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Iowa's natural resources plates include the state bird and flower, pheasant, eagle, buck and a Brook trout. Support conservation in Iowa by buying a natural resource plate for your vehicle.
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Experience Iowa's natural beauty and all the fun our state parks offer. Make your online reservation for state park cabins, camping sites, shelters and lodges.
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With 8,900 acres of forest nestled in Iowa’s Driftless region, Yellow River State Forest holds its fair share of hidden surprises. With so many different options, you’re sure to find your peace in this special place of rugged tranquility, says Park Ranger Rylan Retallick. Here are his top picks for the forest:
The park’s newest – and only – cabin once served as an office for wardens from the State prison in Anamosa. In the 1950s, inmates were instrumental in planting trees on forest grounds that were once farmed. Renovated and renamed the Firetower Cabin, this building now serves as a stylish camping cabin that makes a cozy home base for people discovering this vast forest. The cabin comes equipped with a fridge, microwave, toaster, coffee maker, fireplace, outside grill, and screened porch. For a full list of amenities, please visit the reservation website.
Under the stars
For the more adventurous, Yellow River boasts five back-country camp areas along a 20-mile hiking loop. Once voted the one of the top 10 backpacking trails in the Midwest, these sites are sure to take you away from the stresses of daily life. Each of the five areas has four separate sites that include a fire ring for a warming up and cooking during the cool fall night. Best of all, these sites are free and are operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
This surprise may not be quite as “hidden,” but Iowa’s only fire tower is an iconic part of Yellow River. Poking out above the skyline of the mature oak and hickory forest, the tower stands just about 10 stories tall and was a gift to Iowa from the federal forest service in 1963. It was built by the Aermotor Windmill Company in Chicago, which also built many iconic windmills on Iowa’s historic farmsteads. Though it is more of an icon for this area than a tool for fires, it is a towering marvel in the woods. Due to safety reasons, it is closed to the public.
It’s all about location, location, location. Be sure to visit all three of the bluff vistas that overlook the Paint Creek valley. The Larkin overlook offers great views of Paint Creek, with a breathtaking view of the fire tower. From the Paint Creek overlook, campers in the Big Paint campground look like toys, and the Cedar Point overlook gives you a bird’s eye view of eagles looking for trout below.
One of the last places to roam, the forest has four separate campgrounds with a total 135 sites. Of those, 34 accommodate equestrian riders (along with 20 miles of equestrian trails). The roomy sites welcome tents to RVs with plenty of space for all campers to enjoy a little piece of heaven. All sites are within walking distance of cold water streams and some allow you to hear the babbling rapids. Reservations are available on the Iowa DNR website.
Your wild diet
A trip to Yellow River isn’t complete without taking in its 10 miles of cold water streams that wind through the valley. Staying at a constant 50 degrees, these waters sustain natural reproduction of brown and brook trout. DNR Fisheries stocks these streams with brook and rainbow trout weekly from April through October. You must have a valid fishing license and trout stamp to fish these waters. The daily limit is 5 and the possession limit is 10. Go ahead and try your luck - if you succeed, grill your catch over a wood fire back at camp!
A newly designated trail system located in the Luster Heights unit boosts 2.5 miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking. The trail winds in and out of towering white pines and majestic oak forests. Be sure to visit the two overlooks that give you a great view of the Upper Mississippi River valley. The parking lot and trailhead is located at 481 Luster Heights Road.
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