Elk Rock State Park

DSC_8532Elk Rock MapElk Rock State Park is located near Knoxville in southeast Iowa, about 45 minutes from Des Moines.
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Elk Rock was one of those parks that I had been looking at for a while before I finally made it there on a last minute decision. The weather initially called for storms, but then everything shifted and I found myself with bright sunny skies, and a desire to get away for a day. What I got was an excellent day of hiking, full of beautiful weather, wildlife, and scenery!

DSC_8849The first impression I had was on the drive into the park. Coming from the north you cross over Lake Red Rock on a long bridge that gives you a great view of the bluffs the lake sits in. It made me really desire to get out on the water in order to check out photo opportunities from that angle.

DSC_8501I drove into the center of the park where the equestrian campground was to start my hike (orange star). This was a very nice little area with a quality playground for little ones. I followed the road for a short couple hundred yards north toward the trail-head of the North Loop Trail (blue). The trail was supposed to be a 1.8 mile trail, but ended up being around 2.5 miles. This seemed to be a theme throughout the park, I ended up hiking more miles than advertised. Not a whole lot more, maybe an extra half mile per trail, but a standard example of why you should use the numbers given out more as guidelines.

DSC_8516Now the North Loop Trail starts out semi-rough with some soft sandy sections that are pretty chewed up by the horses. This was probably the worse section concerning horse damaged trails, probably because it is closest to the campground. That aside, it was a nice walk in the woods. The trails were open under the canopy of leaves that allowed the wind to flow through, but not enough to keep the bugs at bay. There was a nice break in the trees that offered a pleasant vantage point of the lake at the northern most point of loop.

DSC_8540After spending a moment checking out the view, I headed back down the trail. The elevation remained relatively flat as the trail found its way to the road that serves as a junction point for the three trails (green star). A short walk down the gravel road and you’ll find the trail-head to the East Loop Trail (yellow).

DSC_8650The wildlife woke up as I began the East Loop Trail and the birds were everywhere. It gave me plenty of practice and I captured several with my camera. Along with some slugs, snails, millipedes, butterflies and dragonflies. The best part of this trail was toward the end where you come across an open field of tall grass. The wind blew through freely and the birds were quite chatty.

DSC_8738A notable thing about this trail is that a lot of it skirted the edges of various cornfields. This is actually another tidbit that isn’t that uncommon about equestrian trails I’ve found. Quite a few of them do tend run their trails on the outer portions of a park and along cornfield borders. In these sections the sun felt its strongest, and the lack of scenery did make time seem to stretch a little. I did have to remind myself that the trail was made with horses in mind, not just people.

One place I found a lot of potential to improve this trail was at the northern most point (red star). It overlooks the lake and has a hitching post for horses and a rotting picnic table. Unfortunately, the view is completely blocked by dead-fall trees. If the park service were to go out and clear away all of that dead-fall  and possibly add a nice bench, it would open up a view of the lake and create a nice rest spot for future park users. I think it could be quite nice.

DSC_8507The trail returned to the road again and I moved on down to the West Trail Loop (red). This was my favorite trail of the three. It was less damaged by far, more than likely due to it being furthest from the equestrian camp. My opinion could be skewed I’ll admit, since it had the best trails and was following up a somewhat mundane cornfield walk. Anyway, the trail was thickly wooded and the trail it self was smooth and flowing. Even though it is called a loop, it was actually more of a down and back with a loop at the end.

DSC_8779I almost got a picture of a deer standing in a moss covered pond, but unfortunately I couldn’t capture the focus until after it was on the shore. The wildlife was active in this section as well. Aside from the deer, my favorite photo of the day was captured here. The cardinals had been taunting me all day, but i finally got one in my lens. I returned along the West Loop Trail until I got back to the paved road, which I hoped on for the walk back to the vehicle (orange line). On the way out I did stop over at the boat ramp and parking lot. Even though it is just a place to put in your boat, it was still photogenic as well.

DSC_8807In total I hiked 10.74 miles in 4 hours and 15 mins. I was shutter-bugging it the whole way, but still managed a 2.5 mile per hour pace. So someone just out for a walk should be able to move a bit faster if they wanted. Since this is a longer hike, I would very much recommend you take a pack to carry your food, water, and map. It would be a good idea to have sunscreen and bug spray for sure, along with at least a rudimentary first aid kit. The only other must I would suggest, your camera. If the weather is good, so will be the photos.

One thing nice about the style of this park is that because of the pseudo-hub where all of the trails meet, you could hike only 1, 2, or all 3 trails depending on your time and abilities. There aren’t any difficult sections, just some low grade rolling hills, so anyone who can handle the distances can handle the hikes.

DSC_8847Elk Rock State Park was a very enjoyable hike that I will return to. While sections of the trails are frustrating due to damage from horses, and the cornfields were a little boring, overall I had a great time. If you’d like to check out the video, you can watch it over on the YouTube channel. I hope you enjoy your hike out at Elk Rock State Park as much as I did!

DSC_8591Thanks for reading!

Briggs Woods County Park

dsc_8492Briggs Woods County Park is located in northwest Iowa, just south of Webster City.

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The trail within the park is actually pretty short, roughly a 2 mile loop. This report is less about the hike, and more about discussing the park in general and spreading the word about an enjoyable place to spend a weekend.

briggs-woods-trails-mapBriggs Woods has a lot to offer for a small county park. It has some hiking, a nice little lake, cabins and camping, a golf course, and is a 5 minute drive from town for easy access to replenish goods. It is also close enough to town that there is a 10 foot wide, 5.7 mile paved bike trail that travels from the golf course to the center of town.

