4 Of The Best Hiking Trails In Iowa

The Grom Life is an independent publisher. You will not find paid product promotions or sponsored content on this site. You will find affiliate links which means we may earn a commission if you purchase through these links.

Iowa, the Hawkeye State, might not be the first destination that comes to mind when thinking about great places to go hiking. Hiking in Iowa might not receive as much limelight as states like Alaska or Utah; however, the Hawkeye State promises to provide a great outdoor adventure with views that will quickly leave you with a sense of awe.

Iowa is a great destination for hiking and offers a wide variety of opportunities for hikers regardless of their amount of experience. With several state parks, rocky cliffs, and scenic views, a hiking experience in Iowa promises to be an unforgettable adventure for everyone to enjoy.

For any passionate outdoor enthusiast out there looking for a great destination filled with hiking trails, look no further than the state of Iowa. There is undoubtedly no better way to explore the Hawkeye state than enjoy any of the several scenic hiking routes that cater to hikers of any experience. Discover why Iowa should be your next hiking destination. 

Hiking In Iowa

It is disappointing to know that Iowa does not get the attention it deserves from a hiking point of view. Indeed, the Hawkeye State is filled with incredible hiking spots with options suited to those who have never hiked a day in their whole lives and those who are used to strenuous long-distance hikes.

The state of Iowa offers an abundance of diverse hiking experiences. From scenic hikes through forest trails to exploring caves, passing through waterfalls, and climbing some beautiful dolomite limestone cliffs, a hiking experience in Iowa is guaranteed to provide the adventure of a lifetime that you do not want to pass by.

You will be able to hike in Iowa throughout the year; however, the winters in Iowa can get very cold and will require several layers. On the other hand, summer in Iowa can get extremely hot and is also the rainiest time of the year. Autumn is undoubtedly one of the most excellent times to hike in Iowa, as the conditions are pleasant, and the fall colors are magnificent.

Along with the stunning scenery and trails to explore, many of Iowa’s hiking trails are camping-friendly. This is excellent news for those ready for a multi-day outdoor adventure and enjoy a wonderful getaway from the noise of life. The Hawkeye State is a great place to enjoy a break from a busy life and breath in some of nature’s fresh air.

The Best Hiking Trails In Iowa

Alright, now that we have some of the essentials for hiking in Iowa covered, the next step will be knowing where you should go. Iowa has an abundance of incredible hiking spots. So much so that choosing where to go can often be somewhat of an overwhelming task. While we cannot list them all, here are a few of the best hiking trails in Iowa:

Backbone State Park

Frist on our list is Iowa’s oldest state park, Backbone State Park. This stunning spot offers over twenty miles of various hiking trails to enjoy. One of the beginner-friendly hiking trails in the area is less than a mile long, with some beautiful rocky terrain. More advanced hikers, on the other hand, will be able to enjoy several miles of outdoor adventure. 

Backbone State Park is one of Iowa’s hiking trails where you will be able to enjoy climbing the dolomite limestone cliffs. Epic views and scenic trails make Backbone State Park a must-visit spot for any passionate hiker and outdoor enthusiast.

Ledges State Park

Another one of Iowa’s epic hiking spots is found in Ledges State Park. Part of what makes this hiking trail so popular is the opportunity to see the 100-foot-tall sandstone ledges, which are truly breathtaking to witness in person. 

With over thirteen miles of hiking trails on offer, paired with some exquisite scenery, Ledges State Park promises to provide an epic hiking adventure.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Fancy a hiking adventure through exquisite limestone formations? Then Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of Iowa’s hiking destinations that you do not want to miss. The Dancehall Cave trail, in particular, is one of the most popular, where hikers will get to explore old caves of all different shapes and sizes. 

For this trail, in particular, you will want to bring a torch or a headlamp along with you to ensure that you can still see when things start to get a little dark. This is arguably the most fascinating and unique hiking experience that you can have in Iowa. 

If the caves aren’t already enough of a selling point for you, Maquoketa Caves State Park is also known for its colorful flowers that can especially be seen during the spring. All in all, this spot needs to be a priority destination for any passionate hiker. 

Yellow River State Forest

Last on our “best hiking spots” list, but by no means the last that Iowa has to offer is the Yellow River State Forest. Once mentioned as one of Iowa’s best hiking trails, this is a spot that hiking enthusiasts do not want to pass by. 

The views at Yellow River State Park are absolutely stunning. With over 45 miles of trails on offer, hikers of all experience levels will be able to enjoy all that this state park has to offer. Camping is also available at Yellow River State Park, so being able to disconnect from the busyness of the world fully can be experienced here. 

Preparing For A Hike In Iowa

As with many other outdoor activities, ensuring that you are adequately prepared for what you will be up against is vital. Since hiking is arguably the cheapest outdoor activity out there, it is highly popular, which is not necessarily a bad thing. What can often be a problem is people embarking on a hike that they are not physically ready for.

