20 Iowa State Parks

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Iowa is perceived to be an unassuming state but it’s full of incredible sites that make it well worth a visit. Six states border the Midwestern U.S. state of Iowa and beyond the cornfields, there is a beautifully diverse landscape that is characterised by prairies, lush green fields and there are a number of fantastic state parks in Iowa.

From caves to rivers and a lot of hiking in between, Iowa is an underrated state for visiting the best outdoor spaces. Whether you need a break from city life or want to tick off some of Iowa’s nature spots from your bucket list, we’ve got you covered.

Iowa State Parks

20 State Parks In Iowa

1- Pikes Peak State Park

aerial view of water and bushes in Pikes Peak State Park
One of the lovely state parks in Iowa is Pikes Peak State Park.

Pikes Peak State Park is undoubtedly one of the best state parks in Iowa and is known for its wonderful views of the Mississippi River.

Located in northeastern Iowa along the border with Wisconsin, it’s well worth visiting this park.

Visitors will love the park’s 11 miles (17.7km) of trails that offer you almost endless views and things to explore.

Natural bluffs and valleys surround the area, all adding to the interest.

There are several campsites available at Pikes Peaks with electric and non-electric sites.

Pikes Peak State Park is at 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157.

2- Wildcat Den State Park

Wildcat Den State Park is located along the Iowa-Illinois border in eastern Iowa.

The park is around 47 miles (76 km) southeast of Iowa City. Whether you are interested in history or nature, this is the park.

Many interesting geological formations are features along sandstone bluffs.

One of the oldest working grit mills is between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River.

Pine Creek Grist Mill provides visitors with a look into Iowa’s past, dating back to 1848.

Wildcat Den State Park is ideal for hiking through woodlands and enjoying a splash around in the creek.

Wildcat Den State Park is at 1884 Wildcat Den Rd, Muscatine, IA 52761.

3- McIntosh Woods State Park

McIntosh Woods State Park is on the northwest shores of Clear Lake in northern Iowa.

The park dates back to 1944 and is popular among locals and visitors for its many outdoor pursuits.

Try fishing, boating, kayaking and hiking as you explore what the park has to offer.

In winter, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing are popular.

The whole family can enjoy a lovely 1.5 km boardwalk trail. Bring some snacks or even lunch and you can head to McIntosh’s Beach along the peninsula.

McIntosh Woods State Park is at 1200 E Lake St, Ventura, IA 50482.

4- Ambrose A. Call State Park

This 138-acre (56 ha) oasis is defined by its rugged hills, forest and farmland.

The park is on the east fork of the Des Moines River in northern Iowa and is named after Ambrose Call, one of the area’s first settlers.

You can still see the name carvings of Ambrose and his brother on an old walnut tree.

The park’s trails are not long but there is a lovely two-mile trail that meanders through the woodland.

If you want to try disc golf, this is the park to be and there’s an 18-hole golf course that winds its way through the prairies at Ambrose A. Call State Park.

Ambrose A. Call State Park is at Call Park Rd, Algona, IA 50511.

5- Waubonsie State Park

orange trees
Hikers will enjoy Waubonsie State Park in Iowa for stunning fall colours.

Waubonsie State Park is an Iowa state park in the Loess Hills in southwest Iowa.

Visitors are attracted to Waubonsie State Park for the trails that are a haven for walkers, bikers and horse riders.

The park covers almost 2,000 acres (809 ha) of space, meaning there are lots of places to explore.

One of the best hiking trails is the Sunset Ridge Nature Trail in the middle of the park where, along the route, you can enjoy expansive views of the Missouri River Valley.

If you are a keen angler, then head to Waubonsie Access Lake.

Waubonsie State Park is at 2585 Waubonsie Park Rd, Hamburg, IA 51640.

6- Elinor Bedell State Park

Head to northern Iowa along East Okoboji Lake and you will find Elinor Bedell State Park, which is relatively newly established in 1998.

This is a great place to go camping or park your RV. The campground has full hook-ups and restrooms and picnic tables and tent camping spots.

Parts of the popular Lewis & Clark historic trail also run through the park.

Horse lovers will love seeing a variety of breeds at the horse park and there are also several horse riding trails too.

Elinor Bedell State Park is at 1619 260th Ave, Spirit Lake, IA 51360.

7- Nine Eagles State Park

A place of calm and serenity, Nine Eagles State Park is the perfect state park to visit with family.

Located in southern Iowa, this park is known for its bird, wildlife, and diverse plant species.

