Nestled between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in the heart of the Great Plains, Iowa is dominated by rolling hills, dense woodlands, and seemingly endless cornfield that hikers can lose themselves in for days. To help you explore some of the Hawkeye State's best hikes we've highlighted five based on recommendations from Trails.com and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Cedar Valley Nature Trail
The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is a rail-to-trail conversion path that takes hikers on a 52-mile journey through forests, wetlands, and open prairies that feature native grasses and flowers. Running from Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids on the southeast end to Waterloo and Evansdale on the northwest end, this scenic hiking trail offers many opportunities to see native songbirds and other wildlife.
The 26-mile Heritage Trail runs through Dubuque County to offer hikers some of the best in northeastern Iowa that changes with the full spectrum of seasons. One of the state's first rail-to-trail conversions, the Heritage Trail leads hikers past old mill and mining towns and through riverland valleys, prairie country, and forested bluffs to offer fantastic scenes of the Mississippi River Valley.
Effigy Mounds National Monument
You can hike up to 13 miles of trails throughout the Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is a group of more than 200 American Indian mounds, 29 of which resemble animals. The Effigy Mounds National Monument gives hikers the chance to explore reconstructed prairies and the wooded bluffs that overlook the joining of the Mississippi and Yellow Rivers on their own, or they can request a guided walking tour of some of the most famous sacred mounds.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
One of Iowa's most popular all-seasons hiking locations is the Maquoketa Caves State Park, which is home to fascinating geological structures including limestone formations, a 17-ton “balanced” rock, and a 60-foot natural bridge crossing Raccoon Creek, and the state's largest system of caves. In addition to the caverns, the scenic 6-mile trail system leads hikers past a restored prairie and wildlife area as well as a new oak savanna restoration project.
Yellow River State Forest
The 25 miles of designated trails in the Paint Creek Unit of the Yellow River State Forest are considered some of the best hiking destinations in Iowa. You'll hike through picturesque forests and prairie backcountry on a well-maintained trail that traverses terrain ranging in elevation from high, rocky bluffs to low riverlands and valleys.