Experience Iowa’s incomparable natural beauty and their varied array of outdoor activities by visiting any of the state parks and recreation areas on our list. Spending a day at any one of these places is sure to be memorable for the entire family as there’s so much to see and do for visitors of all ages.
1.Ambrose A. Call State Park
Ambrose A. Call State Park was established in 1925 to preserve the expanse of old-growth forest that can be found alongside the Des Moines River. The park is named after its first settler, Ambrose A. Call and his brother Asa who staked their claim there in 1854. Though the log cabin he originally built is no longer there, a similar structure was brought in from a nearby homestead and placed where the original cabin once stood. Not only can you visit and explore the log cabin, but you can also rent it out for event since it is now being used as a lodge.
Address: Call Park Rd, Algona, IA 50511, Phone: 641-581-4835
2.Backbone State Park
Dedicated in 1919, the 2,000-acre Backbone State Park is the oldest park in the state of Iowa. The park derives its name from a steep and narrow bedrock ridge beside the Maquoketa River that was originally known as the Devil’s Backbone. The park is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as a U.S. Historic District because of several different structures and aspects found within it. Some of the things that you’ll see are a stone lodge which is now used as a museum, two sets of stone trail steps, a stunning stone barn, and a bathhouse that was built in the 1930s.
Address: 1347 129th St, Dundee, IA 52038, Phone: 563-924-2527
3.Beeds Lake State Park
Recognized as a U.S. Historic District and listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Beeds Lake State Park was established in 1934. The 319-acre park has several amenities such as a 99-acre reservoir which allows for boating, fishing, and swimming. Other recreational activities you can explore include hiking its many trails, picnicking in the designated areas, visiting the concessions stands, renting out lodging, or camping in their many semi-primitive campsites. Unique features which made it worthy of being listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places include a footbridge which was built in 1937 and a bathhouse which was built in 1936.
Address: 1422 165th St, Hampton, IA 50441, Phone: 641-456-2047
4.Cedar Rock State Park
Cedar Rock State Park is one of the few places in Iowa where you will be able to explore and witness the stunning works of Frank Lloyd Wright, a famed American architect and interior designer. The Lowell Walter Residence, which is popularly known as Cedar Rock, is a Usonian-style house which can be found on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River. The home was donated to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources upon Walter’s death in 1981 and is now open to the public for tours. The house is a prime example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature designs and everything from the furniture to the accessories were picked out by him.
Address: 2611 Quasqueton Diagonal Blvd, Independence, IA 50644, Phone: 319-934-3572
5.Dolliver Memorial State Park
Dolliver Memorial State Park is a 594-acre open space that was established in 1925. It has several striking features which have made it a popular sight with photographers; one of the most visited sites are the deep ravines and high bluffs you’ll see over the Des Moines River. There are two aspects of the park which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Dolliver Memorial State Park entrance area and the hiking and maintenance area. Because of its close proximity to the Des Moines River, several water activities are popular at the park such as boating.
Address: 2757 Dolliver Park Ave, Otho, IA 50569, Phone: 515-359-2539
6.Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge
Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge can be found in northeastern Iowa and is an IUCN category IV habitat and species management area. The refuge was established in 1989 as a way of preserving numerous species of flora and fauna, specifically the Northern Wild Monkshood plant and the Iowa Pleistocene Snail. In addition to snails and flowers, you will be able to see a number of other rare and endangered plants and animals. Popular activities include wildlife observation and photography, fishing in the Fern Ridge Unit, and seasonal hunting for white-tailed deer, turkeys, and other upland game.
Address: Elkader, IA 52043, Phone: 608-326-0515
7.Effigy Mounds National Monument
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Effigy Mounds National Monument is a 2,500+ acre land that was created in 1949 as a means of preserving over 200 prehistoric mounds which were built by Native Americans. These effigy mounds were mostly built in the first millennium by people of the Woodland Culture and are mostly shaped like animals such as birds and bears. Some of the tribes that are associated with the mounds are the Prairie Island Indian Community, the Santee Sioux, and the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska among many others. Start your adventure at the park’s visitor center, which is located in Harper’s Ferry and is filled with artifacts and information on the land and its rich history.
