Named after the famed naturalist and professor, Dr. Bohumil Shimek, the 9000 acres of Shimek State Forest is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of Iowa. The expansive forest is rich with everything nature has to offer. This forest is the third largest forest in Iowa. While the main purpose of the park was to serve as an example of forest management for Iowa’s citizens, the recreational opportunities turned it into a hotspot for vacationers who wished to get away from the hustle and bustle of noisy city life.
People from all over the state visit Shimek State Forest to enjoy fishing, hiking, observing nature, hunting, swimming, horseback riding and a number of fun and adventurous activities.
The primitive campgrounds also allow RV campers to go back in time, detox from modern life, and enjoy the feeling of living free in the wilderness. The habitat is extremely diverse and hence all kinds of wildlife can be seen in the forest. The forest is divided into many units and each one of them offers different trails and camping facilities.
In addition to all the activities, the park’s beauty isn’t too hard on the eyes either. The expansive variety of plants in the forest brings the forest to life with its vibrant colors.
Directions to Shimek State Park are easy enough to decipher depending on whether you know which unit of the park you want to visit first. The forest headquarters is located in the Farmington Unit and is less than two miles from Farmington, 32 miles from Keokuk, 25 miles from Fort Madison, and 18 miles from Keosauqua. Different routes lead to different units of the park.
Mode of transportation can be private cars, RVs, trailers and motor homes which can be parked in designated parking areas or backed-in to the spacious campsites. ATVs are not allowed anywhere in the forest. Roads connecting to the various park facilities and amenities can be narrow in areas depending on which unit of the park you are visiting.
Shimek State Forest has a total of 56 campsites divided between three units within Shimek State Forest. 37 of these 56 campsites are equestrian non-electric while the rest are tent only campsites.
The Lick Creek Unit at Shimek State Forest has two campgrounds, with 11 campsites in one campground and 24 sites in the other. These campsites are non-modern equestrian sites that do not provide electric supply. Each campsite comes with pit toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, water hydrants, shades for horses, hitching rails, and parking pads. Horse stalls are also available for those who plan to camp overnight.
Donnellson Unit has one campground named The White Oak campground. The 11 (or less) campsites here are issued on a first-come-first-serve basis and like the aforementioned campground, are also non-modern and offer a primitive camping experience. This campsite can be accessed by way of a gravel road. This entire campground is shaded and offers privacy. The pit toilets for men and women are separated as well. Shagbark Lake located in Donnellson Unit features a boat ramp, walk-in campsite and picnic area for guests.
Bitternut Lake Campground is located in the Farmington Unit and is home to Black Oak Lake. The campground features a handicapped accessible picnic area, fishing dock, parking area and restrooms. An excellent spot if you want to go fishing or enjoy a primitive style camping experience.
Shimek State Forest is a dreamland for fishing enthusiasts with its four large ponds. These ponds are stocked every year with largemouth bass, channel catfish and various other panfish. You can fish any time of the year in any of the lakes or ponds and you’ll never go home empty-handed. Fishing from the waters is also allowed but only via electric trolling motors. The fishing dock is also accessible to people with disabilities. So just grab your cooler and your fishing poles for a spot of relaxing angling surrounded by nature!
Hiking experience at Shimek State Forest is certain to be rich and entertaining. There’s a variety of trails honeycombing across the vast expanse of the State Forest and providing all kinds of challenges to new and experienced hikers.
The Donnellson Unit has 6.2 miles of trails, the Farmington Unit has 18.9 miles of hiking trails, and the Keosauqua Unit has eight miles of hiking trails.
Most trails have heavy undergrowth and should be braved only by experienced hikers. However, there are well-worn paths and wide trails for families.
Botanical lovers will never get a better place to study nature, in Iowa, than in the Shimek State Forest. The wide variety of plants and trees have practically every color vividly visible during blooming season.
A variety of oaks and hickories tower across this forest landscape. Gorgeous red and white elm, hackberry, cottonwood, silver maple, green ash, and black walnut have also taken residence in this preserved terrain.
That’s not all. The large forest is also home to native prairie plants such as prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and purple coneflower. Needless to say, the forest presents a colorful sight in summers and springs. You can also go mushroom hunting with the little ones and do some nature viewing.
The wildlife is abundant in the wilderness of Shimek State Forest. Whether you are horse-riding or hiking, there are high chances that you might encounter a coyote, muskrat, beaver, red and gray fox, and woodchuck. Additionally, the graceful white-tailed deer, fawn, opossum and various small animals are also abundant on the more rugged hiking trail.
Hunting is also allowed at the Shimek State Forest. Make sure to read rules and regulations and about the hunting season before venturing into the wild.
Poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes are also common in the forest. When staying at the east side of the Des Moines River, stay cautious of rattlesnakes and copperheads.
Horseback riding is one of the main activities offered by the state park. The park offers equestrian campgrounds with horse stables, manure bunkers, and water spigots. Horses can be rented from the park and one can also bring their own to take on the many picturesque equestrian trails available at the park.
The Lick Creek Unit contains 25 miles of equestrian trails, and two equestrian campgrounds are also available in the same unit.
Do not be disheartened if you are visiting the forest during the colder days and feel like you are missing out. The moment you enter the forest, you’d see a bustle of activities and vacationers having a great time.
The expansive forest enjoys snowfall in the winters and the vacationers get to experience winter sports in the best way possible.
Shimek State Forest designates separate cross country skiing and snowmobiling trails in winters. The latter will take you through the wonderland the forest turns into during winters.