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The wildlife and plant communities are interwoven with the human history of Ledges. Humans have appreciated this unique area for thousands of years. Archeological evidence found within the park dates to around 4,000 years ago. At the time of European settlement, the Ledges area was inhabited by the Sauk, Fox (now the Mesqwakie) and Sioux. Native American mounds in the vicinity contain artifacts acting as silent reminders of the area's past inhabitants.
The beauty of the canyons and bluffs of Ledges very quickly became a major attraction to the growing local communities. Ledges was proposed as a state park as early as 1914. The first park custodian, Carl Fritz Henning, was appointed in 1921. In 1924, the Ledges officially became one of Iowa's first state parks.
Park facilities constructed of native timber and field stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's are still standing today. These examples of fine craftsmanship include an arch stone bridge, shelter in Oak Woods, stone trail steps and the stone shelter in lower Ledges.
Ledges has a long history of being flooded by the nearby Des Moines River. The major flood water levels have been recorded on a "flood pole" located in the lower area of the park.
Picnic areas are located throughout the park. The Oak Woods picnic shelter and nearby restroom, located in the eastern area of the park, are fully accessible. Two open picnic shelters may be reserved online through the park reservation system.
Stone shelter in lower Ledges.
Ledges offers 95 campsites; 40 with electrical hookups (1 of which is fully accessible), 42 non-electric (1 of which is fully accessible), and 12 hike-in. Modern rest rooms, showers, a trailer dump station and a playground are located in the campground. Advance campsite reservations can be made online through the park reservation system. Half of the campsites are still available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Ledges, one of Iowa's most popular state parks, has attracted millions of visitors. Four miles of hiking trails lead up and down steep slopes to scenic overlooks and provide access to spectacular views of Pea's Creek "canyon". While most of the trails include steep portions, a fully accessible interpretive trail to Lost Lake is located at the southern part of the park.
An interpretive trail featuring lichens (small plant-like organisms growing on trees and rocks) is located in the picnic area between the east entrance and the Oak Woods shelter. Learn how to identify up to forty of these tiny, but interesting species by their differing sizes, shapes, and colors! Feel free to view or download our online slideshow of lichens found along the trail (*pdf,5MB). If you wish to visit the trail in person, bring a magnifying lens (5X to 10X power recommended) and a printed copy of the trail guide (*pdf). The trail starts at the old stone building across from the amphitheater by the entrance to the campground.
The Central State Park Bike Route is a 91 mile route which connects Ledges State Park, Big Creek State Park , and Springbrook State Park . It is relatively flat, with a few 'challenging' hills as you make your way across the valleys of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.
River Activities (boating, fishing)
The Des Moines River flows through the west edge of the park and offers fine stream fishing and canoeing opportunities.
The Hutton Memorial is located along a trail on the north side of the canyon. It honors Murray Lee Hutton, a strong conservationist and first director of the Iowa State Conservation Commission in 1935.
With its sandstone cliffs, native plant communities and deep wooded river valley, Ledges is a truly unique place. The winding road along Pea's Creek offers motorists breathtaking views of the "canyon" and the Des Moines River Valley.
The sandstone "Ledges" rise nearly 100 feet above the floor of the streambed. The sandstone was deposited 300 million years ago following the retreat of the shallow sea that covered much of the midwest. About 13,000 years ago, glacial meltwater began to cut down through the sandstone, forming the park's dramatic cliffs and valleys.
The present vegetation at Ledges is a mixture of prairies, woodlands and clearings. Dry south and west-facing slopes of oak and hickory combine with cool north and east-facing slopes of maple and basswood. This blend of northern and southern forest types provides spectacular autumn leaf colors.
The Friend's Group for Ledges State Park can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boone is located four miles north of the park. Ames is 15 miles east and Madrid is 11 mile south.
Don Williams County Park has a 160-acre lake and a nine hole public golf course. It is located five miles north of Ogden, which is 10 miles west of the park.
The Iowa Arboretum, Camp Mitigwa and the State 4-H Camp are located south of Ledges. The Camp Fire Girls and Boys Camp Hantesa is just north of the park.