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!

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Brushy Creek State Rec Area – Middle Network

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 middle network of trails between the turquoise Lake Loop, and the southern “legs.”

This was my second trip to the park, so I had an idea of what to expect. The weather was pretty hot and humid in early August, so when there was a momentary drop in both I jumped on the chance to get outside.

The day was beautiful with clear skies, comfortable temps, and low winds.

I parked at the campgrounds and the first thing I noticed was  just how busy Brushy Creek is! When I hiked it the year before with Jessie, there was barely anyone else around.

Every camp site was full, and the majority of them had horse trailers. As I found during my hike, this is a pretty popular spot for equestrian traffic. The morning started out with almost no one else on the trails, but by 9 AM I started running into riders on a regular basis.CJP_5421

Brushy Creek Middle Marked up.jpg

As I mentioned, I parked at the entrance to the campground in the center of the map (Red Star). I opted to travel in a clockwise direction like usual, and the path I ended up following is the orange line. I knew it was going to be a good day when the first image I saw as I crossed the road to the first trailhead was the scene I used for my featured image. The bright morning sky, with the remnants of the fog rising from the creek was a real mood setter (here it is again).

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Immediately I saw that this section of trail was going to be different than the Lake Loop. The Lake Loop is a graveled path where you spend most of your time walking in the open. This network is a hard-packed dirt trail, wandering through a thick wood.

Like most lake area trails, they are pretty flat and flow well over the rolling hills. Now personally, I’m not a big fan of spending a lot of time on an exposed trail, so I intentionally skipped out on Pond Trail. Recognizing on the map that it is an exposed trail, mostly for equestrian use, with a good portion of road walking, I wasn’t excited to try and work it into my loop. So I stuck to the trees.

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I was definitely enjoying my hike in the woods, but I noticed that there was very little animal life to capture with my camera. As I exited the Clay Hill Trail and hit the southernmost portion of the Lake Loop I finally caught this fawn, who saw me well before I was able to get within range for a close up shot. Shortly after I was able to get her in frame, she bounded away into the tall grass. Aside from a toad and a couple bugs, that was the extent of the wildlife that trip.

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The sun was burning strong over the prairie grasses during this short walk before I returned to the woods. If you attempt to string together the multiple sections of the park, this is the connector between the Lake Loop and the middle network.

From there I entered Preserve Trail and began heading back south. The point of note I’d like to chat about is a potential rest area that could be improved a slight bit (Yellow Star). At the first curve of the trail is a little bench, looking down to the creek. Now as it is, it is a good place to take a pause if need be. The bench is a little worn, but it is functional. Now what could be nice, is to drag in a picnic table, replace or clean up the bench, and clear up the view a bit by cutting down some of the foliage. Now that could create a desired picnic spot.

CJP_5408Not too far from that point I ran into a little guy climbing his silk. I made a valiant attempt at getting it nice and sharp without actually having a lens designed for that close up macro view point. It was a fun little break in the hike regardless.

The next point of note was a creek crossing along the Meadow Trail (Blue Star). Originally I had planned on following it north to the Lake Loop again, then road walking down to Big Rock Trail where I’d have to cross again. Honestly, I didn’t notice there was a creek before I set off. However, after I ran into it, it became clear that it was on the map. I just wasn’t looking for it.

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You might have to look close, but that is a swarm of mosquitoes. Also, there aren’t really any stepping stones to help hikers across, so you’ll have to get your feet wet. I do like it when they place ways to cross streams to help keep your feet dry though (hint hint DNR…). In this case, since it was only going to be about 1.5 – 2 mile loop (Yellow Loop) and come back to this point, I chose to avoid the swarm and wet feet.

Continuing on the trail I found it to remain pretty consistent. The only portion of the network that I was unsure about as I planned my trip was the upcoming Bridge Trail. It looked as though you had to cross the road and then walk alongside it for a bit, which isn’t overly normal for a marked trail. Once I got to that point though, I realized that the trail actually went under the bridge, then you walked trail on the north edge of a fallow field, before taking a gravel drive south where you can re-enter the tree line.

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If you want to stretch it out a bit more for mileage, you can continue along the road as it turns into Cemetery Trail, but it is an exposed trail that goes around the septic treatment pits.

