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!

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Elk Rock State Park

DSC_8532Elk Rock MapElk Rock State Park is located near Knoxville in southeast Iowa, about 45 minutes from Des Moines.
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Elk Rock was one of those parks that I had been looking at for a while before I finally made it there on a last minute decision. The weather initially called for storms, but then everything shifted and I found myself with bright sunny skies, and a desire to get away for a day. What I got was an excellent day of hiking, full of beautiful weather, wildlife, and scenery!

DSC_8849The first impression I had was on the drive into the park. Coming from the north you cross over Lake Red Rock on a long bridge that gives you a great view of the bluffs the lake sits in. It made me really desire to get out on the water in order to check out photo opportunities from that angle.

DSC_8501I drove into the center of the park where the equestrian campground was to start my hike (orange star). This was a very nice little area with a quality playground for little ones. I followed the road for a short couple hundred yards north toward the trail-head of the North Loop Trail (blue). The trail was supposed to be a 1.8 mile trail, but ended up being around 2.5 miles. This seemed to be a theme throughout the park, I ended up hiking more miles than advertised. Not a whole lot more, maybe an extra half mile per trail, but a standard example of why you should use the numbers given out more as guidelines.

DSC_8516Now the North Loop Trail starts out semi-rough with some soft sandy sections that are pretty chewed up by the horses. This was probably the worse section concerning horse damaged trails, probably because it is closest to the campground. That aside, it was a nice walk in the woods. The trails were open under the canopy of leaves that allowed the wind to flow through, but not enough to keep the bugs at bay. There was a nice break in the trees that offered a pleasant vantage point of the lake at the northern most point of loop.

DSC_8540After spending a moment checking out the view, I headed back down the trail. The elevation remained relatively flat as the trail found its way to the road that serves as a junction point for the three trails (green star). A short walk down the gravel road and you’ll find the trail-head to the East Loop Trail (yellow).

DSC_8650The wildlife woke up as I began the East Loop Trail and the birds were everywhere. It gave me plenty of practice and I captured several with my camera. Along with some slugs, snails, millipedes, butterflies and dragonflies. The best part of this trail was toward the end where you come across an open field of tall grass. The wind blew through freely and the birds were quite chatty.

DSC_8738A notable thing about this trail is that a lot of it skirted the edges of various cornfields. This is actually another tidbit that isn’t that uncommon about equestrian trails I’ve found. Quite a few of them do tend run their trails on the outer portions of a park and along cornfield borders. In these sections the sun felt its strongest, and the lack of scenery did make time seem to stretch a little. I did have to remind myself that the trail was made with horses in mind, not just people.

One place I found a lot of potential to improve this trail was at the northern most point (red star). It overlooks the lake and has a hitching post for horses and a rotting picnic table. Unfortunately, the view is completely blocked by dead-fall trees. If the park service were to go out and clear away all of that dead-fall  and possibly add a nice bench, it would open up a view of the lake and create a nice rest spot for future park users. I think it could be quite nice.

DSC_8507The trail returned to the road again and I moved on down to the West Trail Loop (red). This was my favorite trail of the three. It was less damaged by far, more than likely due to it being furthest from the equestrian camp. My opinion could be skewed I’ll admit, since it had the best trails and was following up a somewhat mundane cornfield walk. Anyway, the trail was thickly wooded and the trail it self was smooth and flowing. Even though it is called a loop, it was actually more of a down and back with a loop at the end.

DSC_8779I almost got a picture of a deer standing in a moss covered pond, but unfortunately I couldn’t capture the focus until after it was on the shore. The wildlife was active in this section as well. Aside from the deer, my favorite photo of the day was captured here. The cardinals had been taunting me all day, but i finally got one in my lens. I returned along the West Loop Trail until I got back to the paved road, which I hoped on for the walk back to the vehicle (orange line). On the way out I did stop over at the boat ramp and parking lot. Even though it is just a place to put in your boat, it was still photogenic as well.

DSC_8807In total I hiked 10.74 miles in 4 hours and 15 mins. I was shutter-bugging it the whole way, but still managed a 2.5 mile per hour pace. So someone just out for a walk should be able to move a bit faster if they wanted. Since this is a longer hike, I would very much recommend you take a pack to carry your food, water, and map. It would be a good idea to have sunscreen and bug spray for sure, along with at least a rudimentary first aid kit. The only other must I would suggest, your camera. If the weather is good, so will be the photos.

