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15 Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit

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Iowa isn’t all cornfields. It’s actually home to a variety of beautiful and diverse landscapes, from lush, rolling prairies to deep valleys carved by glaciers. These are the best state parks in Iowa.

There are many opportunities for outdoor recreation throughout the state, but these parks stand out as some of the best places to explore nature and get close to Mother Earth.

It is important to visit the best state parks in Iowa because they are beautiful. There are many opportunities to explore nature and get close to Mother Earth.

One of these opportunities is at Koke’s Korner, where there are free fishing ponds and an accessible playground for kids who can’t hike. With its diverse landscapes, Iowa offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Some of its state parks are noteworthy, and this article provides an overview. This information can help inspire people to get out and explore the state’s natural beauty. Here’s why:

  • Iowa state parks are home to a variety of landscapes, from prairies to deep valleys.
  • These parks offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including fishing, hiking, and camping.
  • Exploring the best state parks in Iowa is a great way to connect with nature and get close to Mother Earth.

Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit

1. Maquoketa Caves State Park

Cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa
Maquoketa Caves State Park” by Phil Roeder is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Address: 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060, United States

Maquoketa Caves State Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts due to its unique geological features and abundance of recreational opportunities. The park’s caves, bluffs, and forests provide a variety of scenery and activities for visitors to enjoy.

Hiking, camping, fishing, and bird-watching are some of the most popular activities at the park. Maquoketa Caves State Park is also popular for rock climbers due to its unique geological features.

The park’s caves are the main attraction and are open to the public for tours. The caves are located on the park’s east side and range from small passages to large rooms.

The caves are formed in limestone bedrock and are decorated with a variety of stalactites, stalagmites, and other geological features.

See Related: What is Iowa Known For?

2. Ledges State Park

Cabin by the Lake
Ledges State Park” by cwwycoff1 is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Address: 1515 P Ave, Madrid, IA 50156, United States

Ledges State Park is one of Iowa’s most popular state parks for camping enthusiasts. The park contains a sandstone gorge carved by Pea’s Creek, a tributary of the Des Moines River. The gorge is 100 feet (30 m) deep in places, with concretions jutting from the cliffs.

These features, combined with the park’s location close to the Des Moines metro area, make Ledges a popular destination for day hikers, backpackers, and climbers.

The park also offers various recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, boating (non-motorized), and picnicking. Dogs are allowed in the park but must always be on a leash.

Hiking trails in Ledges State Park offer visitors a variety of experiences, from short, easy walks to more challenging hikes that will take you deep into the gorge. A nature interpretive trail also offers information about the park’s history and ecology.

If you’re looking for a place to camp, Ledges State Park offers both primitive camping (tent camping) and modern camping (RV hookups).

Primitive camping is available in the park’s backcountry areas, and reservations are required. Modern camping is available at the Ledges Campground, with 110 sites with electrical hookups.

3. Pikes Peak State Park

Trail in Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park” by cwwycoff1 is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Address: 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157, United States

Pikes Peak State Park is a state park in Iowa featuring a 500-foot (150 m) bluff overlooking the Upper Mississippi River opposite the confluence of the Wisconsin River. The park is operated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

It is nearly a thousand acres (4 km²) in extent. The nearest city is McGregor, Iowa. Iowa Highway 76 approximately defines its northern boundary.

Pikes Peak State Park gets its name from the Iowa incarnation of Pikes Peak, a particularly high point overlooking the gorge of the Upper Mississippi, and like Pikes Peak in Colorado, is named for Zebulon Pike.

There are hiking trails, campgrounds, and RV facilities at Pikes Peak State Park. Mountain bikes are permitted in certain portions of the park. Aside from recreational development, the land in the park was never cleared and largely remained as it was before the settlers.

Pikes Peak State Park is part of a larger complex of parks, reserves, and refuges which include Effigy Mounds National Monument.

The various components of the Yellow River State Forest, the enormous Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and the much smaller, much less well-known Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge.

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

4. Lake Macbride State Park

Address: 3525 Hwy 382 NE, Solon, IA 52333, United States

Lake Macbride State Park is a popular camping spot for fishers and nature enthusiasts. The park offers many amenities for visitors, including a campground with electric and primitive sites, a day-use lodge, hiking and multi-use trails, and a boat rental facility. The park’s location near Solon, Iowa, makes it easy to access for visitors in the area.

