In our little corner of heaven, er… Iowa (never gets old, does it?!), we are blessed with sweeping swaths of hardwood forest, which explode in crimson, orange, and gold during the few, short weeks of autumn. And we all know how glorious it is to step onto a trail, with that earthy, leafy smell and look up at the foliage while hiking under a stunningly-blue, fall sky.
What if you could do that for hours? Or even days? Just treebathing in Northeast Iowa’s autumnal splendor...
As good fortune would have it, you can. Allamakee County is home to the Yellow River State Forest, which is one of the largest contiguous stands of deciduous forest in Iowa. More than 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails wind their way through woods, trace ridgelines, and skirt through bottomland stands of basswood, elm, ash, and maple.
The 8,500-acre forest is divided into six units. The Paint Creek Unit, at 5,200 acres, is the largest and contains all of the maintained trails. In this part of the forest, you can make the hike as easy or difficult as you like. Stay on the valley floor, on a designated trail along Paint Creek to soak in the colors on a leisurely stroll. Or hike up to a ridgetop for an expansive view of the forest’s autumn-bedecked hillsides.
But if you’re willing to exert a little more effort, the payoff is spectacular. Head over to the forest’s Paint Rock Unit, just south of Harper’s Ferry. Here, you’ll hike and bushwhack river bluffs, making your way up through color bursts of foliage until you summit. A vast vista across the Mississippi River Valley in all its fall finery is your reward. Don’t forget water and a picnic… or sturdy shoes.
The Yellow River State Forest is there — and gorgeous in every season — for our year-round enjoyment. But those autumn weeks… well, they’re something special.