There are several thrilling outdoor adventures for all skill levels in several places in Iowa. My home state has rolling hills, bluffs, waterways, and thrilling outdoor adventures that you don’t want to miss. I hope you will plan a day of outdoor adventure in Iowa, as you will not be disappointed. I’ve included some tips with each of these activities to help you have a memorable day.
Please note that I was a guest on a press trip for some of these activities. All opinions are my own.
1. Mountain Biking: Fort Dodge
The Lizard Creek Mountain Bike Park is a single-track trail in Fort Dodge, Iowa. The trail is approximately 10 miles long and is a great experience for all skill levels. I am not a professional mountain biker and I enjoyed riding this trail. As you pedal through the woods, you will wind around the trees and through the forest. Summertime brings an abundance of blooming flowers, as well as a beautiful river view. Beginners enjoy Lower Lizard, which is where I spent my time riding this trail. More experienced riders enjoy Upper Lizard and the Phinney Loop.
Bring your bike, hop on the mountain biking trail, and enjoy an epic time in Fort Dodge. Bring a snack and find a bench along the river to rest up before you return to the parking area. A bicycle helmet is recommended but not required. There are no fees to bike this trail.
2. Hiking: Allamakee County
Allamakee County offers some of the most incredible hiking trails that you will come across in the country. Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails in the Yellow River State Forest. This state forest is vast, as it is made up of 8,900 acres, with more than 50 miles of hiking trails. You can hike and stay overnight if you want an extended adventure. The stars are visible as the black skies cover the trails. The views that you will find are incredible over the valley and bluffs that surround the area. Pack a pair of binoculars as your adventure continues with your eyes to the sky. Birding opportunities are around every corner as you hike through the forest. Be sure to carry plenty of water with you, as you will want to pack everything that you need.
Winter brings a different way of using the hiking trails. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular in the Yellow River State Forest during the winter. Iowa has four distinct seasons, and this state forest is a fantastic way to experience them. Each season brings a new opportunity for outdoor adventure. Dress for the season, and you will have an incredible day exploring Allamakee County. There are no fees to enter this state forest.
3. Bike The High Trestle Trail: Polk County
Load up your bicycle and bike Iowa’s well-known biking trail. The High Trestle Trail connects five Iowa communities and four counties. This popular biking trail highlights the one-half mile, 13-story bridge that spans across the Des Moines River between Madrid and Woodward in Central Iowa. The trail is mostly flat and easy to ride. If you are a beginner biker or an experienced biker, you will enjoy riding this trail. The High Trestle Bridge is lit up at night and offers a unique view of the trail. For more of a thrill, ride further and challenge yourself with distance.
When my husband and I biked the trail, we hopped on the trail at Madrid. There’s a trailhead with restrooms, a large parking lot, and a restaurant nearby. It’s also a short ride to the bridge, which is the highlight of this trail. Leave from Madrid near sunset and enjoy the lights on the bridge — it’s an experience you won’t forget. Make sure you have lights on your bicycle, as it will be dark on your way back to the parking lot.
4. Off-Highway Vehicle Park: Fort Dodge
Fort Dodge, Iowa, is home to the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Park. Riders come from all around the world to ride the miles of trails using ATVs, side-by-sides, and off-road motorcycles. There are 800 acres with 60 miles of trails. I have experienced this park riding a side-by-side, and it was a lot of fun. You’ll wind around the woods and climb a hill now and then. During the middle of summer, the wildflowers are in full bloom. If you like a thrill that you won’t find elsewhere, this is your park. If you are new to this trail, you will be glad to know that the signage is excellent throughout the park.
You will need to trailer your off-road vehicle to the trailhead, and your OHV must be registered in the state you call home. If you are a non-resident of Iowa, you need to display an IDNR Nonresident User Permit. You can purchase this at your county recorder’s office or any license agent selling hunting and fishing licenses. You will need to wear a helmet. I’d also suggest that you wear long pants and closed-in shoes.
5. Waterskiing: Clear Lake
Clear Lake, Iowa, is where memories are made on the lake all summer long. I grew up on this lake and learned to waterski on it when I was 10. Over the years, I have seen friends of all ages learn how to waterski and experience the thrill of riding on the water. Water skiing is an incredible way to experience Clear Lake. If you don’t own a boat and trailer, that’s not a problem. You can rent a boat for the day from Clear Lake Boats and enjoy the lake. Take a break at the seawall near downtown Clear Lake and grab a sandwich from Starboard Market and a cookie from Cookies Etc.
If you are not ready to hop on waterskis, hop on a tube. There’s nothing like riding on the water on a hot summer day. Clear Lake is a great place to learn how to waterski or ski to your heart’s content. The best tip that I can give you is to visit during the week to experience calmer waters and less boat traffic.
6. Kayaking: Estherville
High Lake offers an opportunity in Northwest Iowa to hop in a kayak. You can rent a kayak for a small fee from the Emmet County Nature Center. Life jackets are included with your kayak rental. You do have a choice of kayaks. You can opt for a sit-in kayak and sit-on kayak. If you are looking for a quiet place to enjoy nature on the water, this is a great way to do it. Sit in your kayak, move at your own pace, and enjoy the water. The one thing that I noticed on this lake was the variety of birds. Look up and out in front of you, as you never know what you will see from your kayak. You can rent your kayak for more than two hours if you want more of an outdoor challenge. You can decide how far and how long you want to venture out on the lake.
7. Riding The Trails: Volga River State Recreation Area
Many people often refer to the Volga River State Recreation Area in Northeast Iowa as “Little Switzerland.” The rock formations, prairie, bluffs, river, lake, and trails make this an outdoor lover’s paradise. The trails are groomed for equestrian riders, hikers, and mountain bikers during the warmer months. With more than 20 multi-use trails available for you to use, you will find natural beauty in all corners of this recreation area. And the view? The views of the lake will win you over instantly.
Winter brings an opportunity to cross-country ski and snowmobile on the trails. I have yet to visit this recreation area in the fall, but I have been told that the fall foliage is incredible. Summertime is my favorite time of year to visit, as the trails are ready for me and my hiking boots. There are no fees to visit this park, so make the most out of your day.
No matter where you decide to experience an outdoor thrill in Iowa, there is one thing that I know for sure — you will enjoy every moment of it. Keep your skill level in mind before you venture into any of these activities. Know your limitations, and don’t try to do something that you don’t feel comfortable doing. Each of these places has an opportunity for all levels of thrill-seekers to have the time of their lives in the great outdoors of Iowa.
If you have always wanted to try something new, now is the time. With so many thrilling outdoor adventures to choose from, you will find something that you enjoy. I have personally done all of these experiences at one time or another. Each of them can be as challenging as you make it. Summer is the best time for kayaking and waterskiing. Fall and spring are ideal for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and riding an OHV. Challenge yourself with something new and see how far you can go. If there is one thing that I know, it’s the fact that you will discover something that you find yourself doing over and over. I can’t wait to return to the OHV Park in Fort Dodge, as that was indeed an outdoor adventure that I cannot stop reliving in my mind.