Explore Iowa: Loess Hills

Posted on June 10, 2016 in Blog


The Loess Hills of Iowa are a national treasure. The landform is considered the best example of loess topography in the United States and one of the two most notable examples of this landscape type in the world. 

The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway winds through farmland, small towns, prairie and woodland. These byways offer unique scenic vistas and link conservation areas where there are opportunities to hike, view wildlife, hunt and explore. A 2002 Special Resource Assessment led by the National Park Service mapped twelve Special Landscape Areas (SLAs) here where protection of natural lands is considered especially important.

The globally significant, 650,000-acre Loess Hills, provides refuge for 49 rare plants and animals. The Iowa Wildlife Action Plan reaffirms the importance of this area for the state's biodiversity.

More than 75 percent of the land within the special landscape areas is without protection. However, over 30,000 acres in the Loess Hills are now preserved for the future. This includes over 6,000 acres of private land voluntarily protected by landowners with conservation easements.

Public preserves and parks in this region include Five Ridge Prairie and Stone State Park in the northern Loess Hills, down to the Hitchcock Nature Area and Folsom Point in the hills' southern stretches. A Comprehensive Recreation Plan prioritizes the recreational expansion opportunities and lays the groundwork for further development of trails, such as the Wabash Trace Nature Trail and Lewis & Clark Multi-Use Trail.

These hills that rise up along the Missouri River have been an important corridor for centuries before Lewis & Clark first came up the river in 1804. The region's rich cultural and historical resources include the Glenwood culture earth lodge sites and Mill Creek culture villages in the Loess Hills. National Historic Landmarks including the Hitchcock House, Gen. Grenville Dodge House, Sgt. Floyd Monument, Woodbury County Court House and the Oneota cultural site, Blood Run along the Big Sioux River.

Many partners, including the Loess Hills Alliance, county conservation boards, INHF and other private organizations and public agencies are working in the region to maintain and enhance the region's natural and cultural resources, while supporting tourism and sustainable economic development.