If nature is what the doctor ordered, make your way to Iowa and immerse yourself in the wilderness of Ledges State Park. As one of the more intriguing places to visit while RVing in the state of Iowa, the park is located on 1,200 acres and features hundreds of sandstone cliffs and glacially-carved terrain. Ledges State Park, formed in 1924, was originally home to the Sauk, Fox, and Sioux Native American tribes. Today, the park offers a landscape that is packed with interesting rock formations, bluffs, dense forests, and the Des Moines River, which plays an integral part of the diverse landscape. You won't want to miss a chance to see the magnificent sandstone gorge that is up to 100 feet deep in some areas. Located four miles south of the city of Boone, Ledges State Park offers 94 campsites available year-round, some of which offer full hookups. Once inside Ledges State Park, you will find remnants of its historical past with numerous buildings, structures, and picnic areas built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was instrumental in developing much of the original infrastructure in the park. Visitors can enjoy the CCC's outstanding craftsmanship while traveling over arched-stone bridges, hiking on trails carved from the sandstone, and picnicking at the stone shelters in the Lower Ledges area. Ledges State Park offers year-round activities that range from hiking and swimming to gazing over the densely forested areas from one of the many lookouts. The climate in Iowa is typical of most mid-western states, with temperatures that range from the mid-80s and 90s in the summer, to sub-freezing weather with snow in the winter. It doesn't matter if this is your first RV road trip or your fiftieth, Ledges State Park has something for everyone, no matter the season.
Ledges State Park is located in central Iowa, about 45 minutes north of Des Moines, and just 15 minutes west of Ames. Farm estates and agriculture areas surround the park. The entrance is located at Quill Ave, which is a two-way road.
Once inside the park, the roads can be narrow with several stone bridges located along Canyon Drive. Canyon Drive is a one-way road with numerous turnouts for people who may have trouble navigating the narrow road. Canyon Drive passes through multiple gorges, some of which plunge 50 to 100 feet. The road is best traveled in a passenger car or SUV.
The single two-way road running along the western portion of the park connects 255th Street and Oriole Road as the road passes over Pea’s Creek. The road is generally flat and easily maneuvered in any vehicle.
During melt-off and periods of high rain, the park suffers from extensive flooding caused by the Des Moines River, so always check the local weather and road conditions before you head toward Ledges State Park. There are no roads within the northern portion of the park. The campground roads are one-way and are generally easy to navigate, no matter the size of the RV or trailer you might be hauling from home or renting from nearby.
The campground at Ledges State Park is pet-friendly, updated, and well-designed. There are five connected loops with two large and three small loops. There are 94 campsites within the loops, each featuring a fire ring or barbecue and picnic table. The campground boasts 40 sites with electric and water hookups, 40 non-electrical sites, and 12 hike-in sites, which can be up to a quarter-mile from the road or parking area. The sites are flat with gravel pads, and there are a few pull-through sites that can accommodate larger RVs and trailers up to 138 feet in length.
Within the campground, visitors will find a playground, showers, restrooms, and numerous freshwater stations. RVers can use the dump station located along the campground loop road as you first enter the area. Generators may be used between the hours of 8 AM to 8 PM. Some of the services, such as restrooms and showers, may not be available in each loop during the off-season. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance and are recommended during the peak season (May through September).
The campground at Ledges State Park offers a select number of first-come, first-served campsites. Of the 94 campsites, 23 campsites are non-reservable. Seven of the campsites offer water and electrical hookups, and 11 boast just electrical hookups. Each campsite features a fire ring or barbecue and picnic table. The sites are flat with gravel pads, and two pull-through sites can accommodate larger RVs and trailers up to 138 feet in length. Within the campground, visitors will find a playground, showers, restrooms, and numerous freshwater stations. RVers can use the dump station located along the campground loop road as you first enter the area. Generators are allowed from 8 AM to 8 PM, and pets are allowed as long as they stay on a six-foot leash. During the off-season, restrooms and showers may not be available in each loop.
When peak season is over, and the crowds are sparse, some of the park's native fauna come out of hiding. Viewing wildlife is a great way to get to know Ledges State Park better—all you need is a pair of patient eyes. If you tread lightly, you can expect to see white-tail deer, beaver, and raccoons. If you point your eyes to the sky while hiking the Makoke Birding Trail, you may be able to spot rare birds, including the pileated woodpecker.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are a must in Ledges State Park if you're in the area during the off-season. The numerous hiking trails are converted to groomed Nordic-trails after heavy snowfall and are ideal for people who are looking to enjoy a winter wonderland. The Prairie, Lost Lake, and Council Ring trails boast level ground with easy terrain to navigate. Take caution during icy and stormy conditions if you choose to snap on your shoes or skis. The northern portion of the park offers flat prairie, which is great for novice snowshoers and skiers. Rentals are not available at the park, so you'll have to tote your own pair of snowshoes or skis along with you in the rig if you're looking to partake in any snowy treks during your trip.
The Hutton Memorial is an extraordinary place to park your RV while you are inside the park. The memorial is accessed off a trail that starts near the Canyon Road. The Hutton Memorial is dedicated to Murray Lee Hutton, who was the first director of the Iowa State Conservation Commission, as well as a staunch conservationist for the state of Iowa. Once at the memorial, you will be treated to panoramic views of the intriguing sandstone cliffs, the northern prairie portions of the park, and incredible views of the Des Moines River Valley.
Autumn is perhaps the most beautiful time to photograph Ledges State Park. The crowds are less prevalent, and the tranquility of the surrounding forest makes for the perfect backdrop. The park boasts a tremendous amount of colorful trees during autumn when the densely forested areas of basswood, oak, hickory, as well as maple trees start to turn into vibrant colors of red, orange, and yellow. The fall foliage, the flowing Des Moines River, the ancient canyons and bluffs, and the historic stone bridges complement one another, creating the perfect angle for your shot.
The Des Moines River, which runs along the western boundary of the park, is the perfect place for paddling. The river offers an easily navigated waterway for novices, as well as some challenging areas for more expert paddlers. Kayakers, canoeists, and tubing enthusiasts will find the best access to drop-in somewhere along the Lower Ledges Road. There are no boat rentals available at Ledges State Park, so those looking to play on the water will need to bring their own flotation device atop the campervan.
Hiking is one of the most sought after activities in Ledges State Park. The park boasts over 13 miles of trails, including an interpretive trail that explains the dense forests and the geologic formations. One of the more popular trails is the Campground to Canyon Trail. This one-mile trail will lead you past the historic remains of the old Fowler Homestead. As you may have guessed, this trail begins just outside of your RV's door, at the campground. Another popular trail is the one-mile Crow’s Nest Trail. This trail winds through exposed sandstone walls and offers gorgeous views of the Des Moines River Valley.
Perhaps the main attraction in Ledges State Park is taking a cruise along Canyon Drive. This one-way road offers plenty of places to turnout where visitors can enjoy views of the glacially-carved sandstone—some gorges plunge 50 to 100 feet downward! Photographers like to snap unique shots of the historic stone bridges and structures that are visible from the comfort of your smaller Sprinter van. Picnicking along the Canyon Drive is also popular, with many spots available along Pea’s Creek, where you can take a dip if the weather is warm enough.
If you're a seasoned angler or just looking to catch some dinner to fry up back at camp, you won't want to miss fishing along the De Moines River. The river is known for supporting large fish—and plenty of them. You can try your luck for species, including walleye, white bass, flathead, catfish, and hybrid striped bass. Cast out from the shoreline, or put in the canoe along the Lower Ledges Road and drop a line as you paddle along the river. If lake fishing is more your style, there are several lakes and ponds nearby Ledges State Park, including McHose Park Pond, Jay Carlson Pit (east and west), Dickcissel Lake, and Fraser Pit.