Dolliver State Park – picture by Dan Cline
Fishing, and Hiking, and Biking, Oh My!!
Some of the best trails in Iowa are in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It might come as a surprise since one of Iowa’s oldest towns still holds a certain urban vibe to it, but the area is reinventing itself, and one way that stuck out during my visit – was a large number of outdoor activities in and around the city! Maybe the adventure in Fort Dodge was ALWAYS there – but you need to “Dodge the Ordinary” and check it out for yourself! I’ll highlight 5 trail adventures that can be shared by everyone, whether you are a beginner or expert!
These trails are divided into 5 key areas – Water Trails, Biking Trails, Hiking Trails, Fishing Trails, and Off-Highway Vehicle Trails! (More popularly known as “Off-Roading” – the type of off-roading that involves a lot of adrenalin, speed, and high revving motors!). So – let’s get into the 5 different trails!
1. Mountain Biking in IOWA??
Yes – I know. I’ll have some of my friends from Colorado read this as they drink their coffee and ponder multiple mountain biking trails in the Rockies – However, Iowa has some outstanding bike trails and some of the BEST mountain biking trails in the state! I’ll focus mostly on Upper and Lower Lizard Trails, but there are some more intermediate and advanced trails with Phinney Trail Loop and Flop Shot Trail. I’m a beginner level biker myself – and I can tell you that it was one of the most fun and challenging types of exercise I’ve experienced! You are out in nature, soaking it in – but if you’re not paying attention – it can change quickly! (I’ll show you my buddy Kay’s wipeout). Part of the Country Pilgrim experience is that I’m typically using video and YouTubing along with this blog! Thankfully, Kay was a good sport! Check out the video below at the 02:21 mark! *********
Upper Lizard – Intermediate
Phinney Trail Loop – Intermediate
Loomis Park – Easy
Lower Lizard (Inner Loop) – Easy
Lower Lizard (Outer Loop) – Easy
Lower Lizard (Inner Loop) – Easy
The trails themselves offer 10 miles of single-track trail – and give enough adventure for the beginner and the pro – alike. What I love about the trail: It wraps around the Lizard Creek area (also known for its kayaking) and gives enough nature touch to help cure the asphalt blues for someone who has been craving to get outside the city for fresh air and a good workout!
Country Pilgrim Insider Tip – Wear Gloves! Did you notice my red gloves? I was thankful for Walker’s Bike Shop in Fort Dodge for getting us the gear, and showing us around the bike trails!
2. Water Trails
There are over 70 miles of water trails around the Des Moines River (the main water source for the trails). I was thankful to have guides leading me down the river, but it was the history and the stories that I valued the most! You can take a scenic float down the Des Moines River and witness the beauty of the landscape, carved out millions of years ago by glacier activity.
The Trail itself winds 46 miles- taking you by limestone cliffs of the Des Moines River Valley – and through Fort Dodge, as it flows past Dolliver State Park and continues through the town of Lehigh, Iowa. Naturally, the best part of the trip is observing nature and wildlife, as deer and other local habitats patrol the river.
Ranked as a top 5 paddling destination in Iowa – there are 14 miles of paddling with rapids! Of course, it’s important to note that it’s considered “non-meandered” – which means the waster is public, but the land running adjacent is private property – just a reminder before taking a kayak down the trail.
The creek itself flows into the Des River, so the water trail system is linked. You don’t need to be an expert paddler, but it is recommended to be cautious in some areas as the river current can be tricky. All maps of the water trails can be found here.**——–
One thing is for sure – if you are around the Fort Dodge area this summer, you need to check out the water trails. There is enough river and creek milage to keep you busy for weeks, not to mention the white water sections of Lizard Creek. If your taste is for adventure, Lizard Creek in early summer and late spring is perfect kayaking time! Take a side adventure and give it a try!
3. Hiking Trails
If getting off the main path, and getting deeper into the woods is more your calling – have no fear! Some of the best nature hiking areas in the state are before you! Starting with areas around Dolliver State Park, and working our way through Brushy Creek State Recreational Area – all the way to lesser-known Camp Wanoki. The area is rich in history, including Indian burial grounds and other key features – like Boneyard Hollow.
