Whether you’re new to hiking with your baby or toddler, or you’re looking for a new trail to explore, the Hike it Baby community is a valuable resource for finding family hiking trails around the country. In this article, we share three kid-friendly hikes in Iowa to explore with babies and young children.
Iowa … known for corn, pork and Field of Dreams (more corn and baseball!). Iowa is not really known as a hiking destination state, but you may be pleasantly surprised if you happen to find yourself driving through on a road trip or visiting friends. Hidden among all the farmland you will find gems of state and county parks, nature preserves and city green spaces. While there is an abundance of trails to explore in Iowa, our local Hike it Baby branches recommend these three hikes in particular. They are all beautiful as well as easily manageable for families with young children.
Woodpecker Trail and Squire Point (Iowa City, IA)
Total mileage: Flexible from 1 – 5 miles
With lots of loops and cross-trails, Woodpecker Trail and Squire Point can be customized for distances from 1 – 5 miles. This makes it easy to change routes for stronger hikers to go further or slower groups to take it easier. There’s a beautiful overlook offering stunning views of the lake that more adventurous kiddos can climb down to throw rocks. There’s also a short stick maze that is always a huge hit with the kids, as well as a number of bridges complete with the proper acoustics for clomping. It’s interesting and engaging for moms with tiny babes in carriers as well as for curious toddlers and preschoolers. The fall colors are always beautiful and it explodes with green in spring. Hikes always last for hours at Woodpecker because everyone is so happy. The trail itself feels rustic, being dirt and rolling terrain, but isn’t particularly technical, except in winter.
Bonus: There is a small natural playscape feature, exercise stations on the Squire Point side and lots of fallen trees to provide plenty of interesting hiking breaks for kids.
Photo credit: Suzanne Halekas
Hogsback Nature Trail (Eldora, IA)
Total Mileage: 1 mile for Hogsback Nature Trail, 2.6 miles total for the paved bike trail
Located along the Iowa River, 668-acre Pine Lake State Park offers a pleasing mix of woodland, river and lakes in the midst of rolling Iowa farmland. Hogsback Nature Trail takes hikers up above the Iowa River through the woods on a somewhat elevated gravel/natural trail and then through an under-highway tunnel (which kids love to echoooooooo!) to the beach and paved bike trail that encircles Pine Lake. You can loop back up to the nature trail for a shorter hike or continue around the paved portion for a longer walk. Read more about the trail in the Hike it Baby Family Trail Guide.
Bonus: If you’re visiting during the summer, bring your swim gear and take a dip in the lake at the designated swim beach, then picnic nearby while overlooking the lower lake at the Hogsback Bluffs Picnic Area.
Hike it Baby branch nearby: Hike it Baby Eldora
Photo credit: Nicole Low
Brown’s Woods (West Des Moines, IA)
Total mileage: Flexible from 0.5 – 4 miles
Located in a 484-acre forest in West Des Moines, Brown’s Woods is Iowa’s largest urban forest preserve. Under a canopy of oak and hickory trees, the rolling hills and small streams of Brown’s Woods are a joy to explore at any season, but the colors are especially beautiful in the fall. The Gateway Trail is a 0.5-mile gravel loop that starts and ends at the parking lot and main trailhead. It is the perfect distance and terrain for a new walker and a site for many toddler-led hikes with our branch. There is a small amphitheater right off this loop, which is always a fun place for the kids to explore by climbing on benches and exploring the many fallen trees, logs and stumps around. For longer distances, there are multiple trails and loops you can choose from. Make sure to pack your bug spray during summer months!
Bonus: There are real bathrooms with running water (open May through October), geocaching, mushroom hunting and fun programming offered via Polk County Conservation.
Hike it Baby branch nearby: Hike it Baby Des Moines
Photo credit: Katy Severe
More Resources for Families with Young Children
Iowa boasts many trails for families with young children. For more family hike ideas, see:
- Polk County Conservation – There are always plenty of events happening through PCC, from full moon hikes, trail cleanup days and kid-friendly programming. The new Nature Center at Jester Park will be an amazing place to visit with young kids.
- Des Moines Outdoor Fun – This is a blog created by a Hike it Baby member who adventures with her two young kids and writes about it. This is a great resource for anything and everything outdoors: creek-stomping locations, parks with splash pads, paved hiking trails, places to rent snow shoes, etc. It’s amazing!
- Hike it Baby calendar (or connect with the local branch)
- Hike it Baby Family Trail Guide
- Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures with Babies and Toddlers – New Book by Hike it Baby Founder Shanti Hodges
- 3 Kid-friendly trails in Kansas for young children
- 3 Beautiful hikes in Ohio for young children
- 3 Great hikes in New Jersey for young children
What are your favorite hikes in Iowa for families with babies, toddlers and young children? Leave a comment below!