. The scenery is great and I’ve never had a bad hike there, even when a light rain kicked off a bit after we had just started down the trail. This is in the drift-less zone of Iowa (where the glaciers didn’t smooth it out during the ice age), so expect some good climbs and descents in this area.
Point Ann is the northernmost point and offers a nice view of the Mississippi River. The only other place in the north unit you get river views will be along the eastern ridge-lines of the Chinquapin Ridge Trail.
If you are just looking to hike the southern unit, the most common thing to do is to park in the lot (orange star), then walk the 100 feet to the overlook (red star) where you can view the river and Wyalusing State Park across the river in Wisconsin; then hike the Bridal Veil Trail (yellow) to the falls. This trail is very built up being paved until you are almost to the Crow’s Nest, where it turns into a wooden path all the way to the Bridal Veil Falls (green star). There are some stairs, but otherwise this .75-1 mile down and back is fairly easy. On the return you could also pop onto Myotis Trail (yellow dash) if you wanted to shorten it a bit and walk on some dirt.
You can also put together a loop by leaving the parking lot and heading west along the Weeping Rock Trail (purple), choosing to break off of on either the West Hickory Ridge (light blue), or the East Hickory Ridge Trails (green), and then taking the Bridal Veil Trail back to the parking lot for a roughly 1.5-2 mile loop. While there isn’t as much climbing and descent in the southern unit, there is still a decent little ravine running down the center to get the legs burning a little bit.
If you are looking to cover some ground and want to hike the whole park, here is my 9.7 mile route I enjoy (red). I park in the south lot (orange star) and jump on Weeping Rock (purple). Where it connects with Chinquapin Ridge (green) you’ll find the ranger’s home and the original concession stand that was restored and relocated (blue star).
Then I take the Point Ann (blue), to Horn Hollow (maroon), to Chinquapin route for the north; and then the West Hickory (light blue) to Bridal Veil (yellow) route for the south. Altogether it is a good amount of hills that will often leave you ready for the adventure beverage waiting for you at home.
When it comes to recommending gear for your hike at Pikes Peak State Park, it all depends on what you want to do. If you only want to do the overlook and falls, then you don’t need to worry about taking anything, except maybe some bug spray. Just stay on the constructed paths and enjoy the views. Similarly, if you just want to check out the southern loop, I would advise making sure you use a map so you don’t accidentally head toward the north unit.
If you want to knock out the north loop I would say you should bring your food, water and your map. In addition, you might want to put a jacket in your pack for potential weather changes and a first aid kit as the terrain is a little more rugged. Now if you desire to hike the entire 9.7 mile route, expect a 3.5-4 hour hike. So make sure you have plenty of water and calories to keep you going. Of course the same suggestion of putting a jacket, bug spray, and first aid in your pack. You should also make sure you definitely have your map for this hike. There are a lot of options for you to take so you’ll need the map to help keep you on your planned route.
Now while Iowa’s Pikes Peak State Park may be the lesser known little sister to Colorado’s name stealing mountain, she is still one of my favorite parks to visit. My wife and I try to make it an annual visit to check out the leaves. During summer visits we like to sneak into McGregor afterward and have lunch at the marina bar and grill; just your standard short order food, but it is nice to eat out on the deck on the edge of the river.
Pikes Peak is a great place to spend a day out on the trails, and I hope you get the chance to enjoy it soon.