The Bridge Trail that I stayed on terminates at a 4-way intersection of trails, a place where Bridge, Cemetery, and Creek trails all meet. I was originally going to take Cemetery at this point, but a pair of riders where heading down that direction and their horses where acting pretty skittish at sensing my presence. So as you can see on the map, I went straight and looped back around to cross over my previous path instead. After that it was a short walk up Creek Trail, then through the campground and back to the car.

Since I mentioned the connectors to the Lake Loop, I should comment that where Cemetery terminates into Day-Use Trail is where the connector for the southern trails is. With such a large trail network, one thing that is nice about Brushy Creek is that their trails are very well marked, with only one hiccup on the SW leg I’ll discuss in that upcoming trail report. So that being said, make sure to take a map with you just to verify you’re on the right path.

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Overall, a really enjoyable little hike. The route I ended up finishing netted 8 miles and took a little under 3 hours. It is a fairly smooth trail that most anyone can tackle, with plenty of options so you can stay within your known limits. On the other side of that, with that extensive network, it also offers opportunity for those looking to really crush some miles to build a hefty hike for themselves. I know this hiker is looking to challenge himself with an attempt to hike all three sections in one day. I’ve estimated it should be roughly 34 – 40 miles for the entire attempt…

CJP_5397Make sure to check the DNR website if we’ve been having some wet weather since the trails are dirt. Last year the only available trail was the Lake Loop as the middle and southern sections were closed. I know Volga was pretty much taken out of commission for a while due to riders not adhering to the postings and riding anyway.

So check out the video on YouTube, stuff your pack with water, snacks, and your map, and enjoy your walk!

CJP_5367

 

Brushy Creek State Rec Area – Lake Loop

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 turquoise-ish lake loop trail on the north end of the map.

My first trip there was an impromptu trip in August of 2016. The summer was waning and Jessie and I still hadn’t completed our annual “Kill Jessie Hike.”

IMG_2880We had planned on heading up north to Volga, but at the last minute Iowa happened and the weather forecast went from sunny, to severe thunderstorms.

I scoured the map, my database, and weather forecasts for a minimum of a 10 mile trail (’cause that’s the rule to try and kill Jessie), we could get to, hike, and get home before supper.

The storm front was moving swift and I found that by the time we would get to Brushy Creek, the storms would have already rolled through the area. So I called Jessie, and we agreed that it was the best option. So we prepped our gear and left before the sun came up.

Brushy Creek Lake.JPG

Due to the weather we both opted to leave the cameras at home as they aren’t weather sealed and we didn’t fully trust that our hike was going to stay dry. So photos are limited for this one.

We arrived just after sunrise and parked in the lot near the campground (red star). There wasn’t a whole lot of activity at the park that day, but a few fisherman were out on the lake throughout the hike. All of the other trails were closed due to a pretty wet summer, but the Lake Trail is gravel and was pretty much the only available trail in the state it felt like.

We set off from the parking lot and hiked in a clockwise direction. The trail is mostly open with little tree cover. It skirts either prairie or corn/bean fields along the outer edge of the lake the majority of the time. Now and then it would dip into the trees and give a brief escape from the wind and sun if they happen to be particularly harsh, which we did have some good winds during our trek.

IMG_2888The first note is marked with a green star. Here we found that there was an unmarked path that allowed us to bypass the campground. It was just a farmer’s access road for the most part, but by the amount of road apples, it was a common shortcut.

The biggest treat on the trail for me were the points in which there were bridges that cut across some inlets (blue stars). The old trees that once grew in the canyon are still there, and the surface of the water was completely green with algae at a couple.

Eventually we did get rained on, but it was only briefly. After that shower passed, the sky opened up and we finally got some great blue skies for the rest of our hike. The trail didn’t claim Jessie, he walked away with some sore feet though.

The trail overall was pretty flat and we made good time. Given your confidence with the number of miles you can hike in one session, this trail would definitely be accessible to pretty much anyone. I found that throughout the park the trails are marked pretty well. I found that I never really had to reference the map, other than to just check on our progress.

One thing I found interesting was that the park is one of the designated grow sites for the prairie recovery program in Iowa (orange star). I actually knew nothing about this until I saw some signage and looked it up. From what I understand, they grow native species of prairie flowers and grasses, let them go to seed, and then distribute the seeds across the state to encourage more growth. A nice little surprise to unexpectedly come across.

