Iowa's State Forests

State Forests

Iowa's state forest system consists of 4 major and 6 smaller units totaling 43,917 acres. The Forestry Bureau pursues an active land acquisition program with a goal of consolidating and expanding each of the major units. 

State Forests are managed for multiple benefits. The primary emphasis is on demonstrating good woodland management and providing forest products, wildlife habitat and a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. 

Lumber and firewood are sold to the public at some state forests. Contact the area forester at your nearest state forest for more information. 

State Forests Brochure

Iowa's Major State Forests:

Yellow River State Forest

Yellow River State Forest is 8,503 acres in size and located in Allamakee County in northeast Iowa. A Department of Corrections facility with a capacity of 80 inmates is located on the Luster Heights Unit of the forest. Inmates from the camp work on the forest and on other projects in surrounding communities. Each year, 150,000 board feet of lumber from the forest is processed through the DNR sawmill for use by DNR and other state agencies.

Shimek State Forest

Shimek State Forest is 9,148 acres in size. It is located in Lee and Van Buren Counties in Southeast Iowa. Shimek State Forest is one of the largest remaining single pieces of contiguous forest in Iowa. Its large unbroken tracts of oak-hickory forest mixed with nearly 1,000 acres of planted pine stands make Shimek a truly unique natural resource. 

Stephens State Forest

Stephens State Forest is 15,554 acres in size and covers the largest geographical area of any state forest. The forest is spread out between five counties: Lucas, Clarke, Monroe, Appanoose and Davis. Stephens State Forest offers a diversity of habitats and recreational opportunities. 

Loess Hills State Forest

Loess Hills State Forest is 10,600 acres in size. It is located in Monona and Harrison Counties in west central Iowa. It is the newest state forest. The first land was acquired in 1986. Acquisition plans for the forest will include 20,000 acres. This state forest offers a unique mixture of forests, savannas, and prairies on the steep and fragile Loess soils above the Missouri River.

Minor State Forests:

There are six smaller state forests ranging in size from 34 to 314 acres. These are Backbone State Forest in Delaware County, White Pine Hollow State Forest in Dubuque County, Holst, Barkely, and Pilot Mound State Forests all in Boone County, and Gifford State Forest in Pottawattamie County.

Gifford State Forest

The Gifford State Forest is a 40 acre timber located in Section 21 of Lewis township in Pottawattamie County. Since the area is within the Council Bluffs city limits, it is closed to hunting. The area is easily accessible by a gravel road along its east side.

The area was donated to the state by Dr. Gifford in 1944 as a blue heron rookery. Later the property was transferred to the Forestry Bureau after biologists determined that, because of changes in surrounding land use, herons no longer used the area.

Cottonwood is the primary tree species found on the area. American Elm, Green Ash, Silver Maple, Boxelder, Mulberry, European Black Alder and Honey Locust also grow there.

The area is an excellent wildlife refuge because it is the only forested area in the immediate vicinity.

 Contact Information 

Loess Hills State Forest, Box 158 

Pisgah, Iowa 51564 


or e-mail:

Backbone State Forest

Backbone State Forest is adjacent to the northeast corner of Backbone State Park, 4 miles south of Strawberry Point. Access to these 186 acres of pine plantations and upland hardwood forest is from a parking lot located just east of the north entrance to Backbone State Park. This parking lot is a convenient place to unload horses or snowmobiles. Although the area is not open to snowmobiling in Backbone State Forest, sleds may be unloaded in the parking lot and ridden the short distance to the park entrance on the road or in the road ditch. Backbone State Park is open to snowmobiling.

Backbone State Forest is open to hunting, hiking, horseback riding and cross country skiing.

Backbone State Forest was acquired for the purpose of protecting the watershed of the lake at Backbone State Park. Most of the land being farmed at the time of acquisition was planted to Red, White, Jack, and Scotch pine. The extensive trail system rose out of a system of fire breaks that were developed to protect these plantings.

Users should be aware that hunting and horseback riding are legal on Backbone State Forest but not on Backbone State Park. We have made every effort to plainly mark boundaries between the two areas.