The lake is beautiful for fishing, swimming, and enjoying the views. The park also offers a variety of events and programs throughout the year.

Whether you’re looking for a place to camp, fish, or enjoy the outdoors, Lake Macbride State Park is a great option in Iowa. With plenty of amenities and activities, the park will surely please visitors of all ages.

There are a few great places to stay near Lake Macbride State Park. If you’re looking for a campground, the park offers electric and “primitive” sites.

5. Backbone State Park

Address: 1347 129th St, Dundee, IA 52038, United States

Backbone State Park is a great place to visit due to its natural beauty and many activities. The park is located in the valley of the Maquoketa River and is named for a narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a river loop.

The park was established in 1919 and is Iowa’s oldest state park. Hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming are just some activities at Backbone State Park. Backbone State Park also has a campground with over 100 campsites.

Some of the best trails in Backbone State Park include the Devil’s Backbone Trail, which is a 1.5-mile loop that offers great views of the park, and the Cedar Bluff Trail, which is a four-mile loop that winds through the forest and offers beautiful views of the river.

See Related: Where to Stay in Iowa

6. Palisades-Kepler State Park

Address: 700 Kepler Dr, Mt Vernon, IA 52314, United States

One of the main reasons Palisades-Kepler State Park is one of the best state parks to visit due to its expansive hiking trails. Visitors can view local flora and fauna, including white-tailed deer, turkeys, black maple trees, and wildflowers in springtime.

The park also features a swimming beach, a boat ramp, and fishing sites on the river; fish living there include bass, channel catfish, and walleye. The park has 45 electric and non-electric campsites, four cabins, and a CCC-built lodge for day use.

For those looking for an Iowa state park that features ample opportunity to view wildlife, Palisades-Kepler State Park is a great option.

The park offers 5 miles of hiking trails and a variety of different habitats to explore. Visitors can also enjoy swimming, fishing, and camping at the park.

See related: Best Weekend Getaways in Iowa

7. George Wyth State Park

Address: 3659 Wyth Rd, Waterloo, IA 50703, United States

George Wyth Memorial State Park is near Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Iowa. The park was dedicated in 1940 as “Josh Higgins Parkway” after a popular radio character of the day. 1956, it was renamed George Wyth Memorial State Park after a well-known Cedar Falls businessman and conservationist.

The park has abundant wildlife, including over 200 bird species and white-tailed deer. The park is also designated as a National Urban Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Iowa State Department of Natural Resources manages the state park, known for its high biodiversity, including white-tailed deer.

The park has also been designated as a National Urban Wildlife Sanctuary, which means it is home to many types of animals typically found in more urban areas.

If you’re looking for a park that will allow you to view a variety of wildlife, George Wyth Memorial State Park is the perfect place to visit.

See Related: Things to Do in Spirit Lake, Iowa

8. Clear Lake State Park

Lake and Rolling Greens at Clear Lake State Park
Clear Lake” by Joe Passe is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 6490 S Shore Dr, Clear Lake, IA 50428, United States

Clear Lake State Park is a great place to visit if you’re looking for some peace. The park is located on Clear Lake’s shores, making it a great spot for fishing, swimming, and kayaking.

There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore, and the park is home to a variety of animals and plants. If you’re looking for a place to stay near Clear Lake State Park, AmericInn Lodge & Suites Clear Lake is a great option as it offers free Wi-Fi and breakfast and is just a short drive from the state park.

9. Dolliver State Park

Flowing Stream at Dolliver State Park
Copperas Beds 2” by hotshot3510 is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Address: 4265 Dolliver Memorial State Park Rd, Ottumwa, IA 52501, United States

Dolliver State Park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. The park has a variety of trails for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders, and it’s home to a number of different animals and plants. There’s also a lake where you can go fishing, swimming, and kayaking.

If you’re looking for a place to stay near Dolliver State Park, the Best Western Plus Ottumwa Hotel & Suites is a great option. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, breakfast, and parking, and it’s located just a short drive from the state park.

Another great option is the Comfort Inn & Suites Ottumwa. This hotel also offers free Wi-Fi and breakfast, just a few minutes drive from the park.

