As some of Iowa’s most remote and peaceful areas, state forests are different from parks because their primary goal is management of woodland resources. Forests can be overlooked recreation destinations because of their rustic amenities, but nature lovers who visit will find countless opportunities for outdoor fun. Iowa forests offer hundreds of miles of hiking trails, bird watching, fishing, hunting and even primitive camping.
Here are five facts you might not know about Iowa’s state forests:
1. The combined acreage of Iowa’s four major forests is equal in size to the city of Council Bluffs.
And while that might not seem that big, they are also Iowa’s largest type of public land areas.
Iowa’s four major state forests include:
Stephens State Forest (15,554 acres) in south-central Iowa,
Loess Hills State Forest (10,600 acres), in west-central Iowa,
Shimek State Forest (9,148 acres) in southeast Iowa, and
Yellow River State Forest (8,950 acres) in northeast Iowa.
2. Iowa’s “newest” state forest is a throw-back to pre-European settlement times.
Loess Hills State Forest, created in 1986, gives visitors a taste of the prairie before European settlement. Backpacking along miles of rugged trails in this forest is popular between May and September, providing glimpses of the vibrant wildflowers that used to fill the prairies in the unique Loess Hills region.
3. Shimek State Forest includes the site of the northernmost battlefield of the Civil War.
It’s also one of Iowa’s largest contiguous forests, named after early conservationist Dr. Bohumil Shimek. Thousands of forest acres were planted here by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and 1940s to correct overgrazed land. Today Shimek is loved for its expansive areas great for any outdoor activity, including hunting and fishing, camping and picnicking, or simply getting outside and enjoying nature.
4. Stephens State Forest is home to at least 59 different tree species.
Stephens State Forest, also showcasing CCC forestry work from the 1930s, is Iowa’s largest forest. Stephens is home to many experimental and research-related plantings of diverse and unique species like tulip poplar, bald cypress, ponderosa pine and many more. This forest is a great choice for a hike with 31 miles of trails, especially in the spring when ephemeral wildflowers bloom. Other amenities include four ponds, public hunting and pack-in campsites.
5. Yellow River State Forest has been named “Best Hike in Iowa.”
“Outside” magazine named the Backpack Trail at Yellow River State Forest the best hike in Iowa as part of their “America’s Top 50 Hikes – The Finest in Every State” article. Along with the Backpack Trail, all of the trails in Yellow River are open year-round and range from relatively easy hikes to moderate. You can also see Iowa’s only firetower in this forest. Yellow River State Forest is perfect for anyone looking for a true backpacking experience or taking a great hike!
For more information about Iowa’s state forests, visit https://www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Forests.