Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know
canoe paddling on Iowa's river trails

Canoeing and Kayaking

Iowa is blessed with a variety of rivers, creeks, and lakes offering a number of different types of experiences for beginner to expert paddler. 18,000 miles of navigable streams await exploration by curious paddlers from across the state. The Iowa DNR wants you to enjoy, appreciate, and respect Iowa's rivers. We hope you find this site very useful.

What is a Water Trail?
Water Trails are recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes that provide a unique experience all water users. Water trails help re-connect Iowans to their waterways’ history, heritage, geology, fisheries, and wildlife. Water trails provide adequate access and can include amenities like riverside camping, wild spaces, picnic areas, and restrooms, and watercraft rentals provided by local, state, and federal partners. Coordinated signage and mapping systems guide users toward the types of experiences they seek, ranging from a highly social first-time river experience lasting a few hours to multi-day adventures.

Water trail partners at the local level are encouraged to steward the natural and economic values of their waterways to help boost local economies and give Iowans outdoor experiences just out their back doors. Iowa DNR water trails staff lead through setting standards for planning requirements, providing funding and technical assistance, and maintaining the framework of the overall system.

Do you often bring others out on the water in canoes or kayaks?
Want to improve your skills to better demonstrate to others how to paddle efficiently, elegantly, and safely? These intensive courses follow the American Canoe Association’s “Intro” and “Moving Water” curriculum, and are targeted to those who teach others paddling skills, from lakes to rivers. These courses will be instrumental for students who plan to enroll in an ACA instructor certification course. Class sizes are limited, and they fill up fast, so don’t delay and sign up today!


2024 Iowa DNR Canoe and Kayak Schools



Iowa Water Trails Association
You can access past newsletters from the IWTA by following the link provided. Make sure to sign up and subscribe so you can receive every issue without delay. The IWTA provides up to date information on water trail events and all that is water trail news. To visit the IWTA website, follow this link: IWTA and too subscribe so you never miss important paddling information, you can go to here: Subscribe to the IWTA



A major revision to our water trails and dams sign manual was released in the Spring of 2010. The new manual addresses a number of issues and includes many updates.

The sign manual contains guideline for the standard statewide water trails way-finding and informational signage system.

"Keep It Clean, Keep It Fun"

This new Iowa Department of Natural Resources campaign is designed to improve people's behavior on Iowa rivers. Landowners and recreational paddlers have been complaining to DNR staff about "Rude behavior, foul language and loud music." The DNR is increasing law enforcement on rivers to reduce illegal activity. Rental companies distribute materials to help paddlers report illegal activities they see. We are supplying boat and tube rental liveries with new river trash sacks, posters and stickers to help spread the word and promote a better ethic of on-river use, especially in the summer months. Littering is another significant problem on some rivers, especially at access points, and the DNR will be distributing blue mesh bags that people can take with them and pick up litter as they go. 

River Advisory Sign

Bridge construction projects across Iowa could close some sections of rivers this summer.

Check the Interactive Paddling Map to help you plan your paddling trip and avoid construction areas.

Wear It Iowa


State law requires life jackets on every watercraft, whether it’s a motorized boat, jet ski, kayak, canoe, or even a paddleboard. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of drowning victims who died from a boating accident were not wearing their life jackets. The best way to be “saved by the jacket” is to wear it at all times, no matter your level of swimming or boating expertise.

For more information about safe boating practices visit the National Safe Boating Campaign.

The Boating Education program is committed to providing Iowans with important resources and messages that save lives.

Water Trail Plans

Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek Water Trail Plan (20MB)
Black Hawk County

West Fork Des Moines Water Trail Plan (20MB)
Emmet County

iowa river water trail plan
Iowa River Trail Plan (34MB)
Johnson and Louisa Counties

lower des moines water trail plan
Lower Des Moines River Trail Plan (32MB)
Van Buren County

west nishnabotna water trail plan
West Nishnabotna Trail Plan (28MB)
Pottawattamie County

west nishnabotna water trail plan
West Nishnabotna Trail Plan (19MB)
Shelby County

maquoketa water trail plan
Maquoketa Water Trail Plan (48MB)
Delaware County

South Skunk water trail plan
South Skunk Water Trail Plan (33MB)
Story County

Dam Mitigation Grants Application deadline is September 22, 2023

The Iowa Legislature appropriated funds for fiscal year 2024 for the development of dam mitigation and water trail projects. A portion the funds ($300,000 for this fiscal year) are available competitively for dam mitigation cost-share grants. Dam owners and other eligible entities are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance for projects that reduce recreational hazards and enhance aquatic species connectivity.

Dam Grant Application Form

Dam Grant Application Form


Water Trail Enhancement Grant
Application Deadline: December 5, 2023.

The Iowa Legislature appropriated funds for fiscal year 2024 for the development of dam mitigation and water trail projects. A portion of the funds($500,000) are available competitively for water trail enhancement cost-share grants. Local divisions of Iowa government are encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance for infrastructure or infrastructure improvements along state designated water trails or water trails on track for state designation.

Cost share requirement for this cycle is 20%.

Water Trail Enhancement Grant Application Form
Water Trail Enhancement Grant Application Form


Qualification deadline is December 5, 2023
Application deadline is March 1, 2024

Local planning is important for water trail development, as navigable waters are used by many Iowans for various activities (boating, fishing, inner-tubing, paddling, wildlife viewing, etc.) while often flowing between private lands. Rivers and large lakes are often a defining community attraction but sometimes misuse or poor planning results in safety, inappropriate infrastructure, or law enforcement problems. Iowa DNR partners with local communities and directs resources to community planning, engineered site designs, interpretive products, etc. This application form provides a means for local partners to apply for planning assistance and understand how selections are made.

Water Trail Application Form
Water Trail Application Form