June 7, 2016

3 Places To Hike In The Loess Hills

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.

This post was first published in 2016 and updated in July 2019 to mention new trail recommendations and links.

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

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.

Looking for Iowa hiking trail recommendations? Here are three great trails through the Loess Hills of Western Iowa, including Preparation Canyon. Each park on this list includes kid-friendly trails! #hiking #outdoors #nature #trails #familytime

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.

Places to hike in Western Iowa - A quiet walk on a trail at Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County.
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.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa has accessible trails. Here's a boardwalk found in the park.
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 view of the lookout tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa, as seen from a trail.
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 hiking 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. 

A steep trail at Preparation Canyon State Park in Iowa
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.

A sign at the Preparation Canyon State Park scenic outlook.
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.

A hike in the late spring at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa.
There’s an easy trail from the nature center to a nature play area at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa.

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.

Playing at the nature playscape at Stone State Park. It's near many trails.
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

Looking for things to do in Western Iowa? Go for a hike in the Loess Hills! Here's a guide that recommends parks with scenic trails that are also kid-friendly. #Iowa #hiking #outdoors

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

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