Ledges State Park is located in west-central Iowa, just northwest of Des Moines.
Ledges 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.
I 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.
I 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).
I 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.
This 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.
The 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.
I 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.
The 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.
I 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.
This 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.
Thanks for reading!