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!

 

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Brushy Creek State Recreation Area – Southern Legs

Brushy Creek Google

Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Ft Dodge.

In terms of state green spaces, it is relatively young. Like many places in Iowa, everything about it is man-made. It was once what it’s name suggests, a creek running through a canyon. Then in 1967 the Iowa DNR proposed damming it up and creating the lake. There was nearly 20 years of kickback before it was finally approved. Today Brushy Creek consists of the lake at the northern end of the park, and a large network of equestrian trails to the south. In fact, if you look at the larger trail map of the Lake Trail below, you can see where the original Brushy Creek wound through the canyon that filled up to create the lake.

Brushy FullIn total, they have about 45 miles of trails to walk. While I have completed my exploration of the park, I did not do it in one outing.

The focus of this post will be on the southern two trails that are both down and back style trails.

This was my third trip to the park, so I had an idea of what to expect. I had just completed the middle network only a couple of weeks prior to this trip and was anxious to finish my exploration.

I was also using this trip to prepare for my attempt at redemption with Yellow River State Forest. I was anticipating around 20 miles for this trip, which would give me the opportunity to test my legs as far as distance. When it comes to Yellow River’s elevation gain, that’s another story.

Brushy SE.JPGKnowing I had some miles to cover, I trimmed down my load and left the camera gear at home. All of the pictures are from my cell phone, and there is a noticeable difference in quality. Since I had such an ambitious day planned, I got a very early start. I arrived well before sunrise and parked in the Day Use parking area (Red Star) where both trails start from. I started with only my headlamp to see with, which could have helped with my mistake.

Now I had it built into my hiking plan to start with the SW section since that looked more appealing on the maps, leaving the SE section to be the one I bailed on early incase I found my legs were unprepared for a 20 miler.

Brushy splitTo help give better detail of the mistake, I pulled up my mapmyfitness.com data and drew on the above screen shot. So the mistake came at the yellow circle where the trails divide. The trail map isn’t overly clear as to how this divide happens, and in the dark I missed the one iffy trail marking I found in the whole park…

IMG_4225As you can see from the pictures I took upon my return trip, when you are approaching from the treeline, there isn’t a sign that stands out to tell you which way to go. In the dark, I’m not sure I even noticed it.

IMG_4226If you approach it from the other directions, yeah, the signs stand out… So… I went the wrong way and started on the East Loop. Whoops.

Now the trail here was mostly an access road to the pastures for the farmer’s cows.

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Brushy SEThis is actually what threw up the red flag as the West Loop Trail was supposed to have the river to my east, not a pasture. I figured it out, shrugged, and proceeded on. It was short-lived though as I ran into a creek where the only option was to splash on through it (Yellow Star). Now the creek wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t want to deal with wet feet on the onset of the hike. With what I had seen from the little bit I’d hiked so far, I wasn’t feeling like the rest was going to be much better and turned around.

That is one of the gambles of the rec areas. Since they need to be navigable for horses, many of the trails have fewer interesting features so things like wading through creeks aren’t normally worth the discomfort.

I didn’t like the idea of leaving miles behind, but figured I had plenty to go and returned to where I figured out my mistake. I looped around the sunflower field, headed down the gravel road, and picked up the West Loop to continue my hike.

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The West Loop began with an immediate descent down a rough road that appears to have been long abandoned (as a vehicle road). It was very apparent though, that this section receives far more traffic than the East Loop as it was well-worn.

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This helped the trail have a really smooth flow. I found my pace to be pretty quick as I walked along the river. I picked out a route I wanted to traverse to cover as many of the trails within the network at the farthest point from the parking lot (Red Line). My favorite part was Maple Trail that started by the Blue Star. I’m a sucker for the long paths between rows of trees that form clear lines.