Contact information:
Yellow River State Forest

729 State Forest Road
Harpers Ferry, IA 52146
or e-mail:

White Pine Hollow State Forest

White Pine Hollow is located in northwest Dubuque County, just northwest of the town of Luxemburg. This 944 acre area consists of a 712 acre state preserve, dedicated in 1968 and 232 acres of state forest. The area was given preserve status to protect one of Iowa's oldest and largest natural stands of White Pine. In 1972 the National Park Service designated the area a National Natural Landmark.

While it is understood that the unique white pine forest needs protection, it is also clear that it cannot sustain itself without intervention. In several places within the preserve the white pine has succumbed to natural forces and has been replaced by later successional species such as sugar maple. Some attempts at pine regeneration were made, but without severe site disturbance the pine component will eventually disappear. 

The 232 acres not included in the preserve are a mixture of open land and oak-hickory forest. This portion is managed for timber and wildlife. 

Two federally listed threatened or endangered animals, the Indiana bat and the Pleistocene snail have been recorded on the area. The area is home to several species of deep woods migratory birds and wildlife normally found in northeast Iowa. The area is open to hunting and provides good turkey and deer hunting.

The endangered northern wild monkshood is known to occur on the area, as well as a number of other rare plants including mermaid weed, golden saxifrage, highbush cranberry, nodding onion, and spotted coral root. Recently garlic mustard, an invasive woodland species, has been found on the preserve. Collection of plants and mushrooms is prohibited within the preserve.

Numerous deep sinks and caverns occur in the limestone bedrock on the area. Springs welling out of the bluffs contribute to the cold water stream that runs through the area. Many limestone outcrops, the result of erosion over thousands of years, have created the rock city in the northern part of the preserve. Several algid slopes occur on the area adding to the area's unique natural value. A number of caves in the limestone outcrops provide sites for several species of bats to hibernate.

White Pine Hollow is accessed by a road from the east and a road from the south. Small parking areas are provide at the end of each road and next to the county road on the east. The area offers hiking and hunting. Equestrians, ATV's and off road vehicles are prohibited.

Contact Information:  

Yellow River State Forest
729 State Forest Road
Harpers Ferry, IA. 52146
or e-mail:


The Iowa DNR Bureau of Forestry is seeking volunteer help to maintain over 50 miles of equestrian trails on three of our largest state forests; Shimek, Stephens and Yellow River.  Maintaining equestrian trails is extremely labor intensive and expensive.  Your help is needed to reduce erosion and wash-outs, maintain proper signage, and to keep trails free of downed trees and debris.

There are several ways volunteers can help ensure that trails are safe and usable for an enjoyable riding experience.  Volunteers can donate time, materials and money to help with trail maintenance and needed repairs.

To volunteer your time, contact the area forester for the state forest you wish to help.  Each state forest has staff prepared to coordinate volunteer work.  There are numerous opportunities for groups or individuals to volunteer their time. You can also donate materials for a specific trail project.  You can donate rock or other trail building materials and arrange delivery to a designated site where it will be used by trail staff and volunteers.

To donate money for trail maintenance, please  complete the donation form.  
Once you have completed the form, print and mail it along with a check in the amount of your gift to:

Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Attn:  Cashier’s Office
Wallace State Office Building
Des Moines, IA 50319-0034

Monetary gifts will be used for larger projects such as culverts, rock and other materials needed for trail repairs and improvements.

The future of Iowa’s equestrian trails will depend on volunteers to help with care and maintenance so people can continue to enjoy our beautiful forest resources.  For more information about how you can help, contact:

State Forests Section Chief, Jeff Goerndt

Special Event Permits:

The Iowa DNR is required to authorize a club or individual to hold an organized special event (an organized event, race, exhibition, or demonstration of limited duration which is conducted according to a prearranged schedule and in which general public interest is manifested) within the state if the event is scheduled to be held on public land, ice or water.

At least 30 days before the scheduled date of a special event, an application must be filed with the DNR using the Special Events web-based application found at

For more information, contact your local State Forest office, or the State Forests Special Events Program Manager ( or call 515-725-8452.