Not knowing much about golf, I’ll start there to get it over with, heh. From what I read, the course is a nice public 18 holer whose main criticism comes from the challenge of its back 9. The front 9 seems to be fun, whereas that back 9 appears to give enough grief that if you’re having a bad day your game can go downhill quick.

dsc_8336Now back to the things I do know about. Our visit was a weekend venture with my wife’s family. In total there were 15 of us and after a good amount of research I found that Briggs Woods had a cabin that could fit us all. They have several cabins in the park, some smaller ones over by the camping area in the western portion of the park along the river (green star), and their large cabins are centrally located along the lake (orange star).

dsc_8307Now the large cabins are built similarly with some rooms on the ground floor with an open kitchen and living room, and an open loft upstairs. There are bathrooms with showers on both floors as well as TV. The finish is very nice and has a comfortable homey feel, versus one of your more simple style bare-bones cabins. In fact we commented more than once that it would be great to own the cabin personally as a weekend retreat for the family to share (as long as you like the color of wood). dsc_8309There was a grill and fire pit outside on the patio next to the porch with a pleasant view of the lake. Down along the shore was a small little dock where someone could fish or launch a canoe/kayak.

dsc_8341The weather was still a little too chilly to really enjoy the lake when we stayed there, but it does offer swimming at the beach (red star), and fishing. There are two places to launch boats for fishing (like many Iowa lakes this is a wake-less lake), as well as your standard fishing from the shore.dsc_8385

dsc_8379As for the trail within the park, there is one short trail (dotted line) that wanders through the wooded area in the northwest part of the park. It is a well-groomed path that anyone can follow easily without any difficulty. This was baby girl’s first official “walk” in the woods and I wanted something simple and short since I didn’t know how she would do in the carrier. She rocked it, and discovered how much fun it is to tug at dad’s ears along the way…

Once you get to the northern end of the trail you’ll come across a couple short waterfalls. They are part of the spillway system that comes from the lake and flows into the river. The trail gives you an elevated vantage point, and it is somewhat tricky to get lower for a closer view. This would be the only point of caution I would offer for this trail.

dsc_8416After the waterfalls the trail connects to the paved trail where there is a bridge that crosses the true spillway from the lake and heads toward town to the left (north) or back to the large cabins and beginning of the wooded trail to the right (south). We headed back to the cabin from here for a quick little 1.7 mile loop that left the kiddos still in a good mood.

dsc_8344We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Briggs Woods County Park. It is a popular place so plan far in advance if you wish to stay there. We liked it well enough that we tried to go back this year. However, when I was looking in January for an August date, all 3 of the large cabins were already booked through September! So the annual glamping trip will have to be held elsewhere. If you make your way out to Briggs Woods County Park I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

dsc_8365Thanks for reading!

Lake Iowa County Park

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Lake Iowa County Park is located just south of Interstate 80 near Ladora, which is just west of Williamsburg or 45 minutes west of Iowa City for landmark references.

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I actually only visited this park as an impromptu fall back as the park I was intending to hike (Lake Keomah State Park) was closed and it was not noted on the website so I found out after I had driven all the way to the entrance. I was able to make Lake Iowa part of my drive home so the day wasn’t a total loss. When I got there I found that the lake trail was a mowed path that followed most of the shoreline for fishing access with connecting road walks. Although I elected not to hike that particular trail since I didn’t have a map and was uncertain of the mileage, I have since looked it over and am estimating that particular route should be around a 4 mile hike. I did hike their short little nature trail though, which will be the focus of this post.Lake Iowa google map 1.jpg

The first thing I came across when I pulled into the park was the very nice nature center that looked pretty new. The interior was pretty sparse, but had plenty of potential to be a children’s learning center. Next to the center was a vegetation nature garden of sorts. It was a small circular path with a playground nearby. The camping area is located next to the center so it appears to be a place where the kids can play a little.DSC_2617.jpg

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Now on my visit I started at the nature center and hiked the 1 mile nature trail to the south. (The red trail.) The trail is a down-and-back style trail that loops around a little pond. There isn’t an actual trail map for Lake Iowa so I used Google Maps and created one.

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The nature trail (red) is a crushed gravel path surrounded by various plants and had quite a few small mammals, birds, and insects that created some good photos. I spent a lot of my time taking pictures and as such my pace was pretty slow. It took me about an hour, but I am happy with the pics. I could see a good number of fish in the pond as well. Even though it was short, it was a pretty enjoyable little hike for an unintended visit.

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The above map marks the trails the best I could figure out from the satellite view. The red trail once again is the nature trail, the yellow trail would be the options available going through the camping area, and the orange trail is the lake trail. There are three places to park along the orange trail and one next to the nature center. While you can park in any of the 4 spots in order to hike the trails anyway you would like, one route I would suggest is parking at the nature center as it would be the more trafficked area (and next to the ranger’s home). I would then hike clockwise to get rid of most of the road walking right off as most of it is on the northwestern section. Once you get to the yellow trail you can choose a couple of different routes; follow one road northwest directly back to the start, or follow another road to the south where you can pick one of three short trails to the pond on the red nature trail. From there you just head back to the nature center.

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Overall a nice little park that should be accessible to anyone. I wish I were more prepared to hike the full lake trail, but it just means I’ll have to sneak over for a complete hike another time. So if you’re going to be in the area and looking for a place to stretch your legs it would be worth a short stop off. Especially if they continue to develop the nature center into the future.

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