Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is located in west central Iowa, just southeast of Ft Dodge.
In terms of state green spaces, it is relatively young. Like many places in Iowa, everything about it is man-made. It was once what it’s name suggests, a creek running through a canyon. Then in 1967 the Iowa DNR proposed damming it up and creating the lake. There was nearly 20 years of kickback before it was finally approved. Today Brushy Creek consists of the lake at the northern end of the park, and a large network of equestrian trails to the south. In fact, if you look at the larger trail map of the Lake Trail below, you can see where the original Brushy Creek wound through the canyon that filled up to create the lake.
In total, they have about 45 miles of trails to walk. While I have completed my exploration of the park, I did not do it in one outing.
The focus of this post will be on the southern two trails that are both down and back style trails.
This was my third trip to the park, so I had an idea of what to expect. I had just completed the middle network only a couple of weeks prior to this trip and was anxious to finish my exploration.
I was also using this trip to prepare for my attempt at redemption with Yellow River State Forest. I was anticipating around 20 miles for this trip, which would give me the opportunity to test my legs as far as distance. When it comes to Yellow River’s elevation gain, that’s another story.
Knowing I had some miles to cover, I trimmed down my load and left the camera gear at home. All of the pictures are from my cell phone, and there is a noticeable difference in quality. Since I had such an ambitious day planned, I got a very early start. I arrived well before sunrise and parked in the Day Use parking area (Red Star) where both trails start from. I started with only my headlamp to see with, which could have helped with my mistake.
Now I had it built into my hiking plan to start with the SW section since that looked more appealing on the maps, leaving the SE section to be the one I bailed on early incase I found my legs were unprepared for a 20 miler.
To help give better detail of the mistake, I pulled up my mapmyfitness.com data and drew on the above screen shot. So the mistake came at the yellow circle where the trails divide. The trail map isn’t overly clear as to how this divide happens, and in the dark I missed the one iffy trail marking I found in the whole park…
As you can see from the pictures I took upon my return trip, when you are approaching from the treeline, there isn’t a sign that stands out to tell you which way to go. In the dark, I’m not sure I even noticed it.
If you approach it from the other directions, yeah, the signs stand out… So… I went the wrong way and started on the East Loop. Whoops.
Now the trail here was mostly an access road to the pastures for the farmer’s cows.
This is actually what threw up the red flag as the West Loop Trail was supposed to have the river to my east, not a pasture. I figured it out, shrugged, and proceeded on. It was short-lived though as I ran into a creek where the only option was to splash on through it (Yellow Star). Now the creek wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t want to deal with wet feet on the onset of the hike. With what I had seen from the little bit I’d hiked so far, I wasn’t feeling like the rest was going to be much better and turned around.
That is one of the gambles of the rec areas. Since they need to be navigable for horses, many of the trails have fewer interesting features so things like wading through creeks aren’t normally worth the discomfort.
I didn’t like the idea of leaving miles behind, but figured I had plenty to go and returned to where I figured out my mistake. I looped around the sunflower field, headed down the gravel road, and picked up the West Loop to continue my hike.
The West Loop began with an immediate descent down a rough road that appears to have been long abandoned (as a vehicle road). It was very apparent though, that this section receives far more traffic than the East Loop as it was well-worn.
This helped the trail have a really smooth flow. I found my pace to be pretty quick as I walked along the river. I picked out a route I wanted to traverse to cover as many of the trails within the network at the farthest point from the parking lot (Red Line). My favorite part was Maple Trail that started by the Blue Star. I’m a sucker for the long paths between rows of trees that form clear lines.
The Maple Trail did rejoin the West Loop where I followed it around the bend and to an open field. This was a nice little place to take a break as the sun was really starting to warm things up. By this point I had realized that I was way ahead of schedule, and not just because of ditching out early on the East Loop. I was making great time on the West Loop. I debated on whether I was going to stay on the loop for the return, or sneak down to Turkey Trail and weave through the other sections like I had planned. I ultimately chose to weave as that is the purpose of the exploration, to learn about as much as possible to share with you.
That being said, I should have skipped Turkey Trail and stayed on the loop for a little bit longer. Around the Purple Star it looked like they were doing a lot of work, possibly changing up the trail system, so the area was really rough. Not only that, but the mosquitoes were horrible in this one area! They were barely noticeable everywhere else, but along Turkey they chewed me up like mad.
Once I got through Turkey and on to Cedar Trail, it was pretty smooth sailing back to the car. Once I got back on the gravel road at the end of the trailhead, I realised I could just walk down the road to entrance to the parking area rather than around the sunflower field and through the short wood.With that I am considering my exploration of Brushy Creek State Recreation Area complete. This section hike totaled a little over 12 miles for the day, bringing the total miles hiked at Brushy to about 33 miles. Now I recognize that I skipped a good portion of the East Loop, and a few trails of the Middle Network, so maybe 35-40 for a full circuit. I will likely return in the future and see how far I can push in a single outing, because I like challenges like that.
I feel that these trails are very easy to navigate and aren’t overly demanding. As long as you can handle the miles, you can hike these trails. Be sure to bring your map to help you navigate the network portion of the loops, and it’s always a good idea to at least have some water and snacks as well. If you are an equestrian rider, these trails are very popular if you’re looking for some place new.
Don’t forget to hop on over and check out the video on YouTube.
I hope this trail report helped you find a new place to get out there and go for a walk!
One thought on “Brushy Creek State Recreation Area – Southern Legs”
I love Brushy Creek. I haven’t been there for years, but my family used to go trail riding there with our horses quite often. I must go back soon!
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