See related: Historical Landmarks in Iowa

10. Gull Point State Park

Address: 1500 Harpen St, Milford, IA 51351, United States

Gull Point State Park is a state park in Iowa, United States, located on West Okoboji Lake in the city of Wahpeton. It is the primary state park unit in the Iowa Great Lakes region. Two park areas were listed as nationally recognized historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

Gull Point State Park is one of the best state parks to visit in Iowa because of its location on West Okoboji Lake. This park offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as camping, fishing, swimming, and boating.

11. Union Grove State Park

Address: 1215 220th St, Gladbrook, IA 50635, United States

Union Grove State Park, nestled in the charming town of Gladbrook, Iowa, is a picturesque destination for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the countryside.

With its serene landscapes and a variety of activities, including fishing, hiking, and camping, Union Grove State Park is an ideal spot for a getaway. For those wishing to extend their stay, the park provides cozy cabins and ample camping sites, ensuring a comfortable and memorable experience.

12. McIntosh Woods State Park

Address: 1200 E Lake St, Ventura, IA 50482

McIntosh Woods State Park is a beautiful park that is perfect for camping. The park has stunning woods and offers plenty of outdoor activities, including camp. Modern bathrooms, showers, and electric outlets are available in the park, and tents can be rented.

Visitors can enjoy the grassy shaded park benches, a nature trail, boating ramps, swimming beaches, and designated fish farms with a fish washing facility. The park is also close to Clear Lake, making it the perfect spot for a camping trip.

To get here from Des Moines, take I-35 North to exit 117. Head west on Highway 18 for 9 miles until you reach the park.

13. Waubonsie State Park

Empty Trail in Waubonsie State Park
Waubonsie State Park” by christinejwarner is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Address: 2585 Waubonsie Park Rd, Hamburg, IA 51640

If you’re looking for a breathtaking state park to visit in Iowa, Waubonsie State Park is definitely worth checking out. Situated on the scenic Loess Hills, this park offers unparalleled views of western Iowa.

It’s also part of Lewis and Clark’s historical trail, so you can enjoy some interesting history there. And if you’re a fan of horses, be sure to check out the horse park – it features 32 camping sites as well as a horseback riding trail.

See Related: How to Pack for a Camping Trip

14. Wildcat Den State Park

If you’re looking for a great state park to visit in Iowa, Wildcat Den State Park is definitely worth checking out. This park is situated in the northwest corner of Muscatine County and is home to beautiful scenery and plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy.

When visiting, there are a few great places to stay nearby. If you’re looking for a campsite, the park offers both primitive and electric campsites, as well as a campground shelter.

There are also several hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area, including the Best Western Pearl City Inn, The Current Iowa, and the Muscatine Inn.

15. Lewis and Clark State Park

Address: 21914 Park Loop, Onawa, IA 51040

Lewis and Clark State Park was named after American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who passed through this area in 1804.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were two of the most famous American explorers. They went on an expedition to explore the western part of America.

This expedition happened from 1804 to 1806. The journey was very successful. They were able to map out the area for future settlers and traders. Lewis and Clark also discovered new animal species and plant life during their trip.

Today, a 176-hectare park in Iowa is named after these two explorers. Lewis and Clark State Park is located in Onawa, Iowa, and is administered by the state’s Natural Resources Department.

The park contains 125 hectares of blue lake, offering visitors numerous land and sea activities. These activities include trekking, picnicking, camping, swimming, boat riding, and fishing.

Overnight visitors can also stay in one of the park’s new electric camping sites and view replicas of the Keelboats that Lewis and Clark used during their expedition.

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See related: Things to Do in Iowa & Places to Visit

FAQ

What are the best state parks in Iowa to visit?

The best Iowa state parks to visit include Backbone State Park, Beeds Lake State Park, Briggs Woods Park, Ledges State Park, Maquoketa Caves State Park, and Lewis and Clark State Park.

What is the most popular state park in Iowa?

Lake Manawa is the most popular state park in Iowa. It is in Pottawattamie County and features a beach, trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas.

What is the biggest state park in Iowa?

Union Grove State Park is the biggest state park in Iowa, with over 5,500 acres of land to explore. Given the vast land, the park offers various activities, including camping, fishing, hiking, and more.

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