5 Iowa State Parks Off-the-Beaten Path

5 Iowa State Parks Off-the-Beaten Path

Like many of the well-preserved natural areas in the US, Iowa State Parks have seen a massive increase in the number of annual visitors in recent years. 

According to IowaWatch.org, some 16.6 million people explored Iowa State Parks in 2020, with the five most popular parks being: 

  • Lake Manawa State Park
  • Gull Point State Park
  • Big Creek State Park 
  • Backbone State Park
  • Walnut Woods State Park  

People seem to be getting out, enjoying nature, and exploring the great outdoors much more these days. And we love it!  

Yet, for some, the idea of bigger crowds (even in outdoor spaces) puts a damper on things. So today, we're sharing our favorite Iowa State Parks to visit if you're looking for an experience off-the-beaten-path!

Palisades-Kepler State Park

Nature lovers, history buffs, and space junkies will find this state park in eastern Iowa has everything they're looking for (and more!). This is a beautiful hidden gem home to Native American burial mounds, fossils, and hiking trails where spring wildflowers put on a stunning show.  

Stay overnight at a family cabin or campground to view an equally striking display in the night's sky since Palisades-Kepler State Park is a fantastic dark sky park, too.

Mini-Wakan State Park

The northern side of Big Spirit Lake, Iowa's largest natural lake, is just south of the Minnesota border in central Iowa. This quiet, peaceful setting will be a new favorite spot for kayak enthusiasts. 

Plan a day of boating, hiking, and picnicking in this picturesque day-use park.

Ledges State Park 

North of Des Moines in central Iowa is a peaceful, scenic park that lives up to its name with many rugged cliffs and sandstone ledges. Steep slopes along with a four-mile trail system reward hikers with breathtaking Des Moines River views. 

An idyllic stone bridge crossing Peas Creek is the perfect space to linger for a while. And newly renovated campsites or primitive hike-in sites offer something for every camping style. 

Lewis and Clark State Park

More than 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark passed through what is now Lewis and Clark State Park near the Nebraska-Iowa border. With tons of outdoor recreation, including hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming along Lake Blue, this is a fantastic state park for family fun.  

A sandy beach area and lakeshore camping is the perfect setting to make many years of memories! 

Nine Eagles State Park

There's no telling how many eagles you might see, but you can definitely hike nine miles of trails at this Iowa State Park. Bird and wildlife watching is a popular pastime here. 

But it's not all laidback and leisurely. Enjoying everything from swimming, boating, and fishing to cross-country skiing and snowmobiling is also on the table here. Stay overnight at the park campground or reserve a family cabin for a more luxurious stay.

Your Turn for an Iowa State Parks Adventure!

Whether it's about being off-the-beaten-path or you'd simply like to explore new territory at any of these parks, you'll certainly want to bring your Iowa State Parks Bucket Journal. You'll find pages to document all of your Iowa State Park adventures!  

Make notes of your favorite stops or surprises you came upon during your stay. Plus, you'll be able to reflect on your bucket journal notes before your next trip to individual state parks—making it even better than the one before!  

Which of these Iowa State Parks are you adding to your bucket list? 

water fall at ledges state park iowa

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