If you’ve only seen Iowa from the highway, an airplane window, or heard stories based on the farms and fields, you might approach this list with skepticism. You certainly won’t be expecting to read about limestone and dolomite ridges, red rocks and sea caves, world-class cycling trails, dense forests, and hilly, glacial terrain.
But, naturally, you are. This is just the start of a long inventory of uncrowded, uncommon outdoor adventures in the state, but it’ll give you a taste of what Iowa is hiding off the beaten path.
1. Hiking the bony spine of a devil
A narrow dolomite ridge carved out by the Maquoketa River has claimed the moniker Devil’s Backbone, the highlight of Backbone State Park, Iowa’s first. Twenty-one miles of trails — including along the ridge itself — make this spot a hiker’s church, paths meandering between stands of white pine, black oak, and ironwood, up forested slopes and craggy bluffs, and right along the water.
But there’s one other way Backbone State Park shines: its cabins. A CCC-era park, it holds a smattering of one- and two-bedroom cabins inside its borders, rustic yet with all the amenities. They’re often fully