After a little bit more hiking we came to an open area where it appeared that they may have discontinued trail maintenance on the outermost portion since it appeared to be very overgrown (purple star). We just crossed the road and took the campground trail back to the parking lot.

IMG_2873That is the down and dirty of the Lake Trail. I have found that Iowa lake trails tend to be pretty similar. Few overlooks or scenic views, but that doesn’t mean you should skip them. If you are a mileage muncher like me, most tend to give you around 10+ miles. Even though this hike wasn’t jam-packed with scenery, it does have those inlets that I really enjoyed. I’ve been kicking around the idea of getting out on the water in a kayak with my camera for a different perspective. This is one place that would be very interesting to check out from the water.

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The trail ended up being 12.5 miles and took about 5 hours to finish. So be sure to take plenty of water and some snacks before you decide to tackle the whole loop.

Also, please check out the video over on YouTube as well!

I hope you enjoy your walk!

Ledges State Park


dsc_5729Ledges State Park
is located in west-central Iowa, just northwest of Des Moines.

ledges-mapLedges is one of the oldest state parks in Iowa and is quite popular from what I saw. There are three sections with trails that unfortunately don’t connect so you have to drive between them. I liked my visit to the park very much. The fall colors were in full and the trails offered a good variety of terrain to keep my interest up.

Ledges Multi.jpgI started my hike in the northeast corner of the park at the campgrounds (A). It has your standard drive up campsites as well as a few pack-in sites. The pack-in sites aren’t very far in, but it is nice to find them in a park as backpacking sites are pretty rare in Iowa. There is one main trail traveling the length of the pack-in sites, with off shoots traveling down to a creek bed. This where you’ll first discover how quickly the elevation changes within the park. It is a very steep grade between the trail and the creek, and this is a common profile for the rest of the park.

dsc_5606I plodded around trying to put together a 2 mile loop of some kind before I realized that all of the trails really just lead to the creek and back for the various camping sites. If you don’t mind some minor bushwhacking, the creek was nice to follow as I hunted for some photo opportunities. I came to the end of the property and made my climb back up to the top of the ridge and the trail. On my way back to the parking lot I spotted what looks to be the remains of a building of some sort. I didn’t really find much info on what it could have been, but thought the remaining chimney was neat (red star).

dsc_5683I drove on down to the center section where I found most of the visitors hanging out (B). The road cuts into between a couple bluffs where you can stop near a bridge that crosses a stream. There is a little sandy beach here that several children were using to play in the stream below the bluff. In the stream was an all too common cairn that are popular along hiking trails these days.

dsc_5733This parking spot also gives you access to the two ridge trails that you can put together for a 4 mile loop. I first took the east trail (Hog’s Back Trail, orange star) and found myself walking a good distance along a cliff that turned into a ridge line with a sharp descent on either side. This was one of the more memorable trails I walked that day.

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dsc_5792The trail eventually crossed over one of the picnic areas that was quite open before skirting and open field and then plunging back into the woods (green star). In this section of the park was my first run-in with a locust tree and their insane thorns. These things were massive and sharp! The trail continued to meander along the ridge tops of the hilly wood until I exited in more open picnic areas on the western edge of the park.

dsc_5809I passed by a couple of these open areas before I found my way back into the woods for the short remainder of trail in this section. Before I got far though I came across a spider I had never seen before. The colors were very bold and I had to try to get a photo. Unfortunately I was still pretty new to my camera and had issues getting a solid focus, but I still have to share this guy.

dsc_5825The walk back was a quick one from here. However, I wasn’t quite done. I crossed the road near the aforementioned bridge and climbed to the top of the west bluff. This one was more developed with wooden stairs, railings, and benches (blue star). The trails wanders around the top for a bit with a few overlooks. The best section of trail in the park was on top of the west bluff for certain. As far as coming to Ledges for a quick visit and pictures, this is the section I feel would draw the most interest. It was directly over the parking area and the spot where the kids were playing in the stream.

This is probably the most important word of caution; stay on trail when on top of the bluffs. Stone can be slippery when moist and it doesn’t take much for someone to start a slide. It is a good 60+ foot drop if you were to fall over the edge. In fact, Ledges claimed a life this January (2017) as they were attempting to get photos too close to the edge. I debated putting this in here, but felt it too important to gloss over. I want more people to get out into the woods, but I also want them to get home too.

dsc_5565I took several photos while I was up there, and eventually completed that section and drove to the last part in the southwest corner of the park (C). The trail here led to a pond, circled it, and then headed back for a little over a mile. While there was a minor climb not too far down the trail, this was by far the flattest of the three areas. It was also the least maintained, with it starting to get a little overgrown around the backside of the pond. It was still very nice little walk to put a cap on the day.