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The Maple Trail did rejoin the West Loop where I followed it around the bend and to an open field. This was a nice little place to take a break as the sun was really starting to warm things up. By this point I had realized that I was way ahead of schedule, and not just because of ditching out early on the East Loop. I was making great time on the West Loop. I debated on whether I was going to stay on the loop for the return, or sneak down to Turkey Trail and weave through the other sections like I had planned. I ultimately chose to weave as that is the purpose of the exploration, to learn about as much as possible to share with you.

Brushy SWThat being said, I should have skipped Turkey Trail and stayed on the loop for a little bit longer. Around the Purple Star it looked like they were doing a lot of work, possibly changing up the trail system, so the area was really rough. Not only that, but the mosquitoes were horrible in this one area! They were barely noticeable everywhere else, but along Turkey they chewed me up like mad.

Once I got through Turkey and on to Cedar Trail, it was pretty smooth sailing back to the car. Once I got back on the gravel road at the end of the trailhead, I realised I could just walk down the road to entrance to the parking area rather than around the sunflower field and through the short wood.Brushy splitWith that I am considering my exploration of Brushy Creek State Recreation Area complete. This section hike totaled a little over 12 miles for the day, bringing the total miles hiked at Brushy to about 33 miles. Now I recognize that I skipped a good portion of the East Loop, and a few trails of the Middle Network, so maybe 35-40 for a full circuit. I will likely return in the future and see how far I can push in a single outing, because I like challenges like that.

IMG_4234I feel that these trails are very easy to navigate and aren’t overly demanding. As long as you can handle the miles, you can hike these trails. Be sure to bring your map to help you navigate the network portion of the loops, and it’s always a good idea to at least have some water and snacks as well. If you are an equestrian rider, these trails are very popular if you’re looking for some place new.

Don’t forget to hop on over and check out the video on YouTube.

I hope this trail report helped you find a new place to get out there and go for a walk!

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!

Yellow River State Forest

dsc_7959yellow-river-state-forestYellow River State Forest is located in the northeast corner of Iowa near Harper’s Ferry and north of the McGreggor, Marquette, Pikes Peak State Park and Effigy Mounds National Monument area.

The forest has a great network of hiking and equestrian trails and is one of the few true backpacking areas in the state. In total the literature claims about 25 miles of trails. On my trip I focused on the exterior hiking-only loop (highlighted in gray), with a short excursion into the center on the all purpose trails to check out the old firetower in the southern area (#9). I chalked up 15.4 miles overall, but I left a good miles behind as I had to cut my hike short due to time… well mostly due to time.

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Let’s just start off by talking about the hike: My plan was to hit the park at sunrise and take advantage of a full day’s worth of hiking. I was planning 14ish miles for my route, taking me 4.5 hours. I was quite wrong with those numbers. First of all 14 miles wasn’t close. I am guessing that the route I wanted to take is closer to 17 or 18 miles. Second, and more importantly, the terrain was far rougher than I understood. The trails were great and well maitained, but the elevation changes were steep and often.

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I parked in the main lot by the information center (#1) near the western entrance (I believe that is what it was since it wasn’t open that morning). I took White Pine Trail toward one the four backpacking sites, Camp Glen Wendel (#2), which was a decent little site with a small pond. My first complication came around point #3 on the map where it shows walking through a patch of woods, after crossing the road, before crossing the river. I found the entrance, but no trail. After a good portion of time scrambling around the thicket I found the exit and realized that had I just passed the entrance and stayed on the road for another 20-30 yards, then jumped on the gravel road heading north for maybe 80-100 yards, I would end up in the same spot without the frustration. So that is my recommendation.

dsc_7979The next section was part of the equestrian trails on Painted Creek Trail that followed the creek back towards the center before the rough climb up Bluff Trail on the way to the overlook (#4). I took a good rest once I got to the top of the climb for a snack and to catch my breath. Aside from being able to overlook the creek and one of the campgrounds, you can see the old fire tower sticking up above the trees in the distance. After the break I meandered through the woods to Little Paint Campground (#5) which was a very pleasant area that is well maintained. After I left the campground it didn’t take long before I started questioning the map and distances. I found that you just follow the road across the main park road and keep going for probably a half mile until you get all the way through the Equestrian Campground (#6). Once back on the trail I found myself on a nice winding path that lead to a very steep climb which left me a little (or more) winded.

