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Iowa's Yellow River State Forest: A Must-See for Nature-Lovers
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Iowa's Yellow River State Forest: A Must-See for Nature-Lovers

If you are a lover of the Great Outdoors, a trip to the Yellow River State Forest should be somewhere near the top of your list of places to visit in Iowa. The Forest is located in Allamakee Country in Northeast Iowa and its main headquarters and tourist facilities can be found on county highway B25 between Harpers Ferry and Waterville.

The nature-lover is certainly well-catered for here with a wide range of things to do and see. There are campgrounds situated in the forest’s Paint Creek Units which are ideal for hikers and equestrians. Fishermen can enjoy trout streams and marsh fishing areas, trails abound that are suitable for hikers, horse riders and snow mobilers. Beautiful scenic viewpoints are a must and can be reached by car, on horseback, or on foot.


The entire forest is open to hikers. Yellow River’s backpacking trails were voted the best in Iowa by “Outside” magazine some years ago and the same holds true today.

All the trails are open throughout the year and there’s something to suit everyone with degrees of difficulty ranging from easy to moderate. There are 25 miles of well-maintained, clearly marked trails, as well as two camping areas which are only accessible on foot. If you want a taste of amazing Iowa outdoor living, Yellow River is for you!

It’s safe to use water from springs for bathing and washing but it’s advisable to pick up supplies of drinking water from the headquarters area before heading out into the wilds. Campfires are permitted if you practice fire safety and use your common sense. Always ensure that your fire is completely extinguished before you leave camp and never light fires when the weather is particularly dry or in windy conditions.

Geological history

The Yellow River Forest is part of the Paleozoic Plateau which covers virtually all of Allamakee County as well as northwestern Illinois, southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. The area’s main feature is its sandstone and limestone bedrock, instead of deposits of glacial drift which cover most of Iowa.

There are small, isolated pockets of glacial drift in the otherwise Driftless region, which are estimated to be at least half a million years old. It is this activity that has carved out the rocky outcrops, bluffs, and plunging slopes which are characteristic of the area.

Peace and quiet

The forest is deliciously peaceful. ATVs are not permitted anywhere in the park and other motor vehicles are only allowed on the feeder roads. During the winter months, there are designated trails for snowmobiles.

Unsurprisingly, the weekends are the busiest, but there’s so much space that it’s not difficult to get away from the crowds and find some peace and tranquility to enjoy nature. If you really crave solitude and want to get away from it all, then weekdays are the best time to visit when it’s entirely likely that you’ll encounter nothing much more than the resident wildlife.

Further information can be found here.

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