Fort Defiance Lodge – Picture by Dan Cline

A Sweet Escape

I love Iowa’s State Parks and I mention it quite a bit, but I feel it’s important to highlight that Iowa’s State Parks are free – so the price is right for the families and couples on a tight budget. Also, they are some of the best places to visit, whether it’s sitting down for a nice picnic outside surrounded by a beautiful setting, going on a hike, or other recreational activities. The next park I’m going to share with you will captivate you the moment you pull inside the boundaries of the park–Fort Defiance–It’s probably one of my favorite parks and sits nestled back behind the town of Estherville, and gives a nice quiet retreat within the deep woods in the area. Taking the time and discovering Fort Defiance State Park for yourself will reveal a few things: First, that there are miles of trails to discover by foot, but second, even more miles around the park to discover by horseback. It’s friendly to both hiker and equestrian riders alike. So, bring both your hiking boots and your riding boots if you’re able.

One of the swings found in the park. Picture by Dan Cline

Swing Away!

One of the neat things about the park is the addition of several swings scattered around the park. It offers plenty of resting spots along the trails, and outside the camping and lodge areas. Do you want a nice seat with a view? Fort Defiance gives a nice rustic style swing to consider for the weary hiker or traveler. I loved the rustic location of these swings throughout the park – take a moment after exploring the woods, and relax a bit for a swing.

Follow along below with the country pilgrim adventure and get a quick look at Fort Defiance State Park – make a special note towards the end of the video about the steepness of the trails along the edges of the park. Be careful while hiking these trails and watch for root systems sticking out of the ground so you don’t trip or twist an ankle.

Historical Grounds –

The history of Fort Defiance dates back to 1862 when a fort was built by Captain William Ingham and the Northern Border Brigade in response to the Sioux Uprising that started around the Iowa Lakes and resulted in the Spirit Lake Massacre. The city of Estherville was protected by this Fort (later named Fort Defiance) but by 1863 the fear had subsided and the expected violence and uprising never came. There were stories of a teenage boy from Jackson, Minnesota having been attacked, but nothing came from the rumors or attacks. The Sioux Uprising in Spirit Lake caused so much panic in the area, that many area forts went up in response including towns around Peterson and others.

After the attacks failed to come to Estherville, the fort was later abandoned around 1864 and the lumber used to build area homes for the local residents. The original site of the fort can be found in Estherville at South 6th St. and 1st Ave South and has a plaque on the Fort Defiance Professional Building. Later in the 1930’s when the state park opened it was named after the famous fort.

Trails Glorious Trails

221 acres of woodland calls itself home within the state park, with several trails taking you within and around the perimeter of the park –  6.24 miles of multi-use trails. Equestrian use is allowed on 5.05 miles of the trails. During the winter months the park is a popular place for cross country skiing with 2.13 miles of groomed trails and 0.59 miles of non-groomed trail on the newly constructed Whitetail Ridge Interpretive Trail. If you love to hike – Fort Defiance is the place for you in NW Iowa.

There’s plenty to do in the park – including rustic camping spots -No showers or flush toilets are present. However, electrical hookups are available at some sites. All camping permits are obtained through self-registration at the campground. Reservations are not accepted for this campground.

If you are around or near Estherville, Iowa – make Fort Defiance State Park a “must-see” destination and plan for a few hours of hiking and exploring the park – and if you have time and love tent camping, make plans on popping up your tent and doing a camp overnight – the grounds are beautiful and provide plenty of great camping experiences. Mark it down on your bucket list – Fort Defiance State Park!

3 thoughts

  1. Looks like a lovely natural area. We are also blessed with a good many state parks here in Tennessee, also free unless you want to rent a cabin, etc. I was shocked when we were in New England on a vacation and found state parks charging admission. I know there is upkeep, etc. but it just seems that nature should be free to observe.


    1. I absolutely love Tennessee! We were there last year for a short stay. Beautiful – I think the area I want to explore more when I’m back is closer up around the Cumberland Gap area. Thanks for reading and commenting Sheila. – Dan

      Liked by 1 person

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