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Great Escapes: 7 of Iowa’s Best Hikes

Whether you’re looking to get away from civilization for a weekend or just take in some beautiful scenery for an hour or two with the family, Iowa – yes, Iowa – offers some incredible hikes in our state parks and forests.

Yellow River State Forest 
For backpackers looking for a backcountry experience, head straight to northeast Iowa’s Yellow River State Forest. At Yellow River, you can enjoy long hikes with varying elevation, and even camp primitively. With about 32 miles of trail, it’s easy to feel like you’ve escaped it all in this gorgeous setting.

Ledges State Park - one of Iowa's best hikes | Iowa DNR

Loess Hills State Forest and Stone State Park 
Locals say you can hike and camp primitively for three days in this unique landscape without covering the same ground twice. If the 50 miles of trail in the state forest aren’t enough, you can find more just an hour up the road at the historic Stone State Park on the outskirts of Sioux City.  The Loess Hills – a landscape rare in the world – afford vistas not often seen in Iowa.  Loess soils are highly erodible but when left undisturbed, they hold solidly, forming tiers which follow the contours and are a sight to behold. Add in the native prairie that abounds in the area and you have a great place to wander while taking in sweeping vistas and discovering precious rare plants.

Ledges State Park 
Steeped in natural history, Ledges is known for its picturesque canyon that leads to the Des Moines River. Climb the trails in the canyon area to get a bird’s eye view of picnickers and kids splashing in the creek below. Or wander through the Lost Lake section of Ledges to find a serene overlook of the Des Moines River. While Ledges has just 4.6 miles of trails, the scenery makes it feel like much more. Finish off the day by heading to a secluded hike-in only campsite.

Maquoketa Caves State Park A trip to Maquoketa Caves isn’t complete without exploring the park’s 15 small caves, connected by boardwalks and bridges. Head to the 7 miles of trails to traipse through prairie or woodlands and take in dramatic vistas. Make a weekend of it and bring the tent with walk-in sites just off the main campground. Take part in an interpretive program to learn more about the park and its Civilian Conservation Corps work.

Waubonsie State Park 
Steal away to the far southwest corner of Iowa to take in majestic views of ridgetop prairie and mature woodland along the southern tip of the Loess Hills. Waubonsie offers 10.5 miles of trail in a unique setting.

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park 
Set out on gently sloping trails, including a path around a small swimming lake in this relaxing and peaceful park. Stay over in a cabin for more trips on the 12.5 miles of trail. Day trippers can make a quick trip back to civilization to enjoy restaurants and shops in the villages of Van Buren County.

Wildcat Den State Park 
The trails are all about scenery at Wildcat Den, just a mile upstream of the Mississippi River. Explore almost 4 miles of trail, including a short hike with great views of rock outcroppings on your way to the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Check out the restored grist mill or schoolhouse near the historic Pine Creek bridge. Camp at the park, or head over to the Fairport State Recreation Area, just two miles away, to camp along the mighty Mississippi.

For more ideas, check out our Iowa TrailsIowa State Parks and Take it Outside boards on Pinterest. Find park maps and reservation info on our Iowa State Parks webpages.

 Waubonsie State Park offers one of Iowa's most unique and best hikes | Iowa DNR
Waubonsie State Park
 Maquoketa Caves State Park - one of Iowa's best hikes | Iowa DNR
Maquoketa Caves State Park

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