Little-Known National Parks in Iowa

March 10, 2023

national parks in Iowa

Iowa is a state that doesn't get the spotlight often, but it's full of little-known national parks. These little-known parks offer visitors a chance to explore their state's history, nature, and more.

Two of the most interesting national parks in Iowa are Effigy Mounds National Monument and Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. Both of these sites feature historic trails, Native American earthworks, and presidential history.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa is one of the oldest and largest concentrations of Native American mounds remaining in the United States. It preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds, including 31 animal effigy mounds, shaped by American Indians in the late Woodland period of pre-Columbian North America.

The Native American peoples of this region began building earthen effigy mounds around 800 to 1,600 years ago during the Late Woodland period. These raised piles of dirt mimic the shapes of birds, bears and other animals and are considered sacred sites by local tribes.

Visitors can explore the monument's 2,526 acres, including 195 prehistoric mounds, by hiking trails or taking guided tours. The park also offers ranger programs, museum exhibits and an auditorium.

Big Creek State Park

The 866-acre Big Creek Lake was originally built to protect Polk City from flooding, but it also offers visitors opportunities to boat, swim, fish and camp. There are numerous open picnic shelters around the lake, and a beach and playground for families.

The park is known for its sandstone cliffs and canyon that recall a colossal body of water that may have reached 2,500 feet deep and 600 miles wide. Its geological past can be viewed through exhibits at the park.

The park has a family cabin and three campgrounds, and it offers plenty of opportunities to hike, bike or camp in the surrounding area. The park also features several waterfalls and a river that offers fishing and boating opportunities.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is one of the largest National Scenic Trails in the United States. It traces the historic routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and provides a pathway to experience the natural, cultural, and historical resources of the western United States.

The Trail is maintained by the National Park Service in partnership with federal, state, and local agencies; tribal nations; nonprofit organizations; and private landowners. It offers visitors a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and boating.

The trail stretches 4,900 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the mouth of the Columbia River near present-day Astoria, Oregon. It connects 11 states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon) and many tribal lands.

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site commemorates the life of a man born with simple beginnings in West Branch, Iowa. His life story was one of faith, education, family and community.

His story is told through a landscape of historic buildings, exhibits and natural areas. It tells the story of a young man who rose to become president and world famous through his work in public service and humanitarian efforts.

The birthplace cottage where he was born is one of the main attractions at the National Park. There are also many other historical buildings that were important in his early childhood, as well as a tall grass prairie.


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