Address: 151 IA-76, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146, Phone: 563-873-3491
8.Elinor Bedell State Park
One of the new additions to Iowa’s collection of state parks, Elinor Bedell State Park is an 80-acre space which was established in 1998. As you walk through the park you’ll come across prairies, wetlands, and oak savannah, along with an array of Scots pine and sugar maple trees. The environment is absolutely beautiful no matter what time of the year you decide to visit. Recreational facilities include miles of trails for hiking, a wildlife viewing blind for those who want to see various species of wildlife and birds, fishing for white bass and northern pike, and a small campground which can accommodate tent and RV campers.
Address: 1619 260th Ave, Spirit Lake, IA 51360, Phone: 712-337-3211
9.Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District and is recognized on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The 187-acre land was established in 1965 and has over 150,000 visitors annually. As you’ll have guessed by the name, the park is dedicated to commemorating the life of the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. The historic site houses the birthplace cottage of Hoover and has been enhanced for visitors to get a better idea of his childhood years. Nearby, you’ll also find the first West Branch schoolhouse, the Quaker meetinghouse where the Hoover family worshiped, and a blacksmith shop similar to the one that was owned by his father. Visitors will also be able to pay their respects at the gravesite of Herbert Hoover and his wife, which can be found there.
Address: 110 Parkside Dr, West Branch, IA 52358, Phone: 319-643-2541
10.Honey Creek State Park
Honey Creek State Park is an 828-acre outdoor space that can be found in Appanoose County, Iowa. Long before it was a public recreation area, the park was home to Native Americans from the Woodland period. As you walk around the park, you’ll come across several earthen mounds which they created for religious and ceremonial reasons. Younger visitors enjoy visiting the fish hatchery which is located on the land; they have an observation walkway and visitor center filled with interactive displays and exhibits. Other activities you can participate in include hiking, boating, camping, snowmobiling, and seasonal hunting.
Address: 12194 Honey Creek Pl, Moravia, IA 52571, Phone: 641-724-3739
11.Lewis and Clark State Park
Lewis and Clark State Park is named after American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who stopped by in this area during their adventure up the Missouri River in 1804. The 176-acre park, which is governed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, also includes the 250-acre Blue Lake. Combined, you can enjoy a number of land and water activities such as hiking, picnicking, camping, swimming, boating, and fishing. Those who decide to stay overnight in their modern, electric campsites, you’ll also be able to see a full-size replica of the keelboat which Lewis and Clark used during their expedition.
Address: 21914 Park Loop, Onawa, IA 51040, Phone: 712-423-2829
12.McIntosh Woods State Park
Comprising a stunning wooded area, McIntosh Woods State Park is popular for many outdoor activities, but mostly camping. The campsites can accommodate tent and RV camping and includes modern restrooms, a shower building, electric hookups, and a playground for little ones. There are also two yurts available for rent; the 16-foot circular tent includes a full-size futon, twin bunk beds, and a table with chairs. Other aspects of the park include grassy, shaded picnic areas, a one-mile nature trail, a boat ramp which provides access to Clear Lake, a swimming beach, designated fishing sites with a fish cleaning station, and more.
Address: 1200 E Lake St, Ventura, IA 50482, Phone: 641-829-3847
13.Middle River Park
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Middle River Park is a recreational area with over 80 acres of woodlands featuring towering Silver Maple, Cottonwood, Walnut, and Hackberry trees. Within this beautiful place you’ll find a multi-level picnic shelter, lush picnic grounds, a playground, and a paved trail which is fully handicap accessible. The trail, which is used for hiking during warmer months, can be used for cross-country skiing during the winter. Spend some time on the namesake river canoeing, rafting, and fishing for channel catfish. There are several tours available which give visitors the opportunity to experience sap collection from the maple trees and syrup production.
Address: 2278 Clark Tower Rd, Winterset, IA 50273, Phone: 515-462-3536
14.Mines of Spain State Rec Area
The Mines of Spain State Recreation Area is an amazing outdoor space that the entire family is sure to enjoy. In its 1,380 acres, you’ll find archaeological sites found by French explorer Julien Dubuque as well as Dubuque’s final resting place. Other aspects include the E. B. Lyons Nature Center, the Betty Haputli Bird and Butterfly Garden, 15 miles of hiking trails, four miles of ski trails, and several picnic areas. One of the most unique natural features you’ll come across in the recreation area is Horseshoe Bluff, a horseshoe-shaped area where you’ll see Ordovician dolomite and stunning rock features.