One thing nice about the style of this park is that because of the pseudo-hub where all of the trails meet, you could hike only 1, 2, or all 3 trails depending on your time and abilities. There aren’t any difficult sections, just some low grade rolling hills, so anyone who can handle the distances can handle the hikes.

DSC_8847Elk Rock State Park was a very enjoyable hike that I will return to. While sections of the trails are frustrating due to damage from horses, and the cornfields were a little boring, overall I had a great time. If you’d like to check out the video, you can watch it over on the YouTube channel. I hope you enjoy your hike out at Elk Rock State Park as much as I did!

DSC_8591Thanks for reading!

Wildcat Den State Park

dsc04710Wildcat Den State Park Wildcat Den State Park is located in southeast Iowa near Muscatine, just west of Davenport and the rest of the quad cities.wildcat-map

This is another park that I ventured to with the family without any knowledge other than it being on the DNR website and had a trail. While I will admit the kids weren’t as enthused as their mom and I about getting out, by the end the were enjoying themselves with the scenery.

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dsc04615The park offers about 6 miles of trails, mostly in a loop with a down and back tail on the east side. It was thickly wooded with some noticeable hills throughout. We started our hike by parking at the orange star in the center of the park. The parking area was surrounded by a pretty open area for picnicking, as well as a shelter. I did wander around a bit looking for the trail-head since it wasn’t immediately obvious. It didn’t take too long though before I found it on the north tree line and we were off.

dsc04638We opted to go counter-clockwise at the first junction (1) and found the trails to be well maintained. Every now and then we came across large piles of finely ground gravel that I’m assuming were staged for trail maintenance. Overall it was a nice trail that was easy to follow. The foliage was a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees throughout the park. I really do enjoy a walk in the pines. There is just something about pine groves that is simply pleasant.

dsc04639One nice surprise about the landscape was that the trail went into a valley with tall rock cliffs on both sides (2). There were a few overlook places above us that probably gave some attractive views of the trail. We went off trail a bit and checked out this mini canyon that had been carved in the rock. This is the point where the kids’ moods started to improve.

dsc04647Eventually we needed to get moving again and continued on. The down and back portion of the trail heads off to the east side of the park with a decent decline that terminates at a road in front of a historical attraction. There is an old one room school house and the old grist mill. We walked around and the area checking out the mill and took advantage of the restrooms for a little break.

dsc04694Once everyone was feeling ready to go we got back on the trail and started our climb back up the hill. We merged back up with the main loop and continued on. The northeast portion of the park really is where the biggest attraction to place sits. Along with the canyon before, we found some really nice sandstone bluffs at the green star that were a lot of fun. The incline had soured the kids’ mood again, but here is where they really perked back up.

dsc04724The trails through here are honestly stand alone if they wanted to be since you can park at the base of them. You weave all through the stone on heavily trafficked trails. There is some scrambling over rocks and climbing into alcoves, it was honestly a lot of fun. Since sandstone is a pretty soft rock, there were certain section where you could find the locals had carved various graffiti. Make sure you hit up this area on your visit.

dsc04730When considering gear, we went pretty light. It was only a couple to hike the whole park, and we did fart around a bit. The kids didn’t really bring anything, while my wife and I had our daypacks. She carried their water and snacks, while I carried my water and the first aid mostly. You can drive to most of the attractions, so if you aren’t sure you are ready for a hilly 6 mile hike then plan on hiking to the canyon and out, then drive to the bluffs and mill. While I could recommend trekking poles for those that want support, this is definitely not a gear intensive hike so no worries there. Of course as always, bring your map!

Wildcat Den State Park is a very enjoyable little stroll among the trees and bluffs of eastern Iowa. If you’re in the quad cities area, it is only a 30 min drive away. Grab the kids and left them wander around bluffs and build memories.

dsc04720Thanks for reading!

Lake Iowa County Park

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Lake Iowa County Park is located just south of Interstate 80 near Ladora, which is just west of Williamsburg or 45 minutes west of Iowa City for landmark references.

