Ledges State Park

County: Boone | Nearest City: Boone | Established: 1924 | Area: 1,200 acres

///Ledges State Park

Sandstone cliffs and dense woodlands make Ledges State Park one of Iowa’s signature parks. Driving in from the east on 250th street you will see the campground. This is a modern full featured campground designed to accommodate campers on busy weekends. Moving past the campground you will start the descent into the park valley. This route offers many car stopping vistas. The stunning park valley is walled in by forest and rocky outcroppings. The park road allows you to drive through the meandering creeks with a dramatic splash at several locations. Children are often playing at the creek crossings so watch your speed. The best way to enjoy the Ledges is to get out and hike. The trail system is well maintained but can be challenging if you’re not in good physical condition. Structures such as a stone bridge and timber frame shelters are 1930’s era Civilian Conservation Corps projects that can be seen as you hike.


Ledges State Park offers 95 campsites; 40 with electrical hookups (1 of which is fully accessible), 42 non-electric (1 of which is fully accessible), 1 group site and 12 hike-in. Half of these can be reserved online through the Online Reservation System. The camp ground is well designed and spread out. You can find a quiet private spot tucked into the trees or a more public group site next to the playground. Each camp site has a fire ring or grill and a picnic table. The camping pads are gravel and level. Most sites are back-in but a few are pull-through for lager campers.

Ledges State Park Campground

The entire campground is under a canopy of trees. The trees help baffle the noise and keep strong winds calm at the sites. If you want to get deeper into the woods then you may want to try one of the hike-in tent sites. These are primitive sites that are generously spaced apart. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. The furthest spots are over ¼ mile into the woods so be prepared to pack-in your gear.

Ledges State Park Hike-in Campsite

There are two bath houses and they are your typical state park structures. Each facility is well maintained for the traffic they receive in the peak season.

Download the trail map for this park below:


The trails at Ledges State Park are scenic and varied. The northeast area of the park offers level prairie hikes and manageable wooded treks on trails along the canyon ridges. The park valley has an extensive system of trails that allows you to ramble in a maze of rugged paths. The accessible Lost Lake trail on the southwest side of the park has the best views of the Des Moines River valley. Spend an afternoon hiking any combination of the following trails.

– Campground to Canyon Trail

The trail head for this 1.2 mile trail is at the entrance to the hike-in tent sites in the park campground. Walking down the well maintained trail, you may pass tent campers hauling arm-loads of gear into their sites. At .3 miles from the trail head you will come to the last tent site. Here you can take an interesting diversion to the ruins of the old Fowler Homestead. There will be a path that continues to the left for about 300 feet. At the end you will find the remains of a cabin and stone chimney.

Ledges State Park Fowler Homestead

When you are done checking out the ruins, backtrack to the last tent site and head down the ravine. The trail here becomes rugged and drops about 150 ft. in elevation. There are no switch backs on this trail so caution is advised due to mud, damp leaves and steep grade.

At the bottom, the trail intersects with a small stream. Glimpses of a trail can be seen on both banks, but, the best route is via the stream bed during dry conditions. The stream eventually drains into Pea’s Creek and this will be the route into the park canyon.

Ledges State Park Pea's Creek

Even on busy weekends, you are likely to be alone in this part of the park. Take your time scrambling and rock hopping your way towards the main park road. There will likely be spots where large downed trees require you to stop to determine the best way to pass. Take note of the many animal tracks, minnows and water bugs.

Distant voices will often signal the end of this trail as you approached the canyon road.

– Crow’s Nest Trail

This 1 mile trail network is on the north side of the canyon road and is named after a scenic overlook. Trail highlights are views of exposed sandstone walls, panoramic vistas of the park canyon, a memorial to M. L. Hutton and the Des Moines River valley framed by woodlands at the Crow’s Nest overlook.

There are four trailheads that access the Crow’s nest system. The two trailheads on the east side are the start of the Old Indian Trail and the most direct route to the Crow’s Nest overlook. These two trailheads merge and begin a 528 feet in distance, and 140 foot in elevation climb, up to the overlook. The first 2?3rds of this route incorporates handrails and a couple benches along the trail. The last 1?3rd does not have handrails and the grade increases on irregular stone steps.