Address: 8991 Bellevue Heights Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003, Phone: 563-556-0620
15.Mini-Wakan State Park
Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and recognized as a U.S. Historic District, Mini-Wakan State Park is a 20-acre park which was established in 1934. The park can be found alongside Big Spirit Lake and has designated areas for picnicking, hiking, biking, boating, swimming, and fishing. Anglers recognize Big Spirit Lake to have some of the best fishing spots in all of Iowa; you’ll be able to catch a variety of game fish such as smallmouth bass, bluegills, catfish, and northern pike. You’ll find the park to be busy during the weekends and on holidays as families and friends love to get together, enjoy a meal, and have a good time outdoors.
Address: 24490 100th St, Spirit Lake, IA 51360, Phone: 712-337-3211
16.Nine Eagles State Park
Nine Eagles State Park offers many land and lake activities for visitors of all ages to enjoy. There are several shaded picnic areas in the 1,100-acre park, as well as two open shelters which can be reserved for group gatherings. Other aspects of the park include three campgrounds, each of which include restrooms, modern showers, and electric hookups. There is also a family cabin available for rent in the park; the cabin includes a bedroom, living room, bathroom, full kitchen, and a covered deck. There are several miles of trails which are open to both hiking and horseback riding. If you’d like to spend your time on or by the lake, you may be more interested in swimming, boating, or fishing; a fish cleaning station and boat ramp are located nearby.
Address: 23678 Dale Miller Rd, Davis City, IA 50065, Phone: 641-442-2855
17.Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park offers excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy the outdoors while in Iowa. You can have a picnic while overlooking stunning views from the many viewing platforms or rent out the rustic stone open picnic shelter for a gathering with friends and family. There’s a playground for younger visitors to enjoy, camping sites with electrical and restroom facilities, and a Park Store which has souvenirs, refreshments, and more. There are trails for hiking and biking, much of which will let you enjoy the beautiful wooded bluffs and valleys in the park; you’ll also be able to see walls of Decorah limestone and the fossil remains of cephalopods, gastropods, and brachiopods.
Address: 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157, Phone: 563-873-2341
18.Preparation Canyon State Park
Preparation Canyon State Park is a 344-acre site that was once the town of Preparation. Preparation was established by a Mormon leader and at its peak had sixty-seven houses, a blacksmith shop, a post office, and a skating rink. The town faded by the 1900s and the land was sold to the state over the years. Visitors today will be able to explore the historic site where the Mormons settled so many years ago. Facilities that they currently have include picnicking areas and rentable shelters for groups, secluded campsites, and trails for hiking and biking.
Address: 340th St, Moorhead, IA 51558, Phone: 712-456-2924
19.Rock Creek State Park
Within Rock Creek State Park, you’ll find numerous picnic grounds, boat launches and docks, camping grounds, and trails for hiking and horseback riding. The 1,697-acre park was established in 1952 and has been providing a safe haven for people to enjoy the outdoors since then. Anglers come from far and wide to go fishing at Rock Creek, which is thriving with various species of fish such as green sunfish, walleye, black bullhead, largemouth bass, and golden shiners. During the winter, the lake freezes over and is converted into a spot for ice fishing. There’s a concession store alongside the lake which rents out pedal boats, fishing boats, pontoons, canoes, and kayaks. If you’d prefer being on land, sunbathe on the lakeside beach or go bird watching for different species of residential and migratory birds.
Address: 5627 Rock Creek E St, Kellogg, IA 50135, Phone: 641-236-3722
20.Stone State Park
Spanning over a thousand acres, Stone State Park was established in 1935 and can be found amidst the ravines and bluffs of Big Sioux River. One of its most unique aspects is the variety of prairie plants which can be found there such as pasque flower and yucca. The park contains many miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, and is a popular destination for picnickers, mountain biking enthusiasts, and overnight campers. You’re bound to come across several species of flora and fauna while exploring the park such as white-tailed deer, wild turkey, barred owls, and coyotes. The Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center can be found within the boundaries of the park and has a unique butterfly garden which is fun for visitors of all ages.
Address: 5001 Talbot Rd, Sioux City, IA 51103, Phone: 712-255-4698
21.Union Grove State Park
Union Grove State Park was established in an attempt to conserve the natural beauty found in Iowa while also giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy it through a series of outdoor recreational facilities. Some of the amenities you will find within the park are designated picnic areas, rentable picnic shelters, a swimming beach, cabins and campsites, and trails for hiking, bicycling, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Some of the more unique activities you can partake in are bird watching, boating, fishing, and wildflower and wildlife viewing. Be sure to take your camera along because you’ll want to catch as much of it as possible.
