The Loess Hills Scenic Byway in Western Iowa is a beautiful drive, especially in the fall. I recommend getting out of the car, though, and trying a hike in the Loess Hills. There are several parks to explore, each with kid-friendly trails I can vouch for. Here are a few trails through the Loess Hills I recommend, and each are less than two hours from Omaha.
UPDATE: This post was first published in 2016 and updated in June 2021 to mention new trail recommendations and links.
Iowa Parks With Loess Hills Trails
Below you’ll find three parks to visit, each with trails to hike that are suitable for families (some trails are longer than others, so grab a map before setting out).
These trails are in Western Iowa, so if you’re looking for something closer to Omaha, read this post about my 7 favorite trails near Omaha.
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.
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.
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.
There is a modern playground inside Hitchcock. There are some hike-in camping spots as well as a few cabins.
Distance from Omaha: 20 miles
Preparation Canyon State Park, Pisgah, 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.
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.
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.
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
Bonus Loess Hills Hike recommendation
Earlier this summer, my son and I made the (fairly long) trek to Waubonsie State Park in southwestern Iowa. These trails are similar to Hitchcock Nature Center trails but with fewer hikers on the trails!
Click to read about about hiking in Waubonsie.
Your turn: Where do you like to hike or camp in the Loess Hills?
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Monday 13th of June 2016
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!
Monday 13th of June 2016
Ah, thanks, Megan! I'll have to keep tabs on your blog to see what you thought of the region. Happy exploring!