You can discover the park’s wildlife along the nine miles of hiking trails and the six-mile-long (9.6 km) bridle trail.

Dotted around this park are many picnic tables, so be sure to bring lunch, and there is also a swimming beach at the 64-acre (25 ha) lake.

This makes it a great place to sunbathe and splash around in the water and there is a small jungle gym that the little ones will love.

Nine Eagles State Park is at 23678 Dale Miller Rd, Davis City, IA 50065.

8- Backbone State Park

yellow leaves on a clump of trees
One of the state parks in Iowa for fall colours is Backbone State Park.

Backbone State Park is around an hour’s drive from Cedar Rapids in central eastern Iowa.

This is Iowa’s first state park which was dedicated back in 1920. The area is spectacular because of its geographical diversity.

The Maquoketa River has formed a narrow bedrock which is also the highest point in the region and nicknamed the “Devil’s Backbone”, hence the park’s name.

The park is also home to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum, where you can check out more details about Iowa’s history.

Surrounding the museum are 21 miles (22.7 km) of multi-use trails, perfect for running, hiking, and exploring.

You can also rock climb on the limestone cliffs.

The park also has a lake where you can rent boats from the nearby boathouse. Relax and paddle your way around the lake on kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats.

Backbone State Park is at 1347 129th St, Dundee, IA 52038.

9- Lewis and Clark State Park

aerial view of Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark State Park, Iowa.

This state park is named after Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark, the Corps of Discovery Expedition leaders between 1804 and 1806.

This expedition aimed to discover the new land acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

They wanted to map the new territories while forging ties with Native Americans and discovering the geographical landscape.

The expedition started in Illinois, and the men headed west through Iowa.

Today the park is a safeguard of a slice of American history and a wonderful place to relax with family and friends.

Blue Lake is at the heart of the park’s activities.

There’s a sandy beach area where you can relax and a boat ramp to launch your non-motorized boats.

Fishing is also allowed on Blue Lake, with popular catches being channel catfish, northern pike, bass and panfish.

There are also a variety of trails to explore and a lakeshore path.

The Lewis and Clark State Park is at 2 RVQ+C5, 21914 Park Loop, Onawa, IA 51040.

10- Stone State Park

Stone State Park is along the South Dakota – Iowa border and is often described as an urban wildlife sanctuary.

When visiting this Idaho State Park, it’s hard to comprehend that such a beautiful space lies outside Sioux City among the Loess Hills.

While hiking the park’s 15 miles of trails, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and if you spot some species you don’t recognise, head to the nearby Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center to learn more.

In winter, the park’s activities change to cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, while in autumn, the trees along the river turn orange and in spring, the flowers bloom.

This is a fantastic Iowa state park to visit at any time of the year.

Stone State Park is at 5001 Talbot Rd, Sioux City, IA 51103.

11- Dolliver Memorial State Park

Dolliver Memorial State Park is around 85 miles north of the state capital Des Moines.

This state park overlooks the Des Moines River Valley and covers 594 acres (955 ha) of flatlands and rocky trails.

There are plenty of things to see in the park, like the Native American mounds and the copperas beds formed from sandstone and Boneyard Hollow. Whilst exploring these sights, you can enjoy five miles of trails.

If you want to make it an overnight trip, there are two family cabins and a campground.

Dolliver Campground overlooks the Des Moines River, a beautiful place to spend the night.

Dolliver Memorial State Park is at 2757 Dolliver Park Ave, Lehigh, IA 50557.

12- Union Grove State Park

Union Grove State Park is a place for outdoor fun in Tama County, with its main feature being the large Union Grove Lake. 

Enjoy hikes to the man-made waterfall and dam set in the heart of the park’s woodland.

In summer, you can hike around the park but in winter, the trails turn into a snowmobiling paradise.

The lake is ideal for launching your boat (as long as it’s no wake), and you can also swim at the designated beaches along the lake.

Anglers will find the lake stocked with bluegill, crappie, catfish and bass.

Union Grove State Park is at 1215 220th Street, Gladbrook, IA 50635.

13- Beeds Lake State Park

The crowning jewel of Franklin County is Beeds Lake State Park, a small park where you can enjoy the sunshine, take photographs and walk around.

Walking along the shoreline of Beeds Lake is a must-do activity and you can also hike to the base of the dam to marvel at the limestone rock.

Visit the park in winter, and you’ll find a magical winter wonderland to cross-country ski in.

Beeds Lake is also great for boating, relaxing on the beach, swimming and fishing.

Beeds Lake State Park is at 1422 165th St, Hampton, IA 50441.

