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Lakes, Beaches & Miles of Hiking & Biking Trails in Iowa

Lakes, love and laughter – that’s a getaway to one of Iowa’s many state parks. Four-season recreation abounds in the Hawkeye State, where you can enjoy a state park picnic in the “Food Capital of the World” – or try your hand a t water-skiing, ice fishing, or horseback riding in outdoor Iowa.

Take the boat out on Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, and fish for bass, walleye and catfish this summer in western Iowa. Ever tried water skiing? Now’s your chance at Lake Macbride State Park – just a short drive from Coralville and Cedar Rapids over on the eastern side of the Hawkeye State.

Want winter recreation? Stick around the Cedar Rapids area for a day at the Pleasant Creek State Park – home to great snowmobile trails and cross-country skiing opportunities.

Cyclists, look forward to a zip down the 90-mile Central State Park Bike Route at Big Creek State Park set near Des Moines, Ankeny, and Clive. And winter visitors, try ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing at Rock Creek State Park neighboring Grinnell.

The possibilities are endless in Iowa’s state parks, so start packing, and look forward to a Midwestern getaway no matter the time of year.

Big Creek State Park

Rent boats, relax on the water, and wander along 26 miles of trails this idyllic retreat, one of the most attractive natural enclaves in Central Iowa. Set on the shores of Big Creek Lake, the park is renowned for boating and fishing. Pick up fishing licenses and bait at Big Creek Marina. You can also rent many types of watercraft here near the swimming beach, including pontoon boats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, water bikes, and paddleboats.

You can also rent bikes. Miles of paved trails surround the lake and connect to nearby Ledges State Park and Springbrook State Park. In the winter, go snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. While hunting is not allowed at Big Creek State Park, it’s a popular diversion elsewhere on the lake.

Lake MacBride State Park

Go mountain biking in the summer, snowmobiling in the winter, and birding year-round at Lake MacBride State Park. Situated near Cedar Rapids, this 2,180-acre park is known for fishing and wildlife. The clear waters of the lake are teeming with all kinds of fish, including walleye, crappie, channel catfish, and even the prized Kentucky spotted bass. Rent pontoons and paddleboats and catch one to brag about.

Follow trails along the lake’s rocky shoreline, listen for songbirds, and hike through the woods. Sunbathe on the beach or go water skiing in the cool waters. When the temperatures drop, hiking trails become snowy cross-country ski paths.

Lake Manawa State Park

Picnic on the beach, pedal down scenic bike trails, and reel in a big catch at this outdoor escape. Easy to reach from nearby Council Bluffs, Lake Manawa State Park is a playground for nature lovers, bike riders, and boaters. Fish for crappie, bluegill, and catfish - or simply chill out on the beach.

The park is a popular family fun spot for swimming and picnics throughout the summer months. Rent kayaks and canoes and paddle along the peaceful shores of the lake. Bring your bicycle, because the park’s paved pathways are a thrill to explore. The paths are connected to other bike trails in the area, including the Western Trails Center, the Wabash Trace Trail, and the Council Bluffs trail system.

Rock Creek State Park

Find four seasons of fun at this blissful state park in Central Iowa. With calm waters and 15 miles of shoreline, Rock Creek Lake is a choice destination for fishing. Bring a boat or cast your line from land and reel in bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish, saugeye, and bullhead. Discover a network of trails for hiking, nature walks, and horseback riding. Biking is also a big deal here, and you can cruise all the way to the nearby Grinnell on a paved bike trail. Pack a picnic and find your perfect slice of peace and quiet. In winter, snowmobilers zoom through the woodlands and go ice fishing on the frozen lake.

Black Hawk State Park

Established in 1935, Black Hawk State Park is located in Lake View in northwest Iowa near Fort Dodge. Park visitors love spending time on Black Hawk Lake while fishing, swimming, boating, and canoeing.

Lace up comfortable shoes for a nice hike around the lake, and be sure to bring along your binoculars for bird-watching in this Iowa State Park. Pack a picnic lunch and take advantage of one of the park picnic shelters, or let the kids loose on the playground.

Brushy Creek State Recreation Area

Covering over 6,000 acres, the Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is a state park set in north-central Iowa. One of Iowa’s largest recreation areas, Bushy Creek is set approximately 15 miles from Ft. Dodge.

Bushy Creek features everything from boating and fishing on the 690-acre lake, to hunting, hiking, and horseback riding. The area encompasses over 45 miles of trail – also for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and mountain biking – plus two shooting ranges and plenty of picnic spots.

Dolliver Memorial State Park

Established in 1925, the Dolliver Memorial State Park is located in central Iowa – just north of Fort Dodge.

Set along the Des Moines River, the park features plenty of natural and cultural history as well as outdoor recreation.

Visitors to Dolliver Memorial State Park enjoy boating, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, and bird and wildlife viewing.

Natural history buffs find haven with onsite attractions like Copperas Beds and the Boneyard Hollow.

Greenbelt Park & Trail

With over 290 acres of landscape, Greenbelt Park & Trail provide abundant access to nature from many areas of Clive, Iowa. The 11.3-mile Greenbelt Trail is paved, and allows for users to bike, walk, run, jog, and rollerblade its length.

Greenbelt Park also features a baseball field and two playgrounds, plus plenty of nature for wildlife viewing. Picnic areas are also available to rent for a weekend lunch, or for larger events like birthday parties and reunions.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park

The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park covers 4.4 acres and features artwork by 22 of the world’s most celebrated artists with easy walking connections into downtown Des Moines. The unique sculpture park is affiliated with the Des Moines Art Center, lending to its artistic and urban charm.

Much like the art center, the sculpture park is open daily from sunrise to midnight, with guided tours available through certain months as well. Explore central Iowa and be sure to explore this scenic escape from the city during your next visit to nearby Clive.

Pleasant Creek State Park

Established in the 1960s for recreational use, the Pleasant Creek State Park is located northwest of Cedar Rapids. This 1,500-acre Iowa State Park is home to the beautiful 410-acre Pleasant Creek Lake. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy a variety of outdoor activities.

Boaters love launching into Pleasant Creek Lake for a fun time on the water. The lake is considered one of Iowa's highest quality fishing lakes and home to largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, muskellunge, and bluegill. Hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers enjoy trekking through the park's 10 miles of trails.

Riverview Park

Set on the Iowa River, the Riverview Park is located in Marshalltown, and is one of central Iowa's best places to spend time outside. Visitors to this beautiful park enjoy a variety of recreational activities like hiking, cycling, or playing Frisbee Golf. Bring along your fishing pole to cast into Black Hawk Lake and relax along the shore.

Have fun cruising the lake in a boat or paddle around in a canoe for a fun afternoon on the water. Kids love playing at the playground before snacking on a picnic lunch underneath one of the ramadas. The terrain even lends itself to wintertime snowmobiling.