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Best Places to Hike in Eastern Iowa

Greetings from SOKO Outfitters. We had a great opening weekend and it got us all revved up to lace up the boots, fill the hydration pack and hit the trails. We are big fans of hiking in Eastern Iowa. Lots of folks have no idea what great resources we have at our disposal for a great day of adventure. Check out our recommnedations below for local hiking adventure. All of them have camping and fishing available with unique features at each site. Check out one each year or go every weekend. Whenever you are able to make it, check back in with us. Take a picture of you there with a Soko Shirt or hat and bring it in and we will post it on our adventure map. Go Soko-letes!!!!!

Palisades Kepler State Park

Only 12 miles from Cedar Rapids/Marion, “Palisades” is a frequent destination for outdoor enthusiasts and fun lovers. Featuring 6 miles of hiking trails with amazing vistas and abundant wildlife. The Palisades refers to the large cliffs that overlook the river. They have been a tourist attraction for over a century.

There is also very easy access to the Cedar River for paddle sports as well as fishing. Bluegill, bass and catfish are abundant to say the least.

Lodging is easy and there are plenty of options. Whether you want to spend a night or two weeks, there are dedicated camping sites, RV hookups and even 4 family sized cabins.

Visitors to the trails are bound to catch a glimpse of whitetail deer and turkey as well as amazing old growth forest.

If that’s not enough to lure you there, perhaps the history is. In the 19020’s the Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Carl Sandburg used to visit the park every summer and spend a week or two. At the time, there was a general store and a hotel. There’s also the chance that you could stumble upon Indian artifacts and ancient fossils. One lucky visitor even discovered a preserved mammoth tooth.

With the park being so close, Palisades-Kepler State Park should be on your short list of quick get-aways any time of year.

Indian Creek Nature Center

Right here in Cedar Rapids’ back yard, Indian Creek Nature Center is a not-so-hidden gem. Sitting right at the confluence of Indian Creek and Cedar River, it is ideally located to explore several worlds. ICNC has 210 acres and 4 miles of trails that cross prairie, brush and forest including several acres of very carefully cultivated old growth hardwood. They sponsor nature walks and all sorts of classes including camps for kids, cultivating wildlife such as beekeeping and raptor introduction. They also sponsor outdoor farmers markets, maple syrup festivals, an amazing concert series as well as a film festival. So “get your hike on” and so much more at the Indian Creek Nature Center and then stick around for so much more. It is conveniently located on the Sac and Fox Trail, which is accessible from the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. NO EXCUSES NOT TO VISIT!!

Yellow River State Park

Voted the best hike in Iowa by Outdoor Magazine in 1996 on their best hike in every state survey, Yellow River State Park is the best of what Iowa has to offer for outdoor enthusiasts. They have over 45 miles of trails spread over 8900 acres. They encourage horseback riding and cross country skiing on every bit of it as well. You can take any mode of non-motorized travel down to it’s picturesque 7 miles of trout stream, Paint Creek. If that’s not enough, you can walk to the bluff from which Paint Creek and Painted Rock get there names. Zebulon Pike commented on the large yellow and red painted features that the Native Americans had painted thousands of years ago high on the bluff. They were visible as landmarks for travelers along the Mississippi. The hieroglyphics are gone now, but you can still experience the view the original artists did for millennia. Maybe you can catch a glimpse of the rare mink in the area or the not-so-rare bald eagles that sore over head. If you have a chance, stop by Effigy Mounds 7 miles away. While the mounds are limited in number now, they are the resting place of Native Americans who graced this area and whose spirits still rest there. Before the arrival of colonists, there were once one 10,000 such mounds.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Perhaps Iowa’s most unique park, Maquoketa Caves State Park offers 6 miles of trails. The unique thing about them is that they link a series of picturesque caves that are sprinkled throughout the park. From the 1100 foot “Dancehall Cave” to multiple caves that are only accessible by crawling on your belly, they are all something to behold. Visitors have been coming here for centuries, and settlers have come to the area since the 1830’s. History abounds and so do the amazing natural features. Check out the natural rock bridge 50 feet above Raccoon Creek , and the 17 ton balanced rock. Fall leaf colors will blow you away and snow turns the park into a winter wonderland. Summers are all the more enjoyable by escaping the heat in the cool caves or taking a leisurely paddle down the scenic Maquoketa River. There is something fore everyone right here in our communal backyard.

Backbone State Park

2000 acres of pure adventure. Backbone State Park really has it all. Amazing rock climbing with 80 foot faces and truly unique (for Iowa) rock spires makes it a destination those testing their fear of heights. The park also offers trout fishing due to Richmond spring which pumps out 2000 gallons per minute a cool water haven. 21 miles of hiking trails crisscross the park with the “Devil’s Staircase” going up to one of the highest points in eastern Iowa as it’s centerpiece. Backbone Lake is there for you at the end of the day to cool your feet in or maybe cast a line for some catfish and bass. Open year ‘round, venture to Backbone for cross country skiing when the snow falls.

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