Being aware of your overall physical capabilities and what your body can handle from a fitness point of view is vital before just embarking on any hike. Ultimately, you do not want to be too exhausted to continue or risk unnecessary injury. If you have never hiked before, start with a hiking trail that is relatively short and simple and increase the difficulty from there before embarking on a long-distance hike.

Another thing to consider is the time of year that you are planning your hike. As previously mentioned, Iowa’s climate is known for having hot, humid summers and cold winters. If you do not happen to pay a visit during the more pleasant Fall season, you will want to ensure that you are sufficiently prepared to handle the extreme weather, which we will cover later.

Overall, your fitness and the time of year you choose to visit Iowa are essential factors to consider when planning a hike there. As with many things in life, preparation ensures that you have the best and most enjoyable time.

What To Wear For A Hike In Iowa

Another vital aspect of preparing for your hike in Iowa is ensuring that you have the appropriate clothing and footwear. Let’s explore the clothing and footwear essentials for hiking in Iowa.

Hiking Shoes

Since hiking involves spending, in some instances, several hours on your feet on typically uneven terrain, having appropriate shoes should undoubtedly be one of your highest priorities. 

Standard walking shoes or trainers should more than suffice for relatively short hikes without too much of a challenge. As long as they provide a good amount of support and are comfortable, then you do not need to go out and spend any extra money on a good pair of hiking boots. 

However, if you happen to be hiking in Iowa during the summer, it might be worthwhile to ensure that your shoes are waterproof, as you might get caught in one of Iowa’s summer cloudbursts. For winter, insulated winter hiking boots are recommended, as you will want something solid and sturdy that keeps your feet warm.

A standard pair of trainers is not recommended for the experienced hikers out there looking to go on a long and strenuous hike. For long-distance hikes that cover many different terrains and possible climbing, having a good pair of hiking boots with sufficient ankle support is vital. Your feet will undoubtedly be thanking you for it.


Suppose you are going to be hiking in Iowa during the summer. In that case, you will want to ensure that you wear clothing that will keep you as cool as possible to help avoid the possibility of heatstroke and potential dehydration. Make sure that you wear lightweight clothing made of highly breathable material. Short sleeves will be a bonus too. 

Iowa experiences freezing winters where snow is practically guaranteed. Overall, it is not recommended to go hiking during this time of the year. However, if you are determined to have the experience, make sure to wear multiple layers, gloves, and a beanie to maintain maximum warmth.

As previously mentioned, Autumn is undoubtedly the best time to go hiking in Iowa. The conditions have reached a comfortable middle ground, where it is not too hot but also not too cold. Wearing breathable material is still essential, but long sleeves might be more appropriate, especially during the later parts of Autumn. 

Finally, a hat is always a great idea, especially if you aren’t going to be walking through a nicely shaded forest. Also, in particular, for the summer months, make sure to bring a raincoat along in case there is a sudden downpour. 

What To Bring For A Hike In Iowa

Now that we have got your clothing and shoes covered, let’s explore a few hiking essentials that you want to make sure to bring along with you. From the outset, a backpack is a great idea to bring along and will be extremely helpful in carrying a few of the extras you will be bringing. Here’s what to bring for a hike in Iowa:

Water And Food/Snacks

It undoubtedly should go without saying, but water is one of the most vital things to have while hiking – regardless of the distance you will be embarking on. Remaining hydrated is of utmost importance, especially during the summer months. Take as many liters of water as you can carry because the general rule is to have too much water rather than not have enough. 

Additionally, bringing a few snacks along is a great way to keep your energy levels up. Also, since you will be burning up your body’s resources, it is not uncommon to get hungry whilst on a hike. Bring something like trail mix and protein bars to keep your energy levels high.


Another obvious one, but the sun in Iowa can be really harsh on your skin. Ensure that you apply a lot of sunscreen before and during your hike. A minimum of SPF 30 is recommended for adequate sun protection.

First Aid Kit

If you have already embarked on a hike before, you will know that getting a few scratches or maybe even a cut is highly likely, depending on the terrain that you will be trekking through. Having some bandages, band-aids, and antibacterial cream can really come in handy with preventing any infections and ensuring that your scratches or cuts do not get any worse.

Insect Repellant

The one potential downside of being out in nature is that it has to deal with a lot of pesky bugs like mosquitoes and ticks. Bring some bug spray along to help prevent any bites, unpleasant itchiness, and possibly tick-bite fever. 


While a camera might not be considered a hiking essential, they are a great way to capture all of the beautiful scenery that you will get to experience. One of the best things about technology is being able to essentially relive memories by looking through photos and videos of the adventures that you have been on. 

It doesn’t have to be a fancy top-of-the-range camera, of course. The camera on your phone will more than suffice, and Iowa’s hiking trails with undoubtedly be worth capturing.


Overall, it is easy to see why a hiking experience in Iowa is not to be passed by. The overall scenery and widely diverse kinds of hiking trails are undoubtedly some of the best that the United States has to offer. Be intentional about taking the time to pay Iowa a visit, especially during the Autumn months, and you will be sure to have the adventure of a lifetime.