- Dolliver State Park
In my opinion, Dolliver is one of the best State Parks in Iowa. This can be argued, but the trails are in good shape, takes you along steep embankments, and up along sandstone cliffs – one area along Prairie Creek, has a Copperas exposed. This is an iron-cemented pebble conglomerate. This rock is named for the copperas (iron sulfate) that form on the rock face You can get a good look at the copperas if you take the small trail before the walking bridge. Walking along the rest of the park has you hiking next to cliffs, and winding around ancient Indian burial grounds. Specifically, there is a large area known as “Boneyard Hollow” where the natives would drive bison over the edge for large hunting opportunities – and the name gives a gruesome idea of what it would have been like as herds of Bison would fall to their death at the base of the cliff. Mixed with the surrounding beauty of the park – there are plenty of great hiking opportunities in the park.
2. Brushy Creek
This state recreational area has over 45 miles of multi-use trails. It’s perfect for an equestrian adventure – bring your horses, and ride around Brushy Creek. However, the grounds are perfect for an afternoon hike. Bring the right hiking gear, and take in the entire recreational area. It has a 690-acre lake, plus hunting and fishing to go along with it!
3. Camp Wanoki
The hiking grounds that impressed me the most was inside Camp Wanoki – which is open for hikers. Make sure you park by the lodge and take the path immediately west of the parking lot. There are steep climbs, but it makes for a perfect picturesque hike – along some Savannah Oak towards the top (which represent only a small percentage of Savannah Oak left today!) – The hike takes you through more wooded forest and trees and shows old reminders of native burial grounds. Camp Wanoki used to house a girl’s camp, and it’s easy to see why the grounds are perfect for campers, especially coming up on the banks of the Des Moines River.
4. Fishing Trails
Brushy Creek serves more than just area hikers and campers – but the 690-acre lake is fully stocked with fish! It was even named one of the top Bass fishing spots in the country a few years back. With over 21 miles of shoreline – it makes a perfect landing spot for the next serious angler! When the area flooded, it took some of the area trees and woods with it, but in the same process, providing excellent habitat for the gaming fish to thrive. Today there are plenty of fishing trails around Brushy Creek. You can check out my experience fishing at Brushy Creek here at – Fishing Video
5. Off-Highway Vehicle Trails
If you want to experience something adventurous, look no further than Gypsum City OHV Park! Taking extreme to a whole new level – the park itself reclaimed the land used for mining gypsum and reworked it to include an off-highway vehicle park covering over 800 acres, over 60 miles of trails, and 1.5 miles worth of of of a motorcross track and a .4 Kids track.
Iowa DNR registration is required with an ATV education certificate for (12 years to 17). Helmets are required!! Gypsum City doesn’t open until April 15 – and runs through October 15. The camping is provided with all the extras included such as water, electricity, sewer, picnic table – it’s a perfect place to come and play hard for a while, and turn around and rest with the family. Side by sides are allowed in the park and it only adds to the element of riskiness – sending wider vehicles on narrow pathways, sometimes only adding news of its existence when one of the ATVs tries to squeeze between a few trees or muds its way through the prairie grass. It’s a great spot to bring your off-roading vehicle!
Check out my side-by-side offroading experience here – at the 3:00 mark! OffRoading Video ******
Dan and Dan – Driving a side by side
There’s always something to do in Fort Dodge, Iowa! Especially around the trails! Whether by river, lake, woods, or taking an off-road vehicle and finding your way through dirt and rocks! It offers a little bit of everything, depending on your interests and your likes – but ADVENTURE will take you by surprise down in this “Not so ordinary” destination near the heart of Iowa – and now you have 5 trail adventures to put on your bucket list! Don’t wait to get down and explore these great outdoor options and experience it for yourself!
Have you been to Ford Dodge and experienced the trails? I want to hear about it! Let me know in the comments!