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Yellow River State Forest
(POSTED 11/30/2020) Effective, December 2, 2020, the equestrian trails will be closed for equestrian use until spring 2021. The drinking water is still turned on. The cabin is closed until April 1, 2021. You can make cabin reservations one year in advance. Please check this website for updates periodically. If you have any questions or if you want to check on the status of equestrian trails please call the office at (563) 586-2254.

Yellow River State Forest

Yellow River State Forest
729 State Forest Road
Harpers Ferry, IA 52146

Campground Information:


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For more information visit the Yellow River State Forest page.

Trail maps

Paint Creek

Luster Heights Unit

Facilities and Activities
Yellow River State Forest offers numerous outdoor recreation opportunities. Visitors can enjoy picnicking, fishing, hunting, camping, equestrian trails, and hiking to name a few. Named the state's first Globally Important Bird Area, this 8,900 acre forest is nestled amongst the drift less area of Iowa in Allamakee County.  The Friend's Group at Yellow River State Forest may be contacted at www.facebook.com/FriendsofYellowRiverStateForest/

The Paint Creek Unit of Yellow River State Forest contains four different camping areas that are all connected to the 45 miles of trails that dissect this vast forest. The four camping areas include Little Paint campground, Big Paint campground, Creekside equestrian campground, and Frontier equestrian campground. There are several campsites at this campground, including equestrian sites. Three fourths of these sites can be reserved ahead of time through the park reservation system. All of the sites are non-modern with vault restrooms located throughout the campgrounds. There is drinking water available for all of your camping needs. If you are looking to get away from it all, these campgrounds offer serene beauty and tranquility.

The Paint Creek Unit also provides four backing sites located along the famous "backpacking trail". Each site is able to accommodate multiple campers, however, there are no restroom facilities available. If you plan on staying overnight during your backpacking trip you must sign in at the forest headquarters prior to your departure. These campsites are free of charge and offer you the feel of complete solidarity.

One camping cabin is available to rent from April 15th through October 31st of each year.  There is a minimum stay requirement of 2 nights for this cabin.  This rustic cabin has electricity, microwave, a full sized refrigerator, and two porches, where one of them is screened in. Visitors must provide their own bedding, towels, cooking utensils and other essential items. The cabin is located near the back pack registration parking lot and the forestry office.  There are no modern showers or restrooms available at Yellow River State Forest. This cabin can be reserved online through the park reservation system.

Yellow River State Forest is where most people from the Midwest come to "get ready" for a hiking trip out west. There are a total of 45 miles of trails that range in difficulty from relatively easy to moderate. These trails include hiking trails and multipurpose trails that are available for equestrian and mountain biking. On all of these trails hikers can explore scenic overlooks, mature timber, rare bird species, trout streams and many other natural wonders.

Hunting                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In all, Yellow River State Forest offers 8,900 acres of public hunting. Hunting is not allowed in or around the established camping areas. The forest presents opportunities for hunters to harvest whitetail deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl, and upland game birds. Make sure you are up-to-date with all the rules and regulations for Iowa if you plan to use this resource for your next hunting adventure.

Fishing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          There are two different trout streams inside Yellow River State Forest. Little Paint stream and Paint stream support 7 miles of trout fishing for both the beginner and experienced trout fisherman. They carefully wind through the rugged rock outcrops, steep forested valleys, and campgrounds before they spill into the Mississippi River. Though the streams are stocked, there are naturally producing brown trout that call these streams home. You must purchase a trout stamp to fish in all of Iowa's trout streams. Please read all regulations before casting a line.

Nearby Recreation Sites                                                                                                                                                                                                              Allamakee County is one of the most picturesque counties in Iowa. It offers a wide variety of historical and recreational opportunities, including trout fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, events, and boating. Effigy Mounds National Monument is located 7 miles south on Hwy 76. Pikes Peak State Park is located 17 miles on Hwy 76. Numerous canoe access areas are located on the Yellow River and Upper Iowa River; most of these are managed by the Allamakee County Conservation Board. There are also numerous sites available for public fishing on the Mississippi River within 10 miles of the forest.

In 1935 Yellow River State Forest acquired the first lands for the park and were part of the present day Effigy Mounds National Monument. Throughout the years, and most recently last year, multiple land purchases have developed the unique ecosystem of present day Yellow River State Forest. Throughout the years, most of the land purchased was farmland and pasture. Early management and present day management was a priority to re-establish these lands into forest through tree planting and conservation practices. The forest is kept "healthy" through timber harvest, prescribed burns, and other conservation practices. Early timber harvests provided materials for the Civilian Conservation Corp (C.C.C.) and were used in construction on state parks and other state areas. In 1947, a sawmill was moved from the area of Pikes Peak State Park to the forest where it remains and operates today. All of the trees that are processed at this mill provide lumber for projects in the forest as well as other state areas. Rough cut lumber that is air dried is available for purchase by the public. In the 1950's and 1960's the campgrounds were developed to encourage recreation. In 1963 Iowa's only fire tower was erected in Yellow River State Forest. Though the tower is now closed to the public it still stands, and is a very unique landmark to northeast Iowa.



Nearby Lakes

Yellow River Pond
Waukon Junction Marsh
Paint Creek
Off Slough
Japan Slough
Mud Hen Lake
Taylor Lake
Founders Pond
Yellow River
Yellow River
Martelle Lake
Joyce Lake
Butler Lake
Rittenhouse Lake
Oil Spring Creek
Gimmel Lake
Harper's Slough
Saint Paul Slough
Wexford Creek


Within park
Bird Watching, Camping - Equestrian, Camping - Nonelectric, Camping - Walk-to/Hike-in, Camping - Youth Group, Cross Country Skiing, Fishing, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Hunting, Jogging/Running, Laundry, Mountain Biking, Non-modern Campground, Picnic Area, Restrooms, River, Scenic Driving Routes, Snowmobiling, Stream/Creek, Trails, Cross County Skiing, Trails, Equestrian, Trails, Hiking, Trails, Snowmobile, Water Hydrants , Wildflower Viewing, Wildlife Viewing

Less than a mile
More than a mile
Antiquing, Art & Museum, ATM/Cash Machine, Boat Launch Ramp, Boating, Cabins, Canoe Rental, Church, Dining, Dock, Boat, Fuel, Boats, Fuel, Vehicles, Grocery Store, Hospital, Marina, Playground, Retail, Snacks, Seasonal Festivals, Town, Winery Tours