5 Beautiful Scenic Hikes in Iowa

By Brad Lane

5 Beautiful Scenic Hikes in Iowa

Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

Every season in Iowa caters towards a scenic hike or two. During the summer months, the blazing sun overhead provides bountiful landscapes of green. Throughout the winter, the rolling environments provide the perfect quiet place to explore. Some of the most scenic moments for any hike in Iowa occur in the spring and fall however, where the displays of color are always vibrant. While there are plenty of great hikes to check out through the different seasons of Iowa, a few stand out above the rest. Whether it’s the views that can be seen at places like Backbone State Park, or it’s the many shades of nature exposed along the Cedar River, by taking these 5 beautiful scenic hikes in Iowa, you’ll be sure to fall in love with the state! 

1. Sunset Ridge Interpretive Trail at Waubonsie State Park

While all seven miles of trails found throughout Waubonsie State Park are worth visiting, the Sunset Ridge Interpretive Trail provides perhaps one of the best viewing opportunities in Iowa. Overlooking the Loess Hills of eastern Iowa, as you may have guessed, the best time to see this rolling landscape occurs as the sun smolders off into the horizon. Covering 2.1 miles, the Sunset Ridge Interpretive Trail is the longest trail in Waubonsie, and if it’s still not enough, this popular trail is a great launching point to explore the rest of what Waubonsie has to offer.

2. Wapsipinicon State Park

Open to cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, the summer hiking trails at Wapsipinicon can really take you places. Featuring over six named trails, popular attractions to check out while hiking at Wapsipinicon include the Horse Thief and Ice Cave, as well as the many rocky bluffs that comprise the area. For a tamer adventure, sticking to the 2.2-mile prairie trails exposes wide landscapes that are easy to lose yourself in. For a little more excitement, the Pine Trail plunges into the woods where you can find the Wapsipinicon caves among many other things. 

3. Cedar Valley Nature Trail

Stretching for 50 miles and connecting the Linn County Metro to Waterloo, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail is a paved, multi-purpose path that is popular with bikers, runners and even hikers. While not all paved trails can be classified as hiking routes, with the scenery exposed by the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and adjacent Cedar River, it serves as excellent outlet to get into nature. Weaving throughout the floodplain, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail darts in and out of thick forests, teeming wetlands, and plenty of rolling acreage devoted to farmland. A great kaleidoscope of Iowa’s natural spaces, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail is an excellent place to take a hike. 

4. Stephens State Forest

Representing the largest state forest in Iowa, Stephens State Forest provides many acres to explore and lose yourself in nature. Following along one of the few overnight trails in Iowa, the Stephens backpack trail cuts through the heart of the state forest, exposing intrepid hikers to dense woodland surroundings and rolling prairie landscapes. There are plenty of scenic backpacking sites to choose from when trekking along the Stephens State Forest backpack trail, making this one scenic hike that could last multiple days.

5. Devil’s Backbone at Backbone State Park

Not nearly as menacing as it sounds, although including a steep incline, the Devil’s Backbone isn’t just the quintessential hike in Backbone, it’s a must-do scenic hike in all of Iowa. Featuring rocky terrain and a well-worn path, Devil’s Backbone takes you to the top of the state park and exposes a view that spans for miles. Overlooking Backbone Lake, the view from the top of Devil’s Backbone also includes the rolling hillsides of northeast Iowa, which are particularly picture worthy during the fall.

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