Explore Iowa: Hitchcock Nature Area
Photo by Jim Crawford
This extensive preserve located 15 miles north of Council Bluffs, Iowa, offers an easy, accessible visit for those who want an introduction to the Loess Hills. You can choose among hiking trails with wonderful views, or use the equal-access boardwalk or the lodge's large porch to view the hills and the Missouri River floodplain. Educational programs, guided hikes, and prairie workdays are offered regularly. During migration, this is one of the state's best areas to view hawks, other raptors and many other migrating species.
This site was formerly a YMCA camp and was offered for sale about 1990. INHF bid to purchase the site but was outbid by an out-of-state developer, who began converting it to landfill as he went into bankruptcy. Community support was galvanized when neighbors saw the gash left as he cleared the first 60 acres of trees. INHF purchased the site at a sheriff's sale in early 1991, but ownership was delayed several months when the bank holding the loans also went bankrupt. INHF persisted and finally purchased the core 508 acres to create the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board's premier Loess Hills park. Since then, the park has grown to 830 acres, complete with the indoor nature center, 10 miles of hiking trails (including a handicapped-accessible boardwalk trail), a campground, cabins, numerous educational programs for all ages and much more.
In early 2004, INHF completed another long-term project with friendly Hitchcock neighbors to protect and restore 178 acres adjacent to the south trail; the owners retain lifetime use of the land, but its future as a preserve addition is certain.
The Missouri River Valley and the updrafts created by prevailing westerly winds create a "hawk highway" that attracts migrating raptors to Hitchcock. Every year, visitors gather for HawkWatch: an event to observe eagles, hawks and other raptors as they migrate south.
During this fall event spectators can expect to see Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Northern Harriers, as October is their prime migration period through this area. Some straggling Turkey Vultures, Swainson's Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrels and Ospreys could also be seen -- as well as countless other migrating species of butterflies and birds. Join HawkWatchers and help identify these migrating raptors -- or just talk with these experienced birders about birds, migration patterns and more.
Participants can also experience live hawk demonstrations or just relax and read more about birds with Hitchcock's selection of resource books. For the kids, there are raptor coloring sheets and crayons to let their creativity run wild. Everyone is invited to take a walk along the ten miles of trails in the Hitchcock Nature Area. Then warm up inside and chat with fellow raptor enthusiasts while you enjoy hot cider, coffee and cookies. For more about Hitchcock and its facilities, click here.
Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce