Pikes Peak State Park in Iowa

When someone says Pikes Peak, most people think of Pikes Peak in Colorado. But there is another Pikes Peak in Northeastern Iowa along the Upper Mississippi River. It has the honor to be the first Pikes Peak. In 1805, Zebulon Pike was sent to the Mississippi valley to select suitable locations for military posts. He liked the strategic point of the 500 foot bluff (highest on the Mississippi River) located at the confluence of the Wisconsin River and the Mississippi River. He informed the government it was an excellent location for a fort. But the government ended up choosing the prairie land around Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin instead. The bluff on the Iowa side of the river became known as Pikes Peak. In 1837 Alexander McGregor started a ferry service across the Mississippi River at the site of the town that bears his name. When his grand-niece passed away, the one who had inherited the land from McGregor, her will stated that Pikes Peak be given to the federal government as a gift. Congress gave it to the state of Iowa in 1935 and it became Pikes Peak State Park. The owners of the land never allowed settlers so the landscape does not vary much from what it looked like hundreds of years ago.

This area was missed by the glaciers that flattened and molded other parts of Iowa and is noted for its natural beauty. There are hills and valleys, acres of timber, spring-fed streams and abundant wildlife including white-tailed deer, mink, red and gray fox, rabbits, raccoons, weasels and squirrels. The lookout at the top of Pikes Peak extends over the edge of the bluff. You will enjoy some of the finest views in the upper Midwest. You can see for miles and the view changes with the seasons. It is very popular in the fall when the maples are ablaze with reds, yellows and oranges. You can enjoy a beautiful sunrise or watch the barges moving along the river. The bridge from Iowa to Wisconsin can be seen to the north as well as beautiful bluffs. Bird watchers will delight in the great variety of birds to be found including bald eagles, hawks, turkey buzzards, great blue herons and egrets. The area is very dark at night and perfect for star gazing or meteor shower watching.

The park includes a campground with modern showers and restroom facilities, open shelters and gazebos for picnicking next to the overlooks. The park has 13 miles of trails to explore. Hikers will enjoy the 1,000 acres of beautiful woods and valleys full of wild flowers in the spring and summer months. Some of the flowers you may discover are Dutchman’s-breeches, Bloodroot, Wild Ginger, and Lady Slipper orchids. Ferns are plentiful. The trails in the winter months are perfect for cross-country skiing. You will find sheer walls of limestone with embedded fossils of brachiopods, gastropods and cephalopods, leftovers from the periods this area was covered by seas. One trail goes past Bridal Veil Falls. The water runs downhill over a rocky overhang which is around 460 million years old. You can walk beneath it and be behind the falls. Along the trails you will also see mounds or effigies in the shape of animals the Native Americans of the Woodland Culture created to celebrate their oneness with Mother Earth. They populated this area from 800 to 1200 AD. The mounds are found not only in Pikes Peak State Park but in nearby Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Pikes Peak State Park is a very popular destination for all ages of campers, hikers, bird watchers and nature lovers. Cameras and binoculars are a must when visiting this park.