Hiking Eastern Iowa Part 1: 3 Great Trails to Get You Started

Hello fellow mommies and parents! By now you and/or your kiddos should be a week or two into summer vacation. Have you heard the dreaded, “I’m bored!!!” whine yet? Surprisingly, I haven’t, but I know it’s coming. I’m here to help you find the best hiking trails to take the kiddos, from toddler to teen, or just if you want a date with the significant other.

It’s important to get those kiddos outside, but it is also important to do so safely. Once upon a time, I took a very “independent” three-year-old to Maquoketa Caves. It became a stressful trip, because I was unfamiliar with some of those trails, and some are not independent three-year-old friendly. It sure would have been nice to know that before we hauled ourselves out there. This summer series will help you find some hiking trails that will fit your level of ability and comfort. As always, sturdy footwear should be worn, and make sure you have enough water to stay hydrated no matter the difficulty of the trail.

Trail Ratings

  • Easy- These trails have mostly flat surfaces, nearly no trip hazards, and are stroller friendly. Great for all ages!
  • Moderate- These trails have various elevations, some trip hazards, and could support stroller use. Great for most ages, could be challenging for the youngest children.
  • Intermediate- These trails have steep elevations, some height hazards, and are not stroller friendly. Best navigated by preschool ages and older, must have control of the smaller kiddos.
  • Hard- These trails have all the hazards.  Experience is necessary. Best for older children and adults.

Cedar Rapids Park Walking Trails


The city of Cedar Rapids offers five walking trails in parks throughout the city. You can find them at Cherry Hill Aquatic Center, Cherokee Trail Park, Noelridge Park, Ellis Park/Robbins Lake, and Nixon Park. You will find these trails either have crushed limestone or are paved. These trails have an urban feel, but are still a great place to take in nature and recharge. These trails are great for a leisurely walk or to get in your daily exercise. If you need a quick little jaunt then visit Nixon Park for the .75 mile trail. Looking for something to take up more of your day? The Ellis Trail is 2.6 miles and “follows the river from Edgewood Rd. to downtown CR”. A bonus for the kiddos is that most of these parks offers a playground onsite or nearby, and you can find a pool at Cherry Hill, Noelridge, and Ellis.

Twice around the loop is 2.54 miles in less than an hour.

Squire Point and Woodpecker Trails


Tucked into a quiet wooded area near the Coralville Dam is a network of hiking trails that will provide up to five miles and nearly a whole day of fun. Access to the Squire Point trail is off of Dubuque Street, and Woodpecker Trail is nestled in next to Linder Point Campground (Bonus! Make it a whole weekend adventure!). In addition to Squire Point and Woodpecker Trails, the network boasts an additional eight named trails. You can print off a map by clicking the trail names above. I highly recommend taking a map. My experience with these trails, so far, is on the Woodpecker side. I would assume that the Squire Point trails would be similar, but I can not say for sure.

Trails are stroller-friendly, for the most part. There is a steep climb of stairs on an area of Woodpecker trail and a lesser steep climb of stairs on Mushroom Forest trail. As long as you have a hiking partner, you should be able to lift the stroller up and down. Most of these trails are wooded, but you will find yourself walking next to Coralville lake. While the trails are wide, there are areas of drop-offs next to the river. You will also come across a picturesque overlook on Weasel Run that is a must-see. Just make sure you have a good grip if you have any runners. Woodpecker trail does have self-guided points of interest along the way. You can find a printable packet of info here. Unfortunately, the only obvious location is #8,The Learning Tree. However, finding this spot is well worth it, even if you can’t find the others. The Learning Tree gives you a moment to stop and stand in awe at the spectacular resilience of the natural world.

Waterways and woods galore!
Waterways and woods galore!

Cedar Cliff Trail


The Cedar Cliff Trail is located in Palisades-Kepler State Park near Mt. Vernon. I’m not sure how I managed to live here for nine years, and yet this spring was the first time I’ve been out here. While the park boasts many trails, the Cedar Cliff trail is aptly named as it runs the length of the river, and there are definitely steep drop-offs just a step or two off the trail. You won’t be able to get your stroller on this trail, so if you have a little one, then baby-wearing is the way to go. This trail is best for older children. If you have smaller children and they love holding your hand the whole time, they could probably go hiking, too. (And, lucky you for having a munchkin that will hold your hand that long!) Otherwise, maybe save this trail for an afternoon date or some alone time to commune with nature.

The trail itself is rocky in many places, so you will need sturdy footwear for sure. The views of the river are breathtaking. The trail is far enough away from the modern luxury of vehicles so you can truly enjoy the sound of various woodland animals and the breaking of the water at the banks of the river. There is a large gazebo on the trail that is perfect for a simple break or even a picnic lunch. There are no waste receptacles along the way so please remember “Pack in, pack out”.

Plot twist! South of the gazebo the trail splits into the Lower Cedar Cliff Trail and the Upper Cedar Cliff Trail. The Upper trail is easier to navigate and less scary if you have smaller children. The Lower trail is very narrow and rocky in places, sometimes both at once. Lower trail is cliff-side. Aside from the hiking, Palisades has a lovely campground and also features cabins. If you enjoy fishing, and are licensed, you should park at the southern access point of the trail, because you can enjoy some time fishing after your hike. Lastly, if you are up for an adventure, then check in at the park office to register to do some rock-climbing!

Cedar Cliff Trail on a beautiful spring day.
Cedar Cliff Trail on a beautiful spring day.

These are three great hiking trails to get you started. Be sure to check out the other posts in the our Hiking Easter Iowa series:

Hiking Eastern Iowa Part 2: 3 Trails to Hit in Hot Weather

Hiking Eastern Iowa Part 3: 2 Places to Take a Day Trip

Don’t forget to show us your trail adventures via Facebook or Twitter.


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