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7 Things to Do in Iowa’s State Parks This Summer

Did you know you could spelunk in Iowa? Or try trout fishing, watch the sunrise from your campsite over the Mississippi River - so many ideas! | Iowa DNRWhether you're interested in just relaxing or getting adventurous, Iowa State Parks have something for everyone this summer.

Watch a Sunrise at Pikes Peak The postcard-perfect view from Pikes Peak is a great way to start the day. From the viewing areas on top of the 500-foot bluff, visitors can marvel at the expanse of the Mississippi River, watch boats float by, and see two gorgeous suspension bridges that bring Iowa’s vast beauty into perspective. There are plenty of pretty hiking trails and Native American effigy mounds nearby, and if you stay at an adjacent campsite, you don’t have to walk very far to see the morning spectacle.

Get Butterfly Kisses at Bellevue More than 60 species of butterflies frequent the open-air butterfly garden at Bellevue State Park, so they’re bound to get up close and personal. Caterpillars munch on cottonwoods and other nearby plants while the adults flutter through the miniature maze of flowers and walking paths in this cute corner of the park. From there, plan a picnic at the nearby shelter or try to spot larger animals at the prairie site with wildlife food plots.

Take a Hike at Brushy Creek Boasting more than 50 miles of hiking trails, Brushy Creek has ample room to roam. For visitors with horses, you’ll both love the equestrian trails and horse-friendly camping sites. Fishing, swimming, and shooting areas are also available, so a good hike can lead up to a fun activity break before the trip home.

Explore at Maquoketa Caves State Park | Iowa DNRSpelunk at Maquoketa With the most caves of any Iowa state park, Maquoketa Caves gives a dramatic glimpse of Iowa’s tumultuous geological history. Of course visitors will want to see the spectacular 1,100-foot Dancehall Cave, which is lit and includes walkways, but there are plenty of smaller caves worth exploring throughout the park. For your safety and enjoyment, bring flashlights, extra batteries, rugged clothing, and attend a brief mandatory presentation by park staff before entering the caves.

Splash Around at Ledges Ledges State Park is perfect for stream-walking or just dipping your toes. Peas Creek has cut a small canyon through its sandstone bed, leaving “ledges” of the rock exposed for closer inspection. In these ledges you can see bird nests, crayfish dens and other interesting features from weathering of the rock. Stream-walking is great for kids too, as the creek stays fairly shallow throughout the lower basin of the park and goes over the road at a few points for easy access. Make sure to check on flooding status before you go, as this park is particularly prone to flash flooding and may have restricted access at times.

Fish for Trout at Backbone While there are many classic activities to enjoy at Backbone State Park, trout fishing is particularly fun because you can’t necessarily do it everywhere. The spring-fed trout stream runs throughout the shady lower basin of the park, with sidewalks, trails and parking lots nearby for easy access. Consider bringing waders or tall rain boots if you want to explore the stream further, and make sure your license is up-to-date with a paid trout fee before you go.

Go paddleboating, kayaking or canoeing - or maybe try some fishing or swimming - at Lake Ahquabi State Park | Iowa DNRPaddleboat on Lake Ahquabi Conveniently located near Des Moines, Ahquabi is a great place to get out of town and relax. Legend has it that Native Americans called it a “resting place,” and the extensive lake has plenty of areas to explore whether you’re searching for fish or pretty views. Watch for herons fishing, deer moving along the forested shores, or families playing on the beach to brighten up your day. Canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and paddleboats are available for half- or full-hour renting, and if you go out against the current you can let it push you back to shore when you’re finished.

For more ideas, check out our Iowa State Parks and We Love Summer in Iowa boards on Pinterest.

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