Wander Women offers opportunities for females to experience nature through hikes, camping trips and other outdoor adventures. Photograph courtesy of Wander Women.
Writer: Brianne Sanchez
Shouldering a 30-pound pack for a two-night stay in an Iowa county park might seem silly, especially if you’re just looking for a physical challenge. After all, it’s not even a mile between the trailhead at Hitchcock Nature Center and the Badger Ridge backcountry campsite. Roll in after work and you can set up before sunset in a field that borders remnant prairie and woodlands, only 20 minutes outside Council Bluffs.
But registering for a guided trip with Wander Women wasn’t solely about lugging a tent into the Loess Hills. While traversing some of the state’s steepest terrain was a bonus, the bigger opportunity for me was sharing an experience with like-minded ladies and leaving the responsibilities of home behind.
We didn’t have to make decisions about the route or what to have for dinner. Our guides, Jenn Riggs and Jaime Moquin, took care of both. They also filled a truck with gear, which meant I didn’t have to dust off my own decades-old pack or buy a new camp stove. They even provide sleeping bags. I could simply show up with a few essentials, ready to hike.
And hike we did. Over the course of two days, our group of eight covered 13 miles of trail—almost every path the picturesque park has to offer. Riggs pointed out the wildflowers and other fun facts about the ecology within this unique landscape, which formed as glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. Moquin helped us identify bird calls using the Merlin Bird ID app. (The park is known for its raptors, but our group grew fond of an enthusiastic whippoorwill.)
But mostly I kept my smartphone in airplane mode. Being unplugged meant I could keep my eyes on the horizon instead of a screen. We walked up and down the windswept ridge lines, encountering views of oak savanna, and enjoyed our dinners at a high point where we could see downtown Omaha in the distance.
At night, we lingered around the campfire, talking a bit about our careers, families and backgrounds, but mostly swapping stories about outdoor adventures we’ve had and others that we plan to take. Wander Women instituted a policy that lets you bring a buddy but caps the number of friends on their public trips. (Groups of gal pals can opt to plan a custom camping getaway in tents or cabins.) Anyone worried about going solo can cache their concerns with their car keys, though. There’s no quicker way to bond than when your first conversation includes the “leave no trace” instructions for digging a cathole.
Sunday morning, my new friends and I shook out our tents (it stormed overnight) and set out for home in a drizzle. We relished our time outside together but were ready to return to the warm showers—I mean loved ones—we’d left behind.