dsc_7969Once I got to the top of the hill I found myself walking next to a cornfield that lead into an open field before turning back into wooded trails and transitioning into a steep, rocky downhill that ended at the second, and very nice looking backpacking campsite with access to moving water; Heffern’s Hill Camp (#7).dsc_8003 It is a short walk down to the creek and the road, so one could drive up and park a couple hundred yards away rather than hike the whole distance if they wanted to. However, this is the furthest camp from the main parking lot if you want to get some miles in both ways. Tricky section number 3 comes up next (#8). There is a mix of trails that all meet at the bridge where the gravel and creek meet. Trying to explain this in my head was trying enough, and I was there making the decision! So I made this super detailed map showing how I crossed the bridge and took the trail towards the center… bridge-map

I stayed on Saddle Trail Loop veering to the right (north) on my way to the fire tower (#9). Even though I knew no one is supposed to climb the tower, I won’t deny that I hoped I could sneak up inside and get a view from the park as I’ve seen videos of people up there, but they must have been by permission of the park as it was surrounded by a high fence that was locked and topped with barbed wire. I wasn’t getting in. dsc_8008After walking around the tower for a bit and taking some pictures I had a choice to make.

The time was getting later than I had planned for, and the mileage was telling me there was no way my route was going to be 14 miles. So, continue on the planned route which meant following the Firetower Trail east back to the backpacking trails, or hit the Firetower Road and go north back to the start or south towards the backpacking trails… After some internal debate about time, terrain, and my conditioning I decided it would be the smart choice to cut the rest of the southeast out. At this point I was only tired, not in pain, so I elected that since it wasn’t that much further I would take the road south and meet up with the backpacking trail, Brown’s Hollow Trail (#10), back to the start.

After I traveled an extra 1/2 mile or so downhill then back uphill, I found the trail marker I missed… meaning my day was finally nearing the end. I was hurting by now. My feet were howling and my steps were beginning to feel labored. As I edited the video footage in preparation for posting this report it reminded me just how exhausted I was. It was still very early in the season, I had only hiked three times previously for a total of 16 miles on mostly flat trails, and I had just spent all of 2015 so completely focused on finally finishing my degree that I only totaled 20 miles for the year. I was woefully unprepared. Yellow River State Forest had won. I left at least 3 miles of trails out there, unexplored. The 2017 rematch will happen, and I look forward to all of the pain the Forest can throw at me!

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For those looking to venture into Yellow River State Forest I would definitely suggest you truthfully look at your conditioning level before attempting longer distances within the park as there is a good amount of climbing that will challenge and tax you. If you stay to the equestrian trails it should be easier as the horses need to be able to traverse the same ground. Also, take into account that the park is a well maintained network of trails where you can plan you own distances and bailouts if it gets too challenging. Regardless, I would suggest bringing plenty of water and at least some snacks. The longer you plan on going, the more I’d bring, heh. It would probably be a good idea to bring a backpack (nothing extreme is needed) with first aid and toiletry options, you could be on the trails for a bit without access to a restroom… The only thing I know I’ll bring next time is trekking poles to help with balance along some of the rockier sections. Oh and never forget your map!

Yellow River State Forest is a very beautiful park that holds some of Iowa’s more rugged terrain. Even though it beat me, from here on out I will always look fondly upon this place and look forward to returning. I encourage everyone to at least take a drive up there to enjoy the leaves as they turn in the fall at a minimum. Most of the overlooks can be driven to and the views provided are excellent! Remember to watch the video and subscribe to; the YouTube channel for trail videos, Instagram for updates on the trail to see what reports could be coming in the future, and like the Facebook page so you can get notifications as reports are posted!

Thanks for Reading!