Ledges State Park Old Indian Trail

The Crow’s Nest scenic overlook is spectacular. Your hiking efforts are rewarded with a view of the Des Moines River valley and a deck area to sit and rest.

For a less aggressive climb to the Crow’s Nest, start your hike at the center trailhead or the west trailhead. The center trailhead allows you to walk along the sandstone ledges and offers views of the canyon valley. Zigzag on paths east and west to the top of the ridge. Follow the signs at the top to the Crow’s Nest.

The west trailhead is the start of a gentle climb up the ridge through a canopy of trees. Along the way is a memorial to M. L. Hutton. This route seems less busy and has a bench to rest at the top. Signs will direct you to the Crow’s Nest.

If you feel adventurous, the north trail at the top of the ridge is fun to explore. The trail is not well maintained and a little bushwhacking may be involved to find the path.

– Hog’s Back Trail

This .59 mile route connects the upper east end of Ledges State Park to the Reindeer Ridge and Mesquakie trails at the Council Ring intersection. The trail makes for a leisurely stroll through the woods on relatively level terrain.

There are three trailheads that access the Hog’s Back trail. The main trailhead is at the eastern picnic area. You will know you’re on the right path when you see a footbridge soon after starting your hike. The second trailhead is at a hairpin turn off of the canyon road at the scenic overlook.

The third will be the first trailhead you see on the left as you drive into the park canyon. This little connector trail makes for a rugged climb at 528 feet in distance and 80 foot in elevation up to Hog’s Back Trail. It would be a great place to start a trail run or cross fit workout with a challenging nonstop rock step incline to the top.

Ledges State Park Hog's Back Connector Trail

– Lost Lake Trail

The 1.1 mile Lost Lake Trails are part of the Makoke birding trail system. The Makoke Trail is a driving route that links prime birdwatching spots across eight central Iowa counties. Approximately half of the Lost Lake Trails include a fully accessible A.D.A. route for people who cannot hike the more difficult areas of the park. The only trail head is in the parking lot off of 255th street.

Ledges State Park Lost Lake

The trail starts off with the accessible portion. It’s a level and wide gravel path that winds its way .4 miles to Lost Lake. Along the way you will see markers that note various flora and fauna in the area. There is also a footbridge over a small damn at Katina Pond and several benches on the way to the lake. The accessible portion of the trail ends at Lost Lake; however, there is a rugged trail around the entire lake. Mosquitos can be thick around the water in the summer, but fall is a beautiful time to visit.

Ledges State Park Des Moines River

Some of the best views in Ledges State Park can be seen from the ridge trail above the Des Moines River. You can access these trails from several side paths west of the main Lost Lake accessible route. A signature view of the Des Moines River valley can be seen 140 feet to the west of Katina Pond. Caution is advised due to the height.

– Mesquakie Trail

The Mesquakie Trail starts in the lower west end of the park canyon and ends at the Council Ring for a total distance of .25 miles and 200 feet in elevation. This short trail can be used to get to Table Rock or Council Ring and it links up to Hog’s Back and Reindeer Ridge trails.

There are two trailheads for this section. Each is close to a parking lot on the east side of 255th street. The route is wooded and full of steps.

– Oak Woods Trail

You might have to work a little to find this path, but the Oak Woods Trail rewards you with a quiet walk in the woods. This .92 mile route runs along a secondary ridge that is south of the main park canyon and the trailheads are not close to the main roads. You can usually be assured of a peaceful trek, even on busy weekends and holidays.

There are two trailheads on the east side of the park. Both intersect with the Prairie Trail, so you might as well walk the Prairie restoration loop while you’re there. The quickest access can be found south of the shelter in the upper park picnic area. The north trailhead is not marked well and there are a couple dead ends. Keep pushing in and you will eventually find a lesser maintained trail. This section is not heavily hiked and at times it’s hard to distinguish the hiking trail from the deer trails. Ultimately, this section traverses around a couple ravines. There is a rotten footbridge that’s fun to discover and is a sign of an older abandon path. Soon after the old footbridge the trail opens up.

