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Stephens State Forest
Stephens State Forest

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.

Camping Information:
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.

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 1930s by the Forest Service to create a national forest but instead the lands were sold to the state in the 1960s.

The flora of the region consists of the tallgrass prairie association, upland hardwood association, bottomland hardwood 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-venomous snakes are common but the two venomous 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.

Stephens Unit Information

Cedar Creek, Chariton and Thousand Acres Units
Map of Cedar Creek, Chariton, and Thousand Acre 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
Map of 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.

Lucas, Whitebreast, and Woodburn Units
Map of Lucas, Whitebreast, and Woodburn Unit
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.

The Lucas Unit has two small ponds and three campgrounds.  There are 5 miles of trails that can be utilized for hiking, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing. This unit is served by an all-weather road.

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 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. 

Contact Information

Stephens State Forest
1111 N 8th St.
Chariton, IA 50049


Cedar Creek 2,069 acres
Chariton 1,503 acres
Lucas 1,364 acres
Thousand Acres 2,376 acres
Unionville 2,642 acres
Whitebreast 3,502 acres
Woodburn 2,098 acres
Total 15,554 acres