Finally, I have some real travel to report. It feels as though it has been so long! While I may have gone to Minneapolis in February (and I loved it), it was just one place in almost three months of no travel.
Many of you may not find Iowa all that interesting – but some people are here for work, or traveling through, so knowing what there is to do here is important. Additionally, I think the reason tourism is so low is…these parks are not exactly well organized or well advertised!
So let’s jump in to where I’ve been and what I’m planning next:
March 16: Backbone State Park
My first Iowa State Park, and honestly one of the prettiest places I’ve been in Iowa. The hiking is actually excellent (apparently, not all of Iowa is flat, especially in the northeast).
There’s a giant limestone ridge that wends its way through the park that provides some incredible views over the countryside and the river. You can find out more in my Backbone State Park hiking guide!
Just know it’s a great time to visit a cave, wander alongside a super-clear river, or clamber over some rocks with your dog.
Unfortunately, it was here that I began to learn how poorly organized the state parks are. There are no maps to greet you at the entrances to parks, or indeed anywhere. Directional signs do not list the hikes or parking areas.
Paths give no identifying information other than their names, and the paths themselves (while still available) may be blocked behind ominous seasonal gates. They don’t list the various entrances on Google so you might wind up in the wrong area for what you want to do. Park offices are not welcoming and frequently do not have any flyers or useful information outside.
I know that sounds like a lot of complaints! I absolutely loved my visit here, it’s just frustrating to think of what I could have missed, and how it will be off-putting to tourists and people not familiar with the area.
The state park website is surprisingly good, but after visiting five state parks this month I’m seriously considering writing a letter about signage to…somebody.
March 19: George Wyth State Park
My second Iowa State Park was a surprise – it’s just 15 minutes from my house! This park is styled more as an “Urban escape” for the denizens of Waterloo and Cedar Falls. You can find more in my Guide to George Wyth State Park.
My primary feelings are that it’s not my favorite park ever. There is a park nearby in Cedar Falls called Big Woods that’s a lot more peaceful (unfortunately you can hear the noise from the highway at George Wyth).
However, there are excellent views of the Cedar River to be had and it has a lot of options for outdoor activities such as boating and fishing. It definitely suffers from the same problems as Backbone State Park when it comes to navigation.
My dog loved it though 😛
March 21: Iowa City & Devonian Fossil Gorge + Cedar Rapids
I was awaiting news of my new job and couldn’t take it anymore so I headed out to Iowa City! The last time I was here, most places still had a bunch of Covid rules in effect. Now, I was able to stop in and truly enjoy the Prairie Lights Bookshop, even if the Haunted Bookstore is still (effectively) closed.
While not a state park, the Devonian Fossil Gorge is still cool place to visit on any trip in and around Iowa City. At first, I was a little underwhelmed. Until I started walking down the gorge, stopping to kneel on the stone and examine it.
It’s actually fascinating! All of these tiny creatures preserved in the mud, immortal for our eyes…the weird plants and clam-like creatures are everywhere. Be aware, while there are some spots marked with numbered metal plaques, I did not find those spots to be the most interesting. And, at least they had several informational panels at the entrance so you knew what you were going to look at.
Finally, I stopped in at the Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids. It’s pretty small, but quite interesting, and the staff are always eager to chat about your connection (however vague) to Czech and Slovak immigration to the US. All-in-all, a nice complement to my trip, I’m only sad I missed their visiting exhibit of wedding headdresses!
March 28: Palisades-Kepler, Lake Macbride, and Pleasant Creek State Parks
Yep, I went to three! And it was kind of an accident. I had originally only planned to go to Palisades-Kepler. However, pretty soon after I arrived I realized that the end-of-winter season wouldn’t do the hiking or photos much justice.
I had originally been deciding between Palisades-Kepler and Lake Macbride, so I took the quick 15 minute drive over to Lake Macbride and absolutely loved it. Holding up much better to the early spring, the views and paths were delightful.
The lake is gorgeous, the spillway is actually super cool, the paths are nice, and there is (surprisingly) pretty decent signage here! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to walk all the trails I wanted to due to a controlled burn going on in another area of the park.
So, with the time I had in the rest of my day, I decided to stop in at Pleasant Creek on the way home. And I think the name describes it, it’s pleasant, if not totally exciting. It’s obviously very well cared for, but the paths are difficult to find and even the website description is lacking. It was a nice place to walk around anyways, and the water is pretty.
I’m starting a new job in early April. This means I’ll be back to weekend travel, but I should have the money to explore further and do some more exciting things.
For the beginning weeks of April, I plan to continue heading to state parks, including ones that are a bit further away. This will probably entail some camping! I find nature incredibly restorative so I’m excited about this prospect of car-camping.
I do want to try to go to Chicago at some point, but I’ll have to see how well I’m adjusting to my new job to know if I should push it out to May. Since I have a dog, it will be a bit harder to do some of the things I really want to (such as sleeping in a Korean spa lol).
Towards the end of April and early May there are going to be several festivals in Iowa that I am super excited to attend. Unfortunately, Covid cut short just about all of my festival plans in Korea (I only got to attend two, the Jinju Lantern Festival and the Andong Masked Dance Festival).
My friend still lives in Korea and has been going to all kinds of amazing festivals the past few weeks and I am super-duper jealous!
And, of course, I’m still learning and writing more posts and trying to grow this blog, like other travelers such as TravelBloggersGuide.com.
Basically, I’m super excited about my prospects, even though life overall has been unfortunately quite stressful. Travel has always been a balm for my anxious soul so I’m thrilled to have these opportunities ahead.