Expand Your Hiking Horizons
With warm weather quickly approaching, it’s time to start planning new adventures around the state. This year, pack your backpack, find your compass and plan a route: backpacking is an essential way to discover Iowa’s lush outdoors and immerse yourself in wilderness.
Not always known for its rich backpacking opportunities, Iowa has great routes to explore if you’re looking for multi-day trips and can be great for beginners looking to try backpacking for the first time.
“For me, it’s just about getting everyone outdoors,” says Jenn Riggs, founder of Wander Women Iowa, an outdoor adventure company for Iowa women. “Just go for it. Be prepared but get your foot out of the door.”
Before venturing off, make sure you’re prepared for the trail ahead. Route planning is made easy by maps and trail guides found online through the Iowa DNR, MyCountyParks. com and iowaparklands.com. Maps and campsite descriptions can also be found in Hiking Iowa: A Guide to Iowa’s Greatest Hiking Adventures by E. Hill and K. Corcoran.
Backbone State Park in eastern Iowa features eight miles of hiking, with full views of the forest understory diversity to wow along your hike. Easily accessible from the Des Moines metro, Stephens State Forest between Osceola and Chariton is exemplary for beginning backpackers due to its well-maintained 6-mile loop through the Woodburn Unit. Set out east from the parking area on 330th Ave and follow the Bur Oak trail. The loop features five pack-in campsites.
Connected by a short road segment, Preparation Canyon State Park and the Loess Hills State Forest are ideal for watching slow sunsets sink over distant bluffs. In addition, the two areas provide great stargazing. With some animal and plant species found only in these parks, backpackers should be aware of this landscape’s ancient fragility.
The biggest rule of backpacking: Know your limits before your boots hit the soil. According to REI experts, most backpackers face two main obstacles: time and distance. An average backpacker can trek anywhere from three to 12 miles per day, depending on season and elevation. Know recent and projected weather for the area you’re planning to hike, bring enough water and food and build in opportunities to appreciate Iowa’s beauty.