Address: 1215 220th St, Gladbrook, IA 50635, Phone: 641-473-2556
22.Volga River State Recreation Area
Whether you’re into land and river activities or prefer adventuring on land, you’ll be sure to find them at Iowa’s Volga River State Recreation Area. There are two main picnic areas in the park, one by the lake and the other by the equestrian campground. The recreation area has become extremely popular for their array of trail activities; you can use these to enjoy hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. In the winter some of the trails are also groomed for snowmobiling. The rugged beauty of the Volga River makes it the perfect base for camping; there are a few rustic, non-modern campsites and 43 modern campsites with electricity, full hookups, and shower/ restroom facilities.
Address: 10225 Ivy Rd, Fayette, IA 52142, Phone: 563-425-4161
23.Waubonsie State Park
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Waubonsie State Park is full of amenities and features which visitors of all ages are sure to enjoy. One of the park’s best aspects is its many scenic driving routes; if you’re there in the Autumn, you’ll love seeing the fall foliage and its marvelous colors. Amenities available in the park are trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Other aspects also include boating and a boat launch ramp, cabins, rustic campsites, a day-use lodge, a designated picnic area, playgrounds, and more. Waubonsie State Park is renowned locally with visitors who enjoy wildlife viewing and photography and bird watchers.
Address: 2585 Waubonsie Park Rd, Hamburg, IA 51640, Phone: 712-382-2786
24.Wildcat Den State Park
Wildcat Den State Park is a beautiful and pleasant outdoor space that gives visitors the opportunity to take part in so many different recreational activities. Those who are bringing younger visitors along with them enjoy having a picnic in one of the park’s many designated areas or open shelters. For a more active adventure, head out to the trails as it leads you through a variety of terrain such as rock outcroppings and beautiful bluffs. You’ll also be able to see several well-preserved historical structures such as the Pine Creek Grist Mill and the Melpine Schoolhouse. Enjoy an authentic overnight stay, enjoy camping in one of their many rustic and isolated camping sites.
Address: 1884 Wildcat Den Rd, Muscatine, IA 52761, Phone: 563-263-4337
25.Yellow River State Forest
Yellow River State Forest can be found in close proximity to the Effigy Mounds National Monument and the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. It was established in 1933 and comprises mostly forested land which was mostly formed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. One of the most unique aspects of the state forest is the Yellow River Fire Tower, which is the only fire tower that still stands in the state today. The tower, which was sold to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from the U.S. Forest Service, was acquired in 1950 but moved to the current site in 1962. Other recreational amenities available include hiking and horseback riding trails, picnicking spots, camp sites, fishing facilities, and seasonal hunting areas.
Address: 729 State Forest Rd, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146, Phone: 563-586-2254
25 Best Iowa State & National Parks
- Ambrose A. Call State Park, Photo: Bobby/stock.adobe.com
- Backbone State Park, Photo: wildnerdpix/stock.adobe.com
- Beeds Lake State Park, Photo: Kisa_Markiza/stock.adobe.com
- Cedar Rock State Park, Photo: Maryna/stock.adobe.com
- Dolliver Memorial State Park, Photo: Surachetsh/stock.adobe.com
- Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: weerayut/stock.adobe.com
- Effigy Mounds National Monument, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Elinor Bedell State Park, Photo: MiaStendal/stock.adobe.com
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Photo: Colin/stock.adobe.com
- Honey Creek State Park, Photo: bartsadowski/stock.adobe.com
- Lewis and Clark State Park, Photo: walkingarizona/stock.adobe.com
- McIntosh Woods State Park, Photo: lom742/stock.adobe.com
- Middle River Park, Photo: Jozef Jankola/stock.adobe.com
- Mines of Spain State Rec Area, Photo: Al/stock.adobe.com
- Mini-Wakan State Park, Photo: bbourdages/stock.adobe.com
- Nine Eagles State Park, Photo: Al/stock.adobe.com
- Pikes Peak State Park, Photo: wildnerdpix/stock.adobe.com
- Preparation Canyon State Park, Photo: Gajus/stock.adobe.com
- Rock Creek State Park, Photo: fox17/stock.adobe.com
- Stone State Park, Photo: GCapture/stock.adobe.com
- Union Grove State Park, Photo: nirutft/stock.adobe.com
- Volga River State Recreation Area, Photo: Gribanov/stock.adobe.com
- Waubonsie State Park, Photo: Maksim Pasko/stock.adobe.com
- Wildcat Den State Park, Photo: wildnerdpix/stock.adobe.com
- Yellow River State Forest, Photo: tilialucida/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com