As cozy as it is sitting inside and watching the snow fall, getting outdoors can be even more fun. Here are a few Iowa state parks that make bundling up worth it for the memories made, whether it's in your hiking boots or snowshoes, or maybe on skis or a snowmobile!
Prairie Rose State Park
Take your pick of snow shoeing, hiking or cross-country skiing 7 miles of trails through the rolling hills of western Iowa at Prairie Rose State Park - snow permitting. Trails will take visitors to views of the lake, beautiful even when frozen, and more hidden areas that showcase white pine tree stands and native prairie. If you have one, you can also jump on a snowmobile to travel through the park along paths and over bridges. Contact park staff for information on interpretive programs along the trails throughout winter including snow shoeing, stargazing, and night hikes to hear nocturnal wildlife - all free.
Ledges State Park
See Ledges without any obstruction during the winter months, when snow and ice cover the stones and the trees are bare. Gear up in snow shoes, skis or boots on any of the park’s 4.5 miles of trails or along snow-packed Canyon Drive to enjoy a winter wonderland. For visitors wary of the steep trails during winter, a looped and flatter trail to Lost Lake is available at the southern end of the park.
Stephens State Forest
Break out the snowmobiles when heading to Stephens State Forest. Designated trails that are part of 30 miles of roads and paths are open to snowmobiles (particularly in the Lucas Unit). Those who would rather travel on foot can put on their boots, snowshoes or skis and head out across seven units of forest totalling more than 15,500 acres in five counties and peek through the trees to watch for wildlife. Several ponds also provide opportunities for ice fishing. Visitors should make a plan before venturing out, as some trails are more rugged than others.
Backbone State Park
Winter outdoor enthusiasts, look no further than Backbone. Twenty-one miles of trails offer opportunities to snowshoe or cross-country ski - especially through the 7 miles of winding paths in Backbone State Forest, where there is less traffic from hikers and no snowmobiles allowed. Families can bring their kids to sled at Beach Lodge down the hill, across the beach and onto the ice, providing the ice is thick enough. A few trails for brave winter wanderers include the Bluebird Trail, a flat, easy hike through some upland timber, and the East and West Lake Trails, which are steeper but offer outstanding views of the lake and the rock formations that make Backbone remarkable.
Cedar Rock State Park
Cedar Rock has a series of grass back trails for hikers, snowshoers and brave cross-country skiers willing to traverse ungroomed paths. Visitors can access trails at any time from the Cedar Rock Wildlife Management Area parking lot and make their way to view the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Walter estate overlooking the Wapsipinicon River. Put the house in your notes to come back to - it’s closed for tours during the winter, but still a unique must-see.
Pilot Knob State Park
Visit a piece of history at Pilot Knob State Park, one of the earliest parks in Iowa’s park system. Dedicated in 1924, Pilot Knob features sweeping views and one-of-a-kind ecological areas. Its observation tower serves as the park’s centerpiece and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In winter, the views are unobstructed. Back on the ground, Pilot Knob features a variety of trails fit for snowmobiling, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. On the east bound half of the through road, visitors might even see dog sledders. If the cold gets through warm layers, a warming house with heat and electricity is available to reserve.
Not enough parks? Check out 5 more of Iowa's best winter hikes!
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