First Day Hikes at Iowa’s state parks

Hiking a snow-covered trail at Gull Point State Park with a cup of hot cocoa in hand might be the perfect way to kick off the new year. Photo: Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Guided by park staff and volunteers, these hikes at 24 state parks and forests offer a bracing breath of fresh air to start the year. We recommend the five below, but you can find a full list of statewide activities on the Iowa DNR’s website.

Ledges State Park and Pilot Knob State Park: The festivities start as two of Iowa’s most historic state parks — in Madrid and Forest Park, respectively — celebrate 100 years. At Ledges, a staff-led hike into the canyon and a chili feast await you at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m. at Pilot Knob, take part in post-hike delights like sledding, s’mores and cider.

Cedar Rock State Park: Immerse yourself in the serenity of outdoor yoga, followed by an easy-to-moderate hike through the picturesque landscape near Independence. Meet at the visitor center at 1 p.m. and remember to dress for the weather.

Gull Point State Park: Starting at 10 a.m., take an easy stroll along the non-paved Barney Peterson Memorial Interpretive Trail in Milford, where you can see tallgrass prairie, a scenic overlook and diverse winter wildlife. Afterward, meander over to the lodge, where hot cocoa awaits.

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park: Meet your fellow hikers at 10 a.m. at the lodge to choose your own adventure with a 1-, 2- or 3-mile route in Van Buren County to see bald eagles and waterfowl along the Des Moines River bluffs. Afterward, catch the shuttle back to the lodge and warm up with coffee and soup.

Lake Darling State Park: Join the staff to explore the newest sections of the ADA-paved fishing trail along this 302-acre lake, starting at 10 a.m. The trail winds through wetland habitats, restored prairie and Brighton’s 200-year-old cemetery.

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