Iowans are a resilient bunch. Find us sweating out a minor league baseball game during the dog days of summer and see us bundled up at our favorite ice fishing hole. Or join us to ring in the new year at a most unconventional location: an Iowa State Park.
Beginning in 2012, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources joined a national initiative challenging hearty explorers to defy the grips of winter and enjoy a state park hike. My family experienced the fun last year and had such a blast that we’re planning our return for the first day of 2017.
Picture this: The temperature hovered between 15 and 20 degrees, although a light westerly breeze added an extra chill to the air. We entered the quintessential lodge at Walnut Woods State Park in southern Des Moines where a roaring fire greeted us. We sat with about 50 other people, each carefully wrapped in layers of boots, insulated pants, hats, and scarves. We listened intently as the ranger instructed us about the morning’s hike. We would embark as a group, led by the ranger, on one of two adventures. The shorter route would equal about one mile, and a longer option extended to nearly three.
So off we went, excited to explore our state from a new cold weather perspective. The kids giddily trudged through the snow, kicking up plumes as they went. They jumped over some downed trees and climbed under others, stopping occasionally to accomplish an impromptu snow angel.
Adults of all ages and abilities enjoyed the hike’s leisurely pace. And the exercise was just enough comfortably warm our bodies. The ranger answered questions and shared information but left us ample time to make new friends among our outdoor compadres. My family peeled off at the one-mile mark, captured obligatory family pictures and headed back to the lodge for snacks, compliments of the park’s friends group.
First Day Hike Locations Hikes at each park differ in length and difficulty. Learn more here.
5.) Stone State Park
11.) Waubonsie State Park
22.) Cedar Rock
23.) Pine Lake State Park