Hiking in Iowa

Day Hiking 101


The warmer weather is beckoning a lot of us outside to explore! A great way to explore is to embark on a day hike in one of Iowa’s many beautiful parks. We put together this guide to help you find a place to hike and provide you with a packing list.

THE TEN ESSENTIALS (from the American Hiking Society)

Packing properly for a day hike is essential for your safety and enjoyment. The ten essentials are items that every day hiker should carry with them. There is no need to run out and buy expensive gear or items—chances are lot of this stuff can be found in your house. And, if not, we have provided you with some suggestions.

Planning ahead is also a key part of making sure your hike is safe and enjoyable — be sure tell someone close to you where you are planning to hike and provide them with a timeline so they know when you are expected to return.

  1. Appropriate Footwear: Appropriate footwear is essential for comfort and support. A sturdy pair of tennis shoes, trail shoes, or hiking boots are great options.

  2. Map and Compass /GPS: It’s important to know where you’re going and plan ahead. Most parks have trail maps available online so you can download them before your hike. Another great option is the AllTrails app, which can be used without cell phone service.

  3. Extra Water: Your body needs water in order to function properly. Running out of water is dangerous, so always plan to pack more water than you think you’ll need. It’s also wise to carry a filtration system in case you do run out. We suggest the Sawyer Mini or Aquatabs as great budget friendly filters.

  4. Extra Food: Your body needs energy! Great trail snacks include nuts, jerky, apples, energy and protein bars, peanut butter packets, honey sticks, coconut chips, dehydrated fruit, and hard cheese. Be sure to pack out your food and packaging.

  5. Rain Gear and Extra Clothing: Weather can change very quickly, and the weatherperson isn’t always right. Dressing in layers allows for you to adjust your clothing as needed. If you don’t want to buy a rain jacket, this emergency poncho is a great option to carry in your pack. Its always a good idea to carry a hat too.

  6. Safety Items: Safety items include fire, whistle, and light. Fire is essential if you are caught in a situation in which you’re cold. A whistle can be used to signal for help (3 short bursts). And, light is great if you are out longer than planned.

  7. First -aid Kit: This first aid kit is a great option for day hikes. Be sure to refill it as you use items- you don’t want to get stuck without something. You can also put together your own kit.

  8. Multipurpose Tool or Knife: These can be used to cut bandages, repaired damaged gear and items, and remove splinters. They’re also great for whittling s’more sticks.

  9. Sunscreen and Sunglasses: Sunburns are the worst! Sunscreen and sunglasses help protect your skin and eyes.

  10. Backpack: You’ll want a comfortable pack to carry your essentials. Most backpacks serve this purpose just fine, so don’t worry about going out and buying an expensive daypack if you already have a comfy one at home.

  11. Optional items:

    • A small trash bag to pick up litter you see along the way and to pack out your own trash

    • Emergency shelter such as an emergency blanket or bivy

    • Insect spray and a tick key

Bringing a furry friend along is another great option

Bringing a furry friend along is another great option


There are great places to hike all over Iowa, but for this post we’re providing you with a list of some of our favorite day hikes in Central Iowa. To find hikes outside of Central Iowa, visit your local county conservation’s website or the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and check out this blog post from us. The book, Hiking Iowa, is also a great resource for finding day hikes all across the state.

Click on each location to be directed to websites with more information and trail maps.