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Try these 5 water trails this spring and summer

  • 5/29/2018 2:55:00 PM
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If you’re looking to blaze a new trail through Iowa, consider hitting the water for something different. Iowa boasts a number of water trails, which offer a unique perspective on the state.

Water trails, or designated routes on rivers and lakes, can provide access to campsites, shelters, restrooms and more. Whether they are used for relaxation, health and fitness, education or just for spending time with family, water trails provide in-state destinations for recreational river users that can even help boost local economies.

If you’re just getting started, consider taking a free online paddle safety boating course and look to a local outfitter to rent a canoe or kayak. Many outfitters also provide a shuttle service.

Maps are available for all of Iowa’s water trails, but consider these for a great getaway:

Hit the water with these 5 recommendations from DNR water trails staff! | Iowa DNRMaquoketa River Water Trail – Delaware County

We’re celebrating the addition of the Maquoketa River in Delaware County as a state designated water trail with a special celebration on June 16, 2018. The Maquoketa River Water Trail provides multi-faceted experiences, showcasing limestone cliffs, mature oak forests, shallow impoundments, lowland forests and diverse wildlife. Some stretches provide a quiet, prehistoric feel among ancient rocks and forests. The presence of people is more obvious in other places – where cropland and towns encroach on the riverbanks, and where citizens come together to clean the river and promote its use. People can slowly float, fish, enjoy a trip through a whitewater park, and explore Iowa’s oldest state park.
Downloadable water trail map

Boone River Water Trail – Hamilton County

The Boone is a wild, intimate river flowing through a narrow, wooded corridor. Wildlife abounds in the woods and waters. History also comes to life. The rapid and steep fall of the river made it ideal for placement of sawmills and gristmills during the 19th century. While only their names remain, historical sites along the route help today’s paddlers learn about this rich history. The most recent period of glaciation in Iowa brought with it huge boulders and smaller rocks from the north. Rocks and boulders are the basis for riffles and obstacles in the water that may challenge paddlers, especially when water levels are low. These riffles and rapids coupled with the steep gradient require good river reading skills in order to smoothly navigate this scenic river. This stream is one of only five protected water areas; it was chosen for its outstanding cultural and natural resources.
Downloadable water trail map

Lower Des Moines River Water Trail – Van Buren County

The Lower Des Moines River flows through lowland forests and along some of southeast Iowa’s interesting historic towns and structures. You may feel like you are moving through time while viewing ancient geology and archaeology evident in the layers of rock outcrops. Large sycamore and cottonwood trees of the lush forest add to the atmosphere of timelessness. Fish and explore from a boat, or get out on sandbars and adjacent public lands. Among the great recreational resources is Lacey- Keosauqua State Park – Iowa’s second oldest state park. The park offers great opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing along the river, and has its own rich history. Most of the stretches along this water trail are beginner friendly. This is the perfect water trail for planning an entire weekend of fun and adventure: explore the small villages within the vicinity, check out the shops, museums and historic points of interest. There is something here for everyone, whether it’s paddling, cycling, horseback riding, or just relaxing along the river.  
Downloadable water trail map

Hit the water with these 5 recommendations from DNR water trails staff! | Iowa DNRWapsipinicon Water Trail – Clinton and Scott Counties

The “Wapsi” meanders and frequently changes its mind as it braids its way through limestone cliffs and lowlands on its route to the Mississippi River. The Wapsipinicon’s meanderings create a number of alternative channels, some of which end in shallow dead ends. Paddlers and other boaters should follow the strongest current when water levels are low. However, as you near the Mississippi River, this combination of oxbows, backwaters, islands and forests form a mosaic of habitats that are a boon for both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. As you might expect, this mosaic of habitats offers paddlers great opportunities for wildlife viewing.  Clinton County Conservation has identified routes through backwater areas that offer primitive, wilderness experiences. Rock Creek loop is more beginner-friendly, while Lost Lake Loop is much more physically demanding.
Downloadable water trail map

North Raccoon River Water Trail – Sac, Calhoun and Carroll Counties

The North Raccoon is a ribbon of habitat in a sea of agriculture. Through Sac, Calhoun and Carroll counties, the North Raccoon stands apart from the broader landscape of intense agriculture, while at the same time taking on the character provided by land practices of private landowners. The corridor varies from broad pasture and savannah grasslands to narrower forested buffers with nearby cropland. In some places, eroding riverbanks rise 50 feet above the river – a testament to the volume of water being shed from the landscape. Wildlife is abundant, and varies greatly with changes in vegetation. The paddle is a bit challenging – with longer river stretches and occasional rock dams, riffles, and logjams to navigate, but the journey is worthwhile.
Downloadable water trail map

Hit the water with these 5 recommendations from DNR water trails staff! | Iowa DNR