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Shimek State Forest

Shimek State Forest is located in Lee and Van Buren counties in southeast Iowa. The forest served as a base for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and 1940s, where they planted thousands of acres of hardwoods and conifers for demonstration purposes. Named after early Iowa conservationist Dr. Bohumil Shimek, the forest offers bountiful outdoor recreation opportunities, including camping, hiking, hunting, equestrian riding, fishing and more. Today, the main goal of the forest is to implement effective forest management practices for the benefit of long-term natural resource stewardship.

Shimek Forest Management Plan


Explore 9,448 acres across five forest units, offering several outdoor recreational opportunities. State forest trails and amenities are often less developed and provide a more rugged outdoor experience. Please take this into account and plan accordingly.

  • Lick Creek Unit is the largest at 2,866 acres and is located 3 miles east of Farmington on Hwy 2. It features two equestrian campgrounds, equestrian trails and facilities, hiking trails and more.
  • The Farmington Unit is 2,207 acres and located just outside the town of Farmington. Forest headquarters can be found in this unit, which also offers camping, miles of hiking trails, picnic facilities, two fishing lakes and more.
  • The Donnellson Unit is 1,330 acres and located 4 miles east of Farmington on Hwy 2, on the north side of the road. It has a campground, 2 fishing lakes, picnic areas, a nature trail and hiking trails.
  • The Croton Unit is 2,087 acres and located 3 miles southeast of Croton.
  • Keosauqua Unit is 958 acres and located 2 miles southwest of Keosauqua and just north of Lake Sugema and has more than 7 miles of hiking trails.

Camp in four main campgrounds in Shimek, offering fire rings, water hydrants and pit toilets. Be careful with fire in the forest -- only light fires in designated fire rings. Advance campsite reservations can be made online through the park reservation system. One quarter of the campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For questions regarding camping at the four Shimek campgrounds, please contact the park technician at (319) 931-7805:

  • The Lower and Upper Campgrounds in the Lick Creek Unit are designed for equestrian use, with open-air stalls for overnight stabling. Additional equestrian facilities include hitching posts, gravel parking pads, a water hydrant, day-use area and shade for horses.
  • The Bitternut Lake Campground in the Farmington Unit has eight campsites. The lake is an easy walking distance to enjoy fishing, also offering a hard surface boat ramp to launch a boat or kayak.
  • The White Oak Campground in the Donnellson Unit has 11 sites. Donnellson also has one hike-in campsite, located about .5 of a mile from the boat ramp parking lot of Shagbark Lake, and .6 mile from the access road south of the lake.

Hike, ride horses and mountain bike on nearly 60 miles of trails, which wind through the rugged hills and deep woodland areas of the forest. An old railroad track bed traverses the middle of the forest and provides ample, flat space for hiking use. Find trail maps for each of the units on this page. Horses are only allowed on designated trails, roads and in the campground. Mountain bikes can use designated equestrian trails.

Fish at four small lakes in the forest. The 6-acre Black Oak Lake in the Farmington Unit has bluegill, channel catfish, bass and redear sunfish. Amenities include, an accessible picnic area, fishing dock and restrooms. The 6-acre Bitternut Lake in the Farmington Unit features a hard surface boat ramp and primitive campground. For a more rugged experience, try walk-in fishing at the 7-acre White Oak Lake, also in the Farmington Unit. Shagbark Lake, in the Donnelson Unit, is 6 acres and features a hard-surface boat ramp and a picnic area. Please note, there are no designated swimming areas in the forest.

Hunt throughout the forest for numerous game species, including white-tailed deer, turkey and small game. The entire forest is open to hunting except for areas within 200 yards of residences, campgrounds, and the headquarters area.

Please Note:
  • Motor vehicles must stay on public roads. ATVs are not permitted anywhere in the forests, trails, or roads. Snowmobiles are allowed only on designated routes. Confine vehicles to the main roads. Drive carefully.
  • State regulations require horses, mules and donkeys being transported interstate (from one state to another) must have a current Certification of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) and a negative Coggin's test (EIA). This paperwork must accompany the animal into the State of Iowa. Please refer to the Iowa Horse Admission Regulations for more information. This law applies to equestrian camping, day-use and trail riding in any State owned Park or Forest.

Learn more about the Shimek forest history and ecology (keep current accordions)

Shimek State Forest

The forest's original and most important function is to serve as an example of forest management for Iowa's citizens. It was a base of operations for the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.). Demonstration plantings of hardwoods and conifers were completed. Over the years plantations have continued to be established. Since 1972 commercial sales of saw timber and other products have been made. Ongoing cultural practices improve the forest for the production of forest products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, and watershed protection. People from a wide area use the forest as a place to hunt, fish, camp, picnic, study nature, and enjoy the out-of-doors.

Limestone, shale, and sandstone bedrock underlie Shimek State Forest, materials that were deposited in water when this part of the world was covered by an inland sea. A thick layer of glacial drift overlies this bedrock and is the major source of parent material from which soils in the area have formed.

The glacial drift that covers this area was deposited during two glacial events, the Nebraskan and Kansan. Following these, the natural process of weathering and erosion resulted in a surface generally rolling with flat ridges between drainages. A soil named Lindley, common to the area, was formed by the weathering of glacial till.

