As the weather warms up, cabin fever is setting in for many of us. While some of the more popular public areas are busier than ever, many of the less-known parks, wildlife areas and trails are waiting for new visitors.
Hiking, biking, paddling, fishing, hunting, foraging, birding, and many more great outdoor recreation opportunities abound along Western Skies Scenic Byway in western Iowa's Harrison, Shelby, Audubon and Guthrie counties. Most of the byway is within an hour of the Omaha and/or Des Moines metro, but just far enough that you can easily avoid the crowds you'll find in most urban and suburban parks and trails!.
Please note that areas may have certain hours or closures (campgrounds, restrooms, and other facilities), so research before you go and explore. Check rules and regulations. Avoid groups ,practice social distancing, and stay home if you are or have recently been ill.
Desoto National Wildlife Refuge - This refuge includes hiking trails through a large wildlife refuge along the Missouri River. It’s a great place to see wildlife, especially waterfowl and other birds. Desoto refuge brochure & map.
Harrison County Welcome Center - In addition to an Iowa Welcome Center and historical village complex, this welcome center just outside Missouri Valley.
Loess Hills State Forest (LHSF) & Preparation Canyon State Park- The state forest and park encompass nearly 12,000 acres over four units in Harrison and Monona counties, with dozens of miles of hiking-only trails.
Old Town Conservation Area - This area has about 10 miles of hiking trails through prairies and woodlands overlooking the Boyer and Missouri river valleys as well as the community of Missouri Valley.
Sawmill Hollow Wildlife Area - Known best for a popular fishing hole, Sawmill Hollow has 155 acres of wooded Loess Hills and ridgetop prairie to explore. Sawmill Hollow map.
Schaben Park - Located near Dunlap in northeastern Harrison County, hiking trails surround a small pond through oak woodlands. Schaben Park trail map.
Willow Lake Recreation Area - 220-acre park near Woodbine, including popular lake and campgrounds. Hiking trails wind through Loess Hills prairies and around the lake. Willow Lake map.
Wilson Island Recreation Area - Adjacent to Desoto refuge, this 544-acre state-managed area has trails winding through floodplain woodlands near the Missouri River.
Dinesen Prairie State Preserve - This is one of the few prairie remnants (never plowed) in the Nishnabotna watershed. As a state preserve, it is permanently protected from any kind of development.
Elk Horn Creek Recreation Area - Beautiful wildlife area in southeastern Shelby County, with camping, hiking and more.
Manteno Park - Set in the hills of Grove Township is the Shelby County Conservation Board's most popular area with a fishing lake, campgrounds, hiking, and more.
Nishna Bend Recreation Area - This park features 2 camping cabins, 18 campsites with modern shower building, 5 sandpit fishing ponds, river fishing, trails, and public hunting.
Oak Ridge Habitat Area - 94 acres of timber and prairie. This is a public hunting area that is managed for wildlife habitat.
Petersen Wildlife Management Area - More than 450 acres of upland habitat in northern Shelby County.
Prairie Rose State Park - Popular fishing and paddling lake with several miles of hiking trails through prairies, woods, and wetlands.
Rock Island Old Stone Arch Nature Trail - This paved trail located primarily in Shelby County extends just into Pottawattamie County with a trailhead near the Shelby exit on Interstate 80. The trail runs west through woods, prairies, wetlands, and creeks and crosses Silver Creek on an historic Stone Arch Bridge.
Rosenow Timber - 116 acres of timber in northwest Shelby County.
Schimerowski Park is a 12 acre park on the edge of Earling with a walking path, picnic shelter, restroom, playground, and wetland.
Six Bee Tree Timber - 40 acres of timber located directly across the road to the east of Manteno Park. This is a public hunting area with a mowed trail loop going through it.
Littlefield Recreation Area - Audubon County's premier park includes a popular lake, campgrounds, hiking trails, and more.
T-Bone Recreational Trail - 21-mile paved recreational trail on a former rail line. The trail connects the communities of Audubon, Hamlin, Exira, and Brayton.
Bays Branch Wildlife Area - Nearly 1,400 acres of upland and wetland habitat near Panora. Primarily a hunting area but great for wildlife- and bird-watching.
Bennie Hall Wildlife Area - The 220-acre area lies adjacent to existing public land and created a 517-acre wildlife habitat complex. The area's primary use is as wildlife habitat for game and non-game species.
Elk Grove Wildlife Management Area - 1,600-acre wooded wildlife area, primarily used for hunting but open to hiking and wildlife-watching.
Lakin Slough Wildlife Management Area - More than 300 acres of wetland & upland habitat. Primarily used for hunting but also a great spot for wildlife viewing.
Lenon Mill Park - Small park on the edge of Panora along Raccoon River including campgrounds and a river access near the Lenon Mill dam.
Marlowe Ray State Wildlife Area - 185 acres of timber habitat along the Middle Raccoon River.
McCord Pond Wildlife Management Area - Half marsh and half upland habitat, this 112-acre area is popular for hunting and wildlife viewing.
Middle Raccoon River Wildlife Management Area - 1,305 acres of floodplain & upland timber and open fields.
Montieth Wildlife Area - County park with 240 acres mainly used as a public hunting area.. Also includes hiking and wildlife-watching opportunities.
Nations Bridge Park - 81-acre county park along the South Raccoon River with camping, hiking, river access, and more.
Raccoon River Valley Trail - This former railroad line is a scenic, paved trail linking metro Des Moines with small communities through eastern Guthrie County.
S.E. Robinson Wildlife Area - 110-acre wildlife area located along the Middle Raccoon River.
Sheeder Prairie State Preserve - 24-acre remnant (never-plowed) prairie near Guthrie Center.
Springbrook State Park - This park near Guthrie Center includes a lake, campgrounds, and 12 miles of hiking trails.
Sutcliffe Woodland - 55-acre oak-hickory area designated as a wildlife refuge. It offers a 31-post, self-guided interpretive nature trail, as well as picnicking, hiking, and pond fishing.
Whiterock Conservancy - 5,500 acre non-profit land trust that balances sustainable agriculture, natural resource protection and public recreation on the landscape. Located near Coon Rapids, Iowa, along seven miles of the Middle Raccoon River valley, Whiterock is open to the public every day for recreation and exploration.
The parks and trails above are included in the map below. Click here to open the map in a new tab.