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I actually only visited this park as an impromptu fall back as the park I was intending to hike (Lake Keomah State Park) was closed and it was not noted on the website so I found out after I had driven all the way to the entrance. I was able to make Lake Iowa part of my drive home so the day wasn’t a total loss. When I got there I found that the lake trail was a mowed path that followed most of the shoreline for fishing access with connecting road walks. Although I elected not to hike that particular trail since I didn’t have a map and was uncertain of the mileage, I have since looked it over and am estimating that particular route should be around a 4 mile hike. I did hike their short little nature trail though, which will be the focus of this post.Lake Iowa google map 1.jpg

The first thing I came across when I pulled into the park was the very nice nature center that looked pretty new. The interior was pretty sparse, but had plenty of potential to be a children’s learning center. Next to the center was a vegetation nature garden of sorts. It was a small circular path with a playground nearby. The camping area is located next to the center so it appears to be a place where the kids can play a little.DSC_2617.jpg

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Now on my visit I started at the nature center and hiked the 1 mile nature trail to the south. (The red trail.) The trail is a down-and-back style trail that loops around a little pond. There isn’t an actual trail map for Lake Iowa so I used Google Maps and created one.

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The nature trail (red) is a crushed gravel path surrounded by various plants and had quite a few small mammals, birds, and insects that created some good photos. I spent a lot of my time taking pictures and as such my pace was pretty slow. It took me about an hour, but I am happy with the pics. I could see a good number of fish in the pond as well. Even though it was short, it was a pretty enjoyable little hike for an unintended visit.

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The above map marks the trails the best I could figure out from the satellite view. The red trail once again is the nature trail, the yellow trail would be the options available going through the camping area, and the orange trail is the lake trail. There are three places to park along the orange trail and one next to the nature center. While you can park in any of the 4 spots in order to hike the trails anyway you would like, one route I would suggest is parking at the nature center as it would be the more trafficked area (and next to the ranger’s home). I would then hike clockwise to get rid of most of the road walking right off as most of it is on the northwestern section. Once you get to the yellow trail you can choose a couple of different routes; follow one road northwest directly back to the start, or follow another road to the south where you can pick one of three short trails to the pond on the red nature trail. From there you just head back to the nature center.

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Overall a nice little park that should be accessible to anyone. I wish I were more prepared to hike the full lake trail, but it just means I’ll have to sneak over for a complete hike another time. So if you’re going to be in the area and looking for a place to stretch your legs it would be worth a short stop off. Especially if they continue to develop the nature center into the future.

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Geode State Park

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Geode State Park is located in the southeast corner of Iowa near Danville between Mt. Pleasant and Burlington.

 

 

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There is a single 8 mile trail that circles the lake. Trail maps for Iowa state parks can be found on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website.

Although, be suspicious of their recorded mileage. This park is a perfect example as the map tells us it is 6.56 miles, when in reality it is 8.05 miles. Now most are actually accurate, but that’s also why I am creating a database of confirmed numbers. /wink. The trail is well worn with a couple short sections of road-walking. It is quite an enjoyable hike as you meander through the rolling hills of the forested trail. The first time I hiked the park was in April of 2014. At the time the park was still coming out of winter and hadn’t shed its brown layer yet.

Even so, it was still a very pleasant stroll with my wife. I returned this fall with a friend and the colors were excellent! It was a murky day that threatened rain, so I elected to leave the cameras in the car. I regretted that choice almost immediately. We both commented often at how nice the forest around us looked. 

dsc03795As far as difficulty, I would say Geode should be accessible to anyone who has enough fitness to travel 8 miles on their feet. For those who are not there yet, there is nothing wrong with finding a parking spot and just doing a down-and-back for a few miles on one of the sections of the trail. There was only one stream that could possibly cause an issue in late spring when the melt is flowing for those that don’t want to get their feet wet (in chilly post-thaw water). While a full daypack isn’t needed, I would suggest a good quantity of water and possibly a snack. If you don’t know your average pace, I would suggest planning a minimum of 3 hours to make it all the way around. The first time I hiked it, it took 3.5 hours. However, my return trip only took 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Another note is that this park is approved for mountain bikers. It would be more of a cross country style ride without obstacles. It appears to be pretty popular as both times I hiked it there were riders on the trails. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out the video over on YouTube.