14- Mini-Wakan State Park

Mini-Wakan State Park is in the “lakes area” in northwestern Iowa on the banks of Big Spirit Lake with other water bodies surrounding it.

Recreation activities at Mini-Wakan State Park include boating and fishing.

There are a couple of boat ramps along the lake where you can launch your boats and enjoy views around the lake.

There are a couple of shelters around the park where you can set up with your friends and enjoy food or a celebration.

Mini-Wakan State Park is at 24490 100th St, Spirit Lake, IA 51360.

15- Blackburn State Park

Blackburn State Park is tucked away in the southwest corner of Iowa, around three miles northeast of Thurman and managed by a nearby Waubonsie State Park.

The park is named after benefactors William R. and Sara Blackburn, who donated more than 150 acres (61 ha).

The land for the park was donated in 2019 because William had an ancestral connection to the area dating back to 1840.

The Blackburn and Green Hollow Wildlife Management Areas are within the 1,000-acre (404 ha) grounds.

Inside the park, there is a large pavilion that is ideal for celebrations or family gatherings.

Check out the 20 acres (8 ha) of prairies that have been restored and offer beautiful views of native flowers in spring.

Blackburn State Park is at 1291 Cemetery Rd, Thurman, IA 51654.

16- Cedar Rock State Park

Around 35 miles (56 km) north of Cedar Rapids is Cedar Rock State Park, if you are interested in local history, this is an excellent park to visit.

The park’s central feature is the Walter House, owned by Lowell Walter, an Iowa businessman during the 20th century.

Walter and his wife commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to construct their dream home, which was donated to Iowa in 1981.

Take advantage of their free seasonal walking tours, where you will learn more about the house and the grounds.

Cedar Rock State Park is at 2611 Quasqueton Diagonal Blvd, Independence, IA 50644.

17- Preparation Canyon State Park

Picture beautiful rolling, lush green hills, and that’s what you get at Preparation Canyon State Park.

Head to western Iowa, and you can enjoy 344 acres (139 ha) of wilderness and the old town of Preparation.

This is an excellent place for backcountry hiking as incredible views of the Loess Hills continually surround you.

Pack a picnic for your day’s hike as there are many stunning places to relax and enjoy the views.

There are also 10 hike-in campsites, a rare thing in the Iowa state park system.

Preparation Canyon State Park is at 340th St, Moorhead, IA 51558.

18- Honey Creek State Park

Another of southern Iowa’s state parks is Honey Creek. With just an hour and a half from Des Moines, you can be among nature.

The park is home to 828 acres of land and Iowa’s second-largest lake, Rathburn Lake.

There are five miles of hiking trails at Honey Creek including an excellent woodland interpretive trail where you can learn more about the 17 ancient Native American woodland mounds.

You can also enjoy boating and fishing on Rathbun Lake, the main part of the park and a popular spot.

Head to the North Boat Ramp for the best place to launch your boat and also for fishing access.

If you want to turn your trip to Honey Creek State Park into an overnight adventure, then there are four rustic camping cabins at the park’s campground.

Honey Creek State Park is at 12194 Honey Creek Pl, Moravia, IA 525.

19- Rock Creek State Park

Along the east shore of Rock Creek is Rock Creek State Park, a popular Iowa state park for several reasons.

Firstly, it offers some of the best camping in the state, with around 200 campsites in the park’s campground.

Secondly, there are a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy, like boating, paddleboarding, paddling, year-round fishing and horse riding.

Hit the trails along more than eight miles of non-paved paths.

Many of the trails in Rock Creek State Park follow the lake.

If you are into biking, bring your wheels, as there are dedicated biking trails too.

In winter Rock Creek State Park turns into a snowy paradise, especially for skiing and snowmobiling enthusiasts.

Rock Creek State Park is at 5627 Rock Creek E St, Kellogg, IA 50135.

20- Gull Point State Park

Gull Point State Park is on northern Iowa’s spectacular West Okoboji Lake.

This area is home to many state parks as part of the Iowa Great Lakes area.

The lake provides visitors with a tremendous number of activities to enjoy.

From game fishing to canoeing, sail boating and relaxing on the beach, this is a fantastic state park for people who love to be on the water.

If hiking is your thing, head along the 1.5-mile trail to learn about the local area’s culture, history and nature.

Another of the CCC’s achievements was the building of Gull Point Lodge in the 1930s.

Today this facility can be used for its kitchens, fireplaces, and patio area, a great location for an event or group activity.

Gull Point State Park is at 1500 Harpen St, Milford, IA 51351. 

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harriet comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!