From incredible vistas to wildlife watching, Iowa’s state parks offer some of the best ways to take in Iowa’s beautiful sights.
Pikes Peak State Park: Island Views
Pikes Peak State Park sets you up for one of the greatest views of the Wisconsin River flowing effortlessly into the mighty Mississippi River. At the scenic overlook, gaze to the north or south and see bushy tree-covered islands dotting the river. The park offers more than 11 miles of trails where you can explore wooded valleys and bluffs. Trek past limestone walls filled with fossils of sea critters like cephalopods from millions of years ago when the Midwest looked a little more tropical.
Ledges State Park: Waterfall Views
Wind your way through trees and up the hills of Lost Lake Trail to get a jaw-dropping view of the Des Moines River at Ledges State Park. Hike four miles of steep slopes to gaze over Pea’s Creek “canyon” and other scenic overlooks. You may have to work to get to your destination, but once you see the view, it will be worth it.
Stone State Park: Wildlife Views
Take your family out for an afternoon picnic and a Midwestern safari. Stone State Park, north of Sioux City, offers three open shelters that can be reserved through the park reservation system. The shelters provide breathtaking views of the Loess Hills. Mt. Talbot State Preserve covers the northernmost 90 acres of the park and offers many opportunities to view wildlife. This nationally recognized urban wildlife sanctuary features wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and more. Bring along a bird watching book and try to spot barred owls, rufous-sided towhees and ovenbirds.
Lake of Three Fires: Galaxy Views
Nestled below the clear skies of southwestern Iowa, Lake of Three Fires State Park offers some of the most stunning views of the galaxy. Wish upon a shooting star or count the constellations under a sky full of diamonds, away from the bright lights of town. For a weekend getaway, the park provides two modern campgrounds and modern cabins for groups of all ages. You can make reservations online through the park reservation system. During the day, spend time at the lake swimming and playing sand volleyball or relaxing on lakeside and fishing. Also enjoy eight miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding.
Lake Ahquabi State Park: Sunset Views
Paddle out to the middle of the 115-acre lake just before the sun strikes the horizon to capture an amazing view. Imagine the glassy water reflecting the highly saturated clouds; a picture-perfect moment. If you aren’t a paddler, relax on Lake Ahquabi‘s large sandy beach to watch nature’s show. Did you know that “Ahquabi” is said to be a Sauk and Fox word meaning “resting place?” Before the sun starts to set, explore four miles of lake-hugging trail. Rent a boat, canoe, kayak, or paddleboat for the day (when available in season) or shoreline fish.
Pilot Knob State Park: Corn Views
If you’ve traveled anywhere in Iowa, you may be all too familiar with the rows of corn that zip past out your window. But have you ever seen the great expanse from above the stalks? Pilot Knob State Park is the second-highest point in Iowa and offers views of the most fertile farmland in the world. The hill, “Pilot Knob,” was used for early navigation for pioneers traveling west in covered wagons. Climb to the top of the tower on Pilot Knob, constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, to see miles of Iowa’s earth-hued patchwork quilt.
Beed’s Lake State Park: Misty Views
The spillway at Beed’s Lake State Park is the most photographed dam in the Midwest. The impressive structure, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is 170 feet of horizontal layers of limestone and 40 feet tall. Hike down to the base of the spillway to experience the cool mist coming from the rushing water. There are lookout points on either side of the dam so you can get a stunning view of it from above, in the middle, and below! Aside from the dam, Beed’s Lake is popular for its large campgrounds and a two-mile trail that wraps around the lake. If you prefer to be in the lake instead of around it on a hot summer’s day, a sandy beach for swimming is located on the south side of the lake.
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