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 15,000 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 N8th 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  3517 Acres
 Lucas Unit  1267 Acres
 Cedar Creek Unit  1937 Acres
 Chariton Unit  1503 Acres
 Thousand Acres Unit  2376 Acres
 Unionville Unit  2430 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. 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. These sites are primitive; there is no electricity, no modern restroom facilities, and no water available on site. There is a picnic table and fire ring at each campsite.  There is no fee for the pack-in sites and they are first-come, first-serve.   *** Please note that there will be timber management work completed in the Woodburn Unit in 2015 and 2016.  This includes harvests, post-harvest treatments, and timber stand improvement projects along and near the hiking trails.  The trails and campsites will remain open during this time, unless otherwise noted on the DNR closure webpage.  Thank you for your patience.***

The Whitebreast Unit has two lakes, three equestrian campgrounds, and one group-camp area. This unit also has 25 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 and will continue through 2012 while the water level returns to normal range.

The Lucas Unit has two small lakes 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 the rest of the year. An additional $3.00 per night is charged for equestrian sites. 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). Half 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, 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 assessable 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 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. Stephens State Forest was a base of operation for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's. The 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.

Origin of Forest Unit Names

The forest is named for Dr. T.C. Stephens, a native of Sioux City and a prominent educator 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. Portions of the forest have also been called the Grand River State Forest Preserve, probably after the Grand River Forest Purchase of the Forest Service; part of the original land was purchased to create a National Forest and instead the lands were sold to the state around 1964.

Some of the unit names can be assumed, as they are named after nearby towns (Lucas, Woodburn and Unionville units). The Whitebreast Unit takes its name from Whitebreast Creek, which flows along its north boundary. The Cedar Creek Unit is located near a stream with the same name, but as late as 1946 was called the Olmitz Unit after a coal mine and town that was near that area. There is no indication as to how the Chariton Unit was named; it had been referred to as the Brown-Herrick Unit as recently as the 1950's. The Thousand Acres Unit has always been known by that name locally.

Geology and Soils

All of Stephens State Forest is in the Southern Iowa Drift Plain landform region. The geology of this area has been influenced by the Nebraskan and Kansas glaciers which left deposits of glacial till on the land. Whenever cold weather checked the melting of the Wisconsin glacier farther north, southwesterly winds picked up materials and deposited it over southern Iowa in layers up to 100 inches thick. This fine material is called loess and is found on ridge tops overlaying the glacial till. On the sides of the hills, erosion has exposed glacially deposited materials. The relatively narrow valleys of the area are covered by alluvial material. In some areas, erosion has proceeded far enough into the valleys to expose glacial till or underlying sedimentary materials. Thus, the terrain at Stephens State Forest is largely characterized by narrow, flat ridges separated by deeply cut drainages.

The soil associations most commonly found at Stephens State Forest include: Lindley-Keswick-Weller, Gara-Pershing-Armstrong, and Nodaway-Zook-Lawson associations. Lindley-Keswick-Weller soils were formed under deciduous trees and are well suited for woodland uses. Gara-Pershing-Armstrong soils formed under a mixture of deciduous trees and native grasses; this association is suited for woodland uses, but is often used as pasture of cropland. Nodaway-Zook-Lawson soils were formed under tree-prairie transition zones or prairie; these soils are common in floodplains and are suited for woodland, pasture, or cropland. There are many other soils found on the forest, but these three associations represent the majority of soils. 


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 for reforestation or by state forest staff for 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.


1. Be careful with fire. Do not leave fire unattended. Fires are only permitted where fire rings are provided. Only dead and downed wood may be collected for firewood without a permit.

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