Explore the most popular backpacking trails in Iowa with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

hiking
1 month ago

Great set of trails off the beaten path. If you are looking for a longer trail away from most of the public... you will love this location. Several times I have hiked the 10+ mile trails and never passed a single person.

hiking
3 months ago

This trail is a little hard to follow in a few locations. Just remember, the trail essentially goes around the lake, so if you don't know which way to go, it turns out that taking the option nearest the lake is usually (but not always) going to be the correct way. I got on the wrong trail 2 times during my hike, but within 10 minutes realized I wasn't on the correct trail so quickly backtracked and was okay. Its not that the trail is hard to follow, its that at some intersections there simply are no signs so you don't know which trail to take.

The trail itself is so-so. I liked it because it is hard to find a (hiking) trail longer than, say, 7 miles, in Iowa. The trail itself is just okay in my opinion. My dog got a bloody paw by the end of the hike. Nearly the entire trail is gravel, I think that was why it was tough on her paws. This trail is shared with equestrians, which seems to be very popular at this location judging by the many horses I saw at the part where you need to walk through the equestrian campground. On trail, however, I only saw 5 horses, 1 group of 3 and 1 couple. The vast majority of this hiking trail I was alone, except when I came across areas near parking lots, where many fisherman can be found.

Although this is a loop around the lake, you actually do not see the lake very often. That was okay by me, as it was jam packed with fishing boats anyhow. I did enjoy the hike, but nothing all that special really popped out. I will absolutely be going back to explore some of the other hiking trails at Brushy Creek, and maybe redo this hike as well.

Note: the maps from the Recreation Area itself refers to this trail as the Lake Trail. However, while on the trails, this name is only used in the southern portion south of the dam. For the rest of the trail, the labels/directionals on the trail refer to it as the "All Weather Trail"

Tick Count: 7 on the dog, 3 on me... that was found

Had a great time doing this with my teen daughter and her friend in early-early spring. We literally didn't see another person the entire time we were in the forest. The western part of this loop is fantastic - it feels wild, it's not super easy, the terrain is somewhat rugged. I think they could do a better job of keep the trail off roads on the eastern and northern parts though, as it ruins the ambience to walk along a road. Still, this was better than we expected, and it was fun to get in some good snow-free backpacking while Minnesota is still covered in snow and ice.

We stayed at the Brown's Hollow camp, which was quite a lot less primitive than I expected, given that it's a filter and cathole camp area - there are big, proper fire grates and benches in predefined camping areas. Given the iffy weather, that was an unexpected perk. I'd certainly do this again.

hiking
11 months ago

Nice kept trail!

backpacking
Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Great trail for an easy walk. Travel the loop counter clockwise and camp at the last camp. It's an awesome little open grass field with great shade trees and a good creek for collecting water. I did this trail in a few hours with my 14 year old son...so needless to say it's a pretty easy walk. Very enjoyable and I would do it again.

hiking
Sunday, May 07, 2017

A very fun and exhilarating hike. Many different types of surfaces from, dirt, grass, sand and short jaunt on a dead end road. Initial mile has a good size hill that is easy going down but at the end of the hike is a bear to go up. there are numerous creek's feeding into the river a few hundred feet away and cross the trail with no bridges. Most are step overs but one or two take some balance as you cross on the rocks...could be difficult after a heavy rain. some great views of the Des Moines River and the tree ridge on the other side. ...take a hammock and a light lunch and relax and enjoy the views.... a great moderate hike with a little something for everyone

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Amazing

hiking
Thursday, April 06, 2017

Love coming out here during the summer. This is probably one of my favorite places to camp close to Madison and I love the trails. When your up on the bluffs you have great views of the campsite and creek below. The "bluff trail" being my favorite as you can find delicious chanterelles up there (and angry wasps too haha) if you know what your looking for... They pop up all long the trail. Just save some for me please! Speaking of, this area is a hot bed for fungi hunters, found a nice chicken of the woods and a few other random edibles while out. Lots of good memories out here with my dog and my girlfriend hiking the bluffs.

hiking
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Had a great weekend at yellow river. We hiked about 15 mi Saturday and only saw one other person out trail running the whole time and the weather was fantastic. We did see a few horse riders. The trails are very easy most are set up for horses. The Bluff view trail had gret views of the river and big paint camp ground. There was alot of water in the streams we forded the river twice in almost knee deep fast moving water which was fun. Camp ground was nice and well kept. Primitive toilets and no running water, not a problem for us but thought other might want to know.

hiking
Monday, September 05, 2016

Overall a nice trail with a lot of shade, which is well appreciated over the summer. The greenery was also absolutely beautiful. Just wish there was a little more water in some of the smaller streams. Surprisingly, for a holiday weekend, there were very few people on the trails (averaged about one group every hour out hiking). There were a lot of people camping at the Big Paint Campground though.
Like the rest of this state, this trail was overall very flat, other than the Heffern's Hill Loop which went all the way up without a vista or anything other than the trail ahead of us. We went all the way up to go all the way back down.
The only downside was unexpectedly wading through the Paint Creek when we were on the Paint Creek Trail. Some equestrians ahead of us forded the waters. We were a little worse for wear when we came across the knee-high waters without a bridge or any easy way to cross the 6-foot plus gap of water. There is a way to go around this if you go up a little ways, but this will still likely involve some sketchy traversing and likely getting a little wet or muddy.

backpacking
Monday, July 04, 2016

This is a fun park with many trails and very nice backpacking campsites. Many of the trails are shared with hikers (we saw only a few on a busy weekend), mountain bikers (we didn't see any), and horses (there were many, and therefore many pounds of horse waste on the trails). We hiked a total of about 16 miles over two days. The elevation changes are among the most you will find in Iowa.

The campsites are all well maintained. If you plan to filter water, however, Heffern's Hill is you only real choice.

scenic driving
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I can't really rate this because I'm not sure what happened. I followed directions from on star and was suddenly on a dirt road in the forest (old junction road into fire tower road). I would go through Harper's ferry if I were you (unless you have high clearance and 4x4. (I was in a Cadillac and thank goodness it was all wheel drive! I was told later this is very primitive camping and hiking. I will be going back this summer (just not driving through in my Cadillac, lol! Curse you on star!) there was a guy behind me in a mini van and when we made it through my son actually got out and high fived him! It's definently a story we will have forever. I will be back to hike and more prepared. From what I seen this looks more like a few days of hiking to really get the experience.

hiking
Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First time back in a long time and enjoyed every minute of it! We backpacked out and setup camp in John Schultz and then the following day did a number of trails as we investigated the other sites and ended up at Heffern's Hill. The scenery was great and the trails were pretty well maintained. The campsites were very well maintained and wood had been delivered to many of them. We will definitely be heading back a couple of times this fall as it was a great trip. One note - water is a bit scarce at the campsites so plan to bring plenty or make a trip to HQ for water.

hiking
2 months ago

hiking
11 months ago

on Long Creek trail

hiking
Saturday, July 01, 2017

hiking
Sunday, July 17, 2016

backpacking
Saturday, July 02, 2016

hiking
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

hiking
Saturday, May 23, 2015

hiking
Tuesday, May 28, 2013