If you’re looking for a way to mark the unofficial end to summer or just want to try something new instead of the old barbecue routine, try one of these 15 great Iowa outdoor activities this coming Labor Day weekend:
1. When in doubt, try trout.
Explore the cool waters of northeast Iowa’s picturesque trout country for a quiet weekend retreat. Try one of our 50 catchable rainbow and brook trout fisheries, or one of the six streams that offer the chance to catch wild, naturally-sustaining brown or brook trout. Stop by one of our three trout hatcheries at Manchester, Decorah or Big Springs.
2. Be a happy camper.
Many Iowa campers consider Labor Day weekend the last hurrah before packing up for the fall, so join the celebration. Most reservable sites will be booked, so head out early in the week to claim a walk-up site. If you can’t set up at the campground, try setting up the tent for a backyard campout. Or take a stroll through a nearby campground to scout out the best sites for camping this fall.
3. Explore a water trail.
If you don’t have your own, stop by one of Iowa’s many outfitters to rent a canoe or kayak and get out on the water. Plan your trip around an Iowa water trail, which provide access points, and in some cases, amenities like campsites, shelters and restrooms. Watch for wildlife in the water and along the banks and soak in the views. Be sure to grab a Keep it Clean, Keep it Fun litter bag to leave the place better than you found it.
4. Hunt on.
Rabbit and squirrel seasons open Aug. 30, followed by mourning dove on Sept. 1. Start a new family tradition by heading out on opening day. If you’re looking for land to hunt, try our interactive Hunting Atlas, which shows public land as well as private land enrolled in the Iowa Habitat and Access Program. Through IHAP, Iowa landowners receive help establishing habitat and in turn, open their land to public hunting.
5. Step back into Iowa fishing history.
Join us at the Guttenberg Fish Hatchery and Aquarium as we celebrate its 75th anniversary this year. Check out the always-interesting aquarium fish, as well as a nine-foot-long timeline of conservation and a new mural at the aquarium entrance.
6. Find some (un)buried treasure.
Embark on your own treasure hunt right inside an Iowa state park. In geocaching, a container is hidden from view, and then you use a global positioning system (GPS) device or GPS smartphone app to locate the “treasure.” You then take a small item from the cache and replace it with a new item, signing the logbook inside. Visit www.geocaching.com for information on finding cache coordinates. Keep in mind that placing a geocache on DNR-managed property requires an approved permit from DNR staff.
7. Get a hole-in-one.
Spice up your game of Frisbee or ditch the clubs for a round of disc golf instead this weekend. A number of state and county parks and federal recreation areas offer disc golf courses – search for them with our interactive Healthy & Happy Outdoors map.
8. Learn a little something.
Many state parks offer interpretive programs on local fish, wildlife and plants during summer weekends, so swing by and learn something new about nature in Iowa. Programs vary by park, so please call ahead to see if your local park offers any programs.
9. Put your eyes to the sky.
Embark on one of Iowa’s birding trails and see how many Iowa birds you can spot. The Siouxland Trail traverses western Iowa’s Loess Hills, the Great River Birding Trail follows the Mississippi River, and the Makoke Trail covers eight central Iowa counties. Make sure to grab a bird guide before you go.
10. Mingle with some monarchs.
Monarch butterflies begin preparing for their annual migration to Mexico around the beginning of September, so look to prairies and trees for large groups of the insect. Most monarch tagging events take place later in September, but this is a good time to start watching for the butterflies and educating ourselves on the important pollinators’ steep decline in recent years. Put together a plan for a butterfly garden to plant later this fall or next spring to help butterflies thrive. Learn more from the Plant. Grow. Fly program, a partnership between the Blank Park Zoo, Iowa DNR and a number of other groups.
11. Catch some waves.
You don’t have to head out west to tackle a whitewater course. Grab the kayak or a tube and head to Charles City Whitewater at Riverfront Park, the Elkader Whitewater Park or one of the other whitewater attractions popping up on rivers across the state.
12. Relax at the resort.
Make the trip down to Honey Creek Resort State Park near Centerville, and enjoy the best of Rathbun Lake while retreating to a comfy lodge room or cottage at night. Rent a boat and explore the lake, play a round at the 18-hole championship links style golf course, jump in with the kids at the waterpark, take in a nature program, rent a bike or sit down for a delicious meal at Rathbun Lakeshore Grille.
13. Saddle up.
If you enjoy horseback riding, bring your horse with you and explore one of our nine state parks with equestrian trails and campgrounds. Weather can affect trail conditions, so always call ahead first to make sure trails are open.
14. Eat al fresco.
If you can’t make it through the holiday weekend without firing up the grill, consider moving the barbeque to the park for a picnic instead. When the meal is done, take a hike on one of our parks’ many beautiful trails to work off those hot dogs and burgers.
15. Take a river cruise.
Whether it’s along one of our grand border rivers or an interior stream, a number of river cruises are available across the state. Sit back, relax, feel the wind in your hair and soak up the sights, watching for birds and wildlife. Read about one steamboat excursion in a piece from Iowa Outdoors magazine.
Looking for more ideas? Check out our Take it Outside and We Love Summer in Iowa boards on Pinterest.