When you visit Ledges State Park I would recommend you prepare yourself for some steep climbs that settle into a nice stroll before descending back down. This could mean trekking poles or a walking stick for some, while others may just want to feel those thighs burn. And as always; remember your water, food, and maps.

dsc_5858This is definitely a photogenic park, so be sure to bring something to capture shots. One thing I like a lot about this park is that you can choose your own way since there are basically four options to take or leave. This is a park I will have to go back to since I didn’t capture any video footage the first time, and this is a place that deserves a video review to really relay what it has to offer. So add Ledges State Park to your to do list, you won’t regret it.

dsc_5843Thanks for reading!

Briggs Woods County Park

dsc_8492Briggs Woods County Park is located in northwest Iowa, just south of Webster City.

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The trail within the park is actually pretty short, roughly a 2 mile loop. This report is less about the hike, and more about discussing the park in general and spreading the word about an enjoyable place to spend a weekend.

briggs-woods-trails-mapBriggs Woods has a lot to offer for a small county park. It has some hiking, a nice little lake, cabins and camping, a golf course, and is a 5 minute drive from town for easy access to replenish goods. It is also close enough to town that there is a 10 foot wide, 5.7 mile paved bike trail that travels from the golf course to the center of town.

Not knowing much about golf, I’ll start there to get it over with, heh. From what I read, the course is a nice public 18 holer whose main criticism comes from the challenge of its back 9. The front 9 seems to be fun, whereas that back 9 appears to give enough grief that if you’re having a bad day your game can go downhill quick.

dsc_8336Now back to the things I do know about. Our visit was a weekend venture with my wife’s family. In total there were 15 of us and after a good amount of research I found that Briggs Woods had a cabin that could fit us all. They have several cabins in the park, some smaller ones over by the camping area in the western portion of the park along the river (green star), and their large cabins are centrally located along the lake (orange star).

dsc_8307Now the large cabins are built similarly with some rooms on the ground floor with an open kitchen and living room, and an open loft upstairs. There are bathrooms with showers on both floors as well as TV. The finish is very nice and has a comfortable homey feel, versus one of your more simple style bare-bones cabins. In fact we commented more than once that it would be great to own the cabin personally as a weekend retreat for the family to share (as long as you like the color of wood). dsc_8309There was a grill and fire pit outside on the patio next to the porch with a pleasant view of the lake. Down along the shore was a small little dock where someone could fish or launch a canoe/kayak.

dsc_8341The weather was still a little too chilly to really enjoy the lake when we stayed there, but it does offer swimming at the beach (red star), and fishing. There are two places to launch boats for fishing (like many Iowa lakes this is a wake-less lake), as well as your standard fishing from the shore.dsc_8385

dsc_8379As for the trail within the park, there is one short trail (dotted line) that wanders through the wooded area in the northwest part of the park. It is a well-groomed path that anyone can follow easily without any difficulty. This was baby girl’s first official “walk” in the woods and I wanted something simple and short since I didn’t know how she would do in the carrier. She rocked it, and discovered how much fun it is to tug at dad’s ears along the way…

Once you get to the northern end of the trail you’ll come across a couple short waterfalls. They are part of the spillway system that comes from the lake and flows into the river. The trail gives you an elevated vantage point, and it is somewhat tricky to get lower for a closer view. This would be the only point of caution I would offer for this trail.

dsc_8416After the waterfalls the trail connects to the paved trail where there is a bridge that crosses the true spillway from the lake and heads toward town to the left (north) or back to the large cabins and beginning of the wooded trail to the right (south). We headed back to the cabin from here for a quick little 1.7 mile loop that left the kiddos still in a good mood.

dsc_8344We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Briggs Woods County Park. It is a popular place so plan far in advance if you wish to stay there. We liked it well enough that we tried to go back this year. However, when I was looking in January for an August date, all 3 of the large cabins were already booked through September! So the annual glamping trip will have to be held elsewhere. If you make your way out to Briggs Woods County Park I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

dsc_8365Thanks for reading!