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Pikes Peak State Park may be known for its breathtaking views along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, but do you know about these “hidden surprises” suggested by park manager Matt Tschirgi?
It’s only a short hike into the woods, but if you stop at Pikes Peak just for the river views, you’ll miss out on Bridal Veil Falls. The waterfall trickles over a limestone ledge, and when it ices over in winter, it resembles a bridal veil. On your hike to the falls, you’ll pass a bear-shaped effigy mound and the Crow’s Nest, an awe-inspiring lookout 500 feet over the Mighty Mississippi.
There are 63 Native American burial mounds in the park, many in mound groups (like at Hickory Ridge Mounds and Deer Ridge Mounds). Of the four types of burial mounds (conical, linear, compound, and effigy) the park has mostly conical, about a dozen linear, and three effigies – which are all in the shape of bears. For more information about the mound builders, visit Effigy Mounds National Monument, about 8 miles north of Pikes Peak.
Zebulon Pike was here first. The U.S. government sent the explorer west in 1805 to look for suitable locations for military posts in the Mississippi River valley. He suggested the location of today’s park, but the government chose to build the fort across the river in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Several years later, the government sent Pike westward again, this time to what’s now Pikes Peak in Colorado. The first Europeans to see the park site, though, were explorers Louis Joliet and Father James Marquette in 1673.
A longer hike on the Chinquapin Ridge Trail reveals the unique dwarf-like, native, chinquapin oaks that grow on the ridge. Follow the Horn Hollow Loop trail to the Point Ann Trail to explore the inner depths of the park with picturesque valleys and springs.
There’s more than one place to take in the majestic river below at Pikes Peak. About a 4-mile hike from the main parking area, Point Ann is a natural overlook that lets you glimpse over the town of McGregor. You can also see a peregrine falcon next box on top of the town's grain elevators and sometimes catch a glimpse of them soaring fast overhead. The path also shows the destruction from a tornado in summer 2017 that damaged 4,000 trees in the park. If you’re making a quick stop, you can take a shortcut to Point Ann by starting at the McGregor parking lot in the park and heading uphill.
The ultimate hidden surprise, you might say, is finding a fossil in the rock outcrop of the old quarry in the park. Just north of the Homestead parking lot, geology and fossil enthusiasts can explore the quarry, which has 60-foot-tall walls.
All that hiking is sure to work up an appetite, so stop by the Park Store to pick up a souvenir, postcard, or an ice cream treat, snack, coffee, or just say hi and ask questions. While it’s not hidden, it may be a surprise – the store reopened in 2017, operated by the Friends of Pikes Peak. The store is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through the third weekend of October.
Peak Inn to history
See where parkgoers found cold soda, ice cream and gum back in the 1920s at the park’s first concession building, the wooden Peak Inn. It sat on the same site as the current stone structure, which was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. When the stone shelter was constructed in 1938, the Peak Inn was moved to a private nearby farm, but donated back to the park in 2003 by the Bickel family. You can now find the original wooden Peak Inn at our Homestead parking lot with a boulder and plaque.
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For more, check out our Iowa State Parks and Natural Iowa Travel boards on Pinterest.