The Wisconsin glacier also played a role in the geologic processes of the area and in formation of a soil comprised of fine silt and clay particles that overlies the Lindley soil and is named Weller. Silt deposited during the melting of the Wisconsin glacier accumulated in great quantities in the Missouri River Valley and was carried by the wind and deposited across southern Iowa.

The relatively narrow valleys are covered by alluvial material carried from the hills by water. In some instances erosion has proceeded far enough to expose glacial till or underlying sedimentary material. The terrain on Shimek Forest is characterized by narrow, flat ridges separated by deeply cut drainages.

The area streams are intermittent or seep fed, slow running and dry up completely at times.

The weather has an effect on the activities that can take place in the forest. There are many days throughout the year when it is impractical to work out-of-doors. On other days weather conditions may affect soil conditions so that planned work must be delayed.

The climate is characterized by wide variations and rapid changes in temperature. There is scant winter precipitation and normally ample rainfall during the growing season.

The normal annual average temperature is 51.3 degrees F. The normal summer average temperature is 74.3 degrees F. The normal winter average temperature is 26.6 degrees F.

A few days of 100 degree weather in summer and about ten days of subzero weather in the winter mark the extremes. The highest temperature ever recorded in Lee County was 113 degrees and the coldest was minus 27 degrees. January is normally the coldest month and July the warmest month with an average of temperature of 77.9 degrees. The average length of the frost free season is 187 days. The average date of the last killing frosts in the spring is April 15th and the average date of the first killing frost in the fall is October 19th. Precipitation is abundant, normally 32 to 36 inches per year, most of which falls during the growing season.

Winters are usually mild with infrequent heavy snows. Ice storms are common with one or two destructive storms each year. Snowfall averages 24.8 inches. March has the most wind and May and June are wettest. Thunderstorms are frequent in June and July with about one every third day.

Summers are hot and humid. Autumn is bright and usually the most pleasant season. September is wet as a rule with heavy morning dews, followed by drier, cooler and sunnier weather in October.

Prevailing winds are southerly for the six months of April through September, southwesterly during October and from the northwest during the winter months. The average wind velocity is 8.57 miles per hour throughout the year.

The predominant plant communities on the forest are oak-hickory and bottomland hardwood timber types and their variations and transition zones.

The oak-hickory type occupies the drier sites including ridge tops and sides. On poor sites, those with low fertility or that are dry, the species composition is generally black oak, bur oak, shingle oak, and hickory. On better upland sites, white oak, red oak, and hickory are more common.

The bottomland timber type is found on fertile soils in the bottomlands. This type contains many species including red and white elm, cottonwood, hackberry, green ash, silver maple, and black walnut.

There are several areas where native prairie plants can be found including big and little bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, prairie cordgrass, and various prairie forbs such as purple coneflower, round-headed bush clover, and lead plant.

About 1,000 acres have been planted to conifers. These plantations include a wide variety of pines, spruce, and larch. Plantations of hardwood species include tulip poplar, swamp white oak, walnut, and black locust.

The forest is the home of the white tailed deer which is abundant in the area and the largest of the fauna. Other animals include fox and gray squirrels, raccoon, cottontail rabbits, woodchuck, muskrat, skunk, red and gray fox, coyote, beaver, fawn opossum, and many smaller animals.

Nonpoisonous snakes are common and the two poisonous species, the rattlesnake, and copperhead are known to exist on the east side of the Des Moines River between Farmington and Bonaparte. Rattlesnakes have been found in the northern part of the Farmington Unit.

There is a variety of birds native to the woodland and its borders. Numerous species of songbirds utilize the extremely varied habitat. Game birds include some pheasant, numerous quail, and wild turkey. The woodcock is a seasonal visitor to the area and some species of migrating waterfowl make occasional use of ponds and lakes on the area.

Eleven wild turkeys (three toms and eight hens) that had been trapped in Missouri were released in the Lick Creek Unit in the fall of 1965. One hundred and forty birds were sighted during an aerial survey in 1971 indicating the introduction had been a success. During the winter of 1971-72 a trapping program was begun and turkeys captured were used to restock new areas. The trapping and restocking program continues.

The forest is named for the late Dr. Bohumil Shimek, an Iowa naturalist, University of Iowa professor and one of Iowa's early conservationists.

During the 1930s, Shimek convinced the state to acquire forest land in Lee and Van Buren Counties along with abandoned farms which were depleted from over a century of farming. These acquisitions were at first referred to as the Lee and Van Buren State Forest. The name was then changed sometime during the 1940s to the Farmington State Forest.

In 1950, Iowa honored the then late Dr. Shimek by naming the largest contiguous stand of state owned forest cover in Iowa, Shimek State Forest.

Three of the forest units are named for the towns of Donnellson, Farmington and Keosauqua.

The Croton Unit, named for the small community of Croton is comprised of three detached parcels acquired in 1964 from the U.S. Forest Service. Croton is the site of the northern most battle of the Civil War.

The Lick Creek Unit was named for the small stream that flows through it.

Shimek State Forest is managed in accordance with the DNR Forest Ecosystem Management Guide for several benefits including the production of wood products, wildlife, quality water, recreation, and protection of plant and animal communities. Forested land is divided into areas that will be regenerated using even-aged silvicultural systems, areas that will be regenerated using all-aged silvicultural systems, and areas that will receive limited management. Unique areas, such as prairies, are also maintained. Shimek State Forest Management Plan