Stephens State Forest

Stephens State Forest

Stephens State Forest Brochure 

Stephens State Forest is located in south-central Iowa and is divided into seven unit totaling over 15,500 acres. The forest is dispersed over five counties: Lucas, Clarke, Monroe, Appanoose, and Davis. Stephens State Forest is administered by the Iowa DNR - Bureau of Forestry.  The forest headquarters is located at:

1111 N 8th St
Chariton, IA 50049
or e-mail:


Stephens State Forest is managed in accordance with the Iowa DNR's and the Bureau of Forestry's missions, visions, and goals for several benefits including, wildlife habitat; production of wood products; water quality; recreation; demonstration and research; and protection of rare ecosystems, plants, and animals. Specific management goals and objectives can be obtained by assessing the Stephens State Forest Management Plan. 

Stephens State Forest Management Plan

Stephens State Forest is divided into seven management units, each offering unique amenities. The units and their corresponding acreages are as follows:

 Woodburn Unit  2098 Acres
 Whitebreast Unit  3502 Acres
 Lucas Unit  1364 Acres
 Cedar Creek Unit  2069 Acres
 Chariton Unit  1503 Acres
 Thousand Acres Unit  2376 Acres
 Unionville Unit  2642 Acres

Lucas, Whitebreast, and Woodburn Units

These units are contiguous and are located southwest of the town of Lucas, Iowa. Most of the recreational development on Stephens State Forest has taken place on these units. Recreational activities include fishing, picnicking, camping, hunting, hiking, equestrian riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and wildlife watching.

Fallen TimberThe Woodburn Unit has over six miles of backpacking trails and five pack-in (backcountry) campsites. These sites are primitive and do not have modern restroom facilities or electricity. There is a picnic table and fire ring at each campsite and a water hydrant available at the trailhead.  There is no fee for these pack-in sites and they are first-come, first-serve. This unit has an all-weather road along its west side and through the middle of the unit. Parking and trail head for the backpack trail system is on 330th Avenue in Clarke County. 

The Whitebreast Unit has two stocked ponds, three equestrian campgrounds, and one group-camp area. This unit also has 20 miles of multi-use trails that can be utilized for hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, and equestrian riding.  This unit is served by an all-weather road. The North Pond has recently completed improvements including an access road, parking area, aquatic habitat, and sediment basin.  Stocking began in fall of 2011.

The Lucas Unit has two small ponds and three campgrounds.  There are 10 miles of trails that can be utilized for hiking, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing. This unit is served by an all-weather road.

Camping fees are $9.00 per night during peak season (May 1 - September 30) and $6.00 per night during the off season (October 1 - April 30). An additional $3.00 per night is charged for equestrian sites year round. All camping at Stephens State Forest is considered non-modern, with no electric sites or modern restroom facilities. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through the Parks Reservation System online or by calling 1-877-IAPARKS (1-877-427-2757). One third of the campsites are available for self registration on a first-come, first-serve basis. See maps for campground and trail locations.

Cedar Creek, Chariton and Thousand Acres Unit

These units do not have any developed recreational facilities such as picnic areas, campgrounds, or designated trails. They are less well served by all-weather roads; however, there are many dirt roads and access lanes. These units are well suited to hunting, backcounty hiking, and wildlife watching.

The Cedar Creek Unit is four miles east and one mile south of the town of Williamson. This unit is bisected by an all-weather road.

The Chariton Unit is six miles east of the town of Williamson. An all-weather road runs along its east side.

The Thousand Acres Unit is northeast of and contiguous with the Chariton Unit. The all-weather county line road serves as the boundary between the Thousand Acres Unit and the Chariton Unit and the east side of the Thousand Acres Unit is accessible by graveled roads.

Unionville Unit

The Unionville Unit is comprised of eleven separate compartments in northeast Appanoose County and northwest Davis County. There are no developed recreational facilities such as picnic areas, campgrounds, or trails although there are dirt roads and service lanes. Several tracts are served by all-weather roads. The Unionville Unit provides good backcounty hiking, hunting, and wildlife watching opportunities.


The forest's original and most important function is to serve as an example of forest management for Iowa's citizens. In the late 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established hardwood and conifer plantings throughout the forest and many of these plantings can still be viewed today. During the 1950's recreational demand began to grow and multiple-use management became a priority. The first forest inventory and timber sales were conducted on the forest in the 1970's. Today Stephens State Forest continues to offer multiple resources such as forest products, wildlife, and recreational opportunities. Ongoing cultural practices improve the forest ecosystem for wildlife habitat, forest products, erosion control, and watershed protection.

The forest was named for Dr. T.C. Stephens, a prominent educator, ornithologist, and conservationist. The forest area was named and dedicated to Dr. Stephens in 1951. Prior to that time the area was loosely referred to as the Lucas-Monroe Forest Area. Much of the original land was purchased in the 1930's  by the Forest Service to create a national forest but instead the lands were sold to the state in the 1960's.


The flora of the region consists of the tallgrass prairie association, upland hardwood association, bottomland hardwoodBlue Stem association, and their transition zones. Since the forest area is located mainly on soils which formed under forest vegetation, plants of the prairie are not common. However, big bluestem, switch grass, Indian grass, prairie cordgrass, purple coneflower, round headed bush clover, lead plant, mountain mint, and various other native grasses and forbs do occur in open, non-forest areas. These non-forest areas are also managed in accordance with the Stephens State Forest Management Plan.

On the more productive upland sites, white oak, red oak, and hickory are common. The less fertile sites contain more black oak, bur oak, shingle oak, and hickory. The bottomland timber type includes red and white elm, cottonwood, hackberry, ash, silver maple, and black walnut.

Many areas around the forest had been planted to coniferous trees and non-native hardwoods. Many of these plantings were completed by the CCC in the early days of the forest or, more recently, by state forest staff for reforestation, research and demonstration. These plantings include a variety of pines, spruce, black locust, tulip poplar, and many others.


The forest is home to whitetail deer, gray and fox squirrels, raccoon, cottontail rabbits, woodchuck, muskrat, skunk, red and gray fox, coyote, beaver, opossum, and many other small animals.

Non-poisonous snakes are common but the two poisonous snakes, rattlesnake and copperhead, are very rare.

Numerous songbirds utilize the diverse habitat. Game birds include pheasant, quail, and wild turkey. The woodcock is a seasonal visitor to the forest. Stephens State Forest was designated as a Bird Conservation Area (BCA) in 2008 and the Thousand Acres BCA was dedicated in 2014.


1. Be careful with fire. Do not leave fire unattended. Fires are only permitted where fire rings are provided. Dead and downed wood may be collected for firewood.

2. Motor vehicle operation is permitted only on roads. ATV's are not permitted anywhere on the forest, trails or roads. Snowmobiles are only allowed on designated routes.

3. Equestrian riding is only allowed on designated trails, roads and campgrounds. Mountain bikes are allowed on equestrian trails.

4. There are no designated swimming areas.

5. Camping is allowed only in designated areas; there is no overflow camping allowed.

6. State regulations require horses, mules and donkeys being transported interstate (from one state to another) must have a current Certification of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) and a negative Coggin's test (EIA). This paperwork must accompany the animal into the State of Iowa. Please refer to the Iowa Horse Admission Regulations  for more information. This law applies to equestrian camping, day-use and trail riding in any State owned Park or Forest.

Road / Boundary Maps

Trail Maps
Aerial Photo Maps
Topographic Maps

Bird Conservation Area Brochures / Bird Checklists