Ledges State Park family at stone bridge

Ledges State Park the Perfect Iowa Bucket List Destination!

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This week on our roadtrip we are exploring Iowa. Ledges State Park was the perfect place to break up our drive for a few days. Not only are Iowa state parks a great deal, but they’re really underrated! If you’re looking for things to do in Iowa, or even in Des Moines, this is it.

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Ledges State Park, Iowa Video Transcript

Intro & Exploring In Iowa

Ledges State Park sign

Today we’re showing you Ledges State Park. It is one of Iowa’s oldest and most popular state parks. We kept driving from where you saw us last lotdocking at Walmart in Nebraska through the rest of the state. And we’re about mid-central Iowa at the moment. And as we continue our way to Michigan we wanted to stop over and check something out, and this state park looked really interesting. We’re gonna do some hiking today, show you some of the canyon and the cliff walls and the stream bed and all of that interesting stuff to be found here.

State Park Campground

Ledges State Park campground site

The campground is also really great if you want to camp in Iowa. We arrived in the evening last night fairly late and got a really nice spot. The campground has a playground, has all the regular amenities, has almost 100 spots. You definitely can’t write off Iowa state parks. They’re a really great value. It’s only $18 a night for full hookups here which is perfect for us coming across this way. We can stop and do laundry and get some stuff done. It’s also a nice way to break up the drive. And there’s tons of really neat things to see here in this park. Let’s show you Ledges.

Canyon Drive

Ledges State Park road water crossing

That was really fun. I knew that there were some river crossings with vehicles on this canyon drive, but I didn’t really know what to expect. In fact on the website and the phone number it still says this road is closed, but as you saw it’s open. The playground at the campground was pretty much flooded last night, but by this morning a lot of it had dried up. So maybe this morning they reassessed and opened it up. So we get to keep going.

We have driven down Canyon Drive to where we get our first views of the little canyon that this park is known for. And it makes a good spot to stop and have a picnic. This little creek behind us is called Pea’s Creek, and typically the water is only about ankle deep. That is a great way for anybody and especially families with kids to see the park is if you can go for a little stream walk in the creek and enjoy it that way. Ledges was proposed as a state park as early as 1914. And then by 1924 it was official which makes it one of the first state parks in Iowa as we mentioned.

CCC Structures & Bridge

CCC stone bridge

The CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, also built numerous structures here. Not all of them still exist I think potentially due to flooding or deterioration over the years. But there are several including a beautiful stone bridge that is right over here that we’re gonna check out next.

Really I think if all you came out here to do was to picnic and play in the river and just enjoy the picnic grounds, that would be a good afternoon.

Hiking Trails at Ledges State Park

Family standing on Table Rock

There’s more so we’re going to show you just a little bit of the four miles of scenic trails around here and overlooks. That’s next.

Old Indian Trail and Crow’s Nest Trail

It’s definitely steep, but the nice thing about that is that you have views on both sides of the trail. Looking forward to getting to the top. We are standing in the Crow’s Nest here. We actually got here a little bit quicker than we thought we would. It’s kind of funny because our kids were like crow’s nest? Doesn’t look at all like a crow’s nest. So I don’t think they were quite picturing what we were picturing. It’s just almost like a little deck area with a fence and a view of the Des Moines River out here.

And they say that the sandstone cliffs here can be up to about 100 feet high over the Des Moines. I think that’s probably the elevation change we’re seeing from here to there. And this whole park has a history of being flooded by that river since it’s so close. If you stick around with us we’re going to show you the flood pole that will show some of the depth of those floods. So instead of heading back down the Old Indian Trail like we first thought we would, because we got here so fast we’re just gonna continue on the Crow’s Nest Trail, and it’s a loop.

Playing In Pea’s Creek

Kids walking in the creek

As you can see we’ve made it down from the bluffs. And at the road we again saw that we’re right by Pea’s Creek so we came in to explore. And I’m so glad that the water level has gone down, that it’s calmer. Because this is truthfully one of the best parts of this whole park is just being able to come and walk in the water and play with the kids. They’re having a ball.

Other Recommended Hikes and Overlooks

There are numerous other hikes that we would recommend including the ones that take you to Inspiration Point, Table Rock, and the Council’s Ring. We may or may not get to those while we’re here for our visit. We actually came back the next day to hike along the ridge above where we played in the river. These short steep trails led up to the Council Ring, and down to Table Rock for sweeping views of the canyon road below. Definitely check those out as well. Lots of hikes on both sides of the river.

Largest Sandstone Wall & End of Canyon Drive

Swallow nests on cliff face

After our loop hike from the Crow’s Nest we had to go over one of the water crossings by foot to head back to the truck. On the way we stopped at one of the tallest sandstone walls in the park which was full of swallow nests.

Ledges State Park flood pole

Next we drove to the bottom of the canyon. To round out our trip here to Ledges State Park we stopped at the bottom of Canyon Drive here to the flood pole. It’s amazing to see visually that in 1993 this area flooded 25 and a half feet from the Des Moines River right back here. Pretty impressive. This has been a fun day in the park. We hope that you guys get a chance to come to Iowa, see some of the amazing state parks, this or Maquoketa or any of the others. It’s worth it. So we’ll see you guys on the next adventure as we continue our travels to Michigan.

We hope this inspired you to check out Ledges State Park the next time you are exploring Iowa!

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