June 7, 2016

3 Places To Hike In The Loess Hills

The Loess Hills Scenic Byway in Western Iowa is a beautiful drive, especially now.

Of course, when my kids are involved, a peaceful and long drive to look at scenery never happens.

A sign for the Loess Hills in Preparation Canyon State Park.

A sign for the Loess Hills in Preparation Canyon State Park.

To enjoy the Loess Hills and keep the kids happy, you need a plan. Here are three places to visit with kids that lets you enjoy the view while having a bit of an adventure with the kids. All three have trails suitable for young children and they’re less than two hours from Omaha.

The Loess Hills are waiting.

The Loess Hills are waiting.

 

Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa

We’re regulars here, enjoying all four seasons.

OK, let’s be honest, I avoid parks in the winter…

But most of the year, you can find my family here.

A quiet walk in the park in the spring at Hitchcock.

A quiet walk in the park in the spring at Hitchcock.

Trails here vary in degrees of difficulty, but we have yet to find one we can’t manage with our kids, who’ve hiked here with us since they were 2.

There is a barrier-free trail into the woods, making this park wheel-chair accessible. Camping is available and there are a few cabins.

The boardwalk at Hitchcock makes nature accessible for a lot of people.

The boardwalk at Hitchcock makes nature accessible for a lot of people.

Be sure to check out the nature center and lookout tower. The nature center has hands on displays and interactive areas, plus you can check out a nature backpack for free. These backpacks have helpful tools for kids to further enjoy a hike.

Hitchcock is located in the flight path of raptors, so the lookout tower is a prime spot to look for the large birds.

 

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

 

There is a modern playground inside Hitchcock. There is some hike-in camping spots as well as a few cabins.

Distance from Omaha: 20 miles

 

Preparation Canyon State Park, Pisgah, Iowa

A trail that leaves the scenic outlook at Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa.

A trail that leaves the scenic outlook at Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa.

We ventured here without a map and without a clue. My son was really psyched to see a canyon, and even without much knowledge of the area, I knew he’d be disappointed.

I know in his mind he was picturing the Grand Canyon. Grand, this canyon is not.

We picked a trail from a picnic shelter, venturing down a steep slope to a lagoon. It was rough going back up, but our children and dog managed just fine. 

They don't call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don't expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

They don’t call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don’t expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

We hiked in the spring and a large portion of the trail was underwater, so beware.

The highlight was actually outside of the main park area, the scenic lookout point with a view of the Loess Hills Forest. Follow the signs on the road, it’s definitely worth the drive.

The sign's right, this is "The Spot."

The sign’s right, this is “The Spot” to get a good view of the Loess Hills Forest.

There’s a large deck offering a beautiful view of the Loess Hills. A well-worn trail leads you along one ridge.

There are a handful of hike-in campsites, and a nature study area is located in the eastern area of the park.

Distance from Omaha: 60 miles

 

Stone State Park, Sioux City, Iowa

This state park is located within city limits of Sioux City, but it feels very much removed from city life.

We visited on a winter day, taking a short hike from the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center to a lookout, passing by a sweet wooden play area for children.

They say this nature area at Stone State Park is for kids, but I don't think so.

They say this nature area at Stone State Park is for kids, but I don’t think so.

Time your visit well so you can peek inside the nature center. This one also has hands-on exhibits for children and a 400-gallon aquarium with native fish.

There are more than two-dozen campsites as well as cabins with AC/heat (but no bathrooms).

Distance from Omaha: 110 miles

 

Your turn: Where do you like to hike or camp in the Loess Hills?

Comments

  1. I’ve lived in Iowa for six years and still haven’t made it to the Loess Hills! Your post convinces me that I absolutely need to ASAP. Thanks for sharing your great experience!

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