Ledges State Park Oak Woods Trail Footbridge

The second trailhead is in the middle of the Prairie Trail on the west side. This path is very obvious and leads from the grasslands into the trees. As you walk west from the prairie you will run into the Oak Woods Trail. Turn left and head south on this level and well maintained section. There will most likely be deer in this part of the park so tread lightly if you want to see them.

The path will eventually become narrower and start to descend abruptly. This is where the Oak Woods Trail Becomes the Waterline Trail. You can choose to continue on to the Shelter in the lower area of the park or turn around and retrace your steps back.

– Prairie Trail

The Prairie Trail is a .8 mile multi-use loop route through native Iowa prairie plants. There’s a lot to see here if you take the time to look. An informational sign describing many of the plants is located at the main trailhead south of the park road. You can find a second trailhead south of the shelter in the upper picnic area. This trail is perfect for birders and is part of the Makoke birding trail system.

Ledges State Park Makoke/Prairie Trail

– Reindeer Ridge Trail

These trails are .35 miles of meandering paths on the south side of the park canyon. There is one trailhead about halfway through the lower park area on the south side of the road. These trails are fairly rugged and are the best way to gain access to Table Rock overlook and Council Ring from the canyon area.

Ledges State Park Table Rock

– Waterline Trail

This .33 mile connector trail gains 105 feet in elevation up to the Oak Woods Trail. It’s a steep climb but not rocky. There is an old unmaintained trail to the north that intersects with the Waterline Trail near the top. Add the old section to the Waterline if you feel like a little bushwhacking.

Final Impressions

Ledges State Park has a place for everyone. The park valley is suited for large gatherings and family outings. If you’re looking for a solitary adventure then take a creek walk deep into the park or paddle by on the Des Moines River.

Unique terrain and access to water and wildlife are features that drew native people to this area for thousands of years. Those same assets are what continue attract people to Ledges State Park today.

Related Parks You May Like

  1. Backbone State Park
  2. Dolliver Memorial State Park
  3. Maquoketa Caves State Park
  4. Pikes Peak State Park
  5. Stone State Park
  6. Waubonsie State Park


  1. Ledges State Park in Madrid, Iowa – Des Moines Outdoor Fun

About the Author:

I launched Iowa Parklands in November of 2012. It’s an enjoyable way to blend my interests in design, fitness and outdoor places in Iowa. — Matthew


  1. Richard Pea March 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    These are very lovely pictures of this creek! I was researching information on one my ancestors and came across this page. Thank you for posting these awesome pictures! I now have a good visualization of the area my ancestor lived in (from 1846-1874). John Pea, who the creek was named after (the second person in Boone County), was my first cousin, 6 times removed. Thanks again and take care!

    Rich Pea
    Sacramento, CA

    • Matt March 16, 2011 at 8:45 am - Reply

      That’s really amazing that you came across this post. Ledges State Park is a beautiful and unique area in the state of Iowa. I hope you can make it to this part of the country some day.

    • Matt March 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      @Richard: There is an old cabin just up the hill from where we hiked into the creek. It’s overgrown and way back in the woods. The only thing that is left of the cabin is the stone fireplace and foundation. I wonder if this is John Pea’s homestead? I’m sure the Park Ranger would know more about this old cabin. I could take some photos of the place and send them to you if you’re interested.

  2. Claus September 13, 2011 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    That ruins is actually the Fowler Homestead.
    You can read about it in this document: http://s-iihr34.iihr.uiowa.edu/publications/uploads/GSI-048.pdf (pdf page 38).

    What you, Richard, are looking for is probably not in the state park:
    “John Pea and James Hull, two of the earliest European settlers in Boone Co., built their cabins at the source of Pea’s Creek (ca. 3 km northeast of the Park, now in the south part of the city of Boone) in 1846 (Anonymous 1880).”

    Source (ISU libary login required):

    • Matt September 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Thanks Claus, That Iowa Geology PDF is going to be some interesting reading.

  3. u March 23, 2013 at 4:54 pm - Reply


  4. Richard York September 2, 2014 at 12:53 am - Reply

    The photo you show of the old Fowler homestead is actually the original home of Fleming McGaw, who died on 3 Nov 1877. He was a veteran of the Mexican War of 1846 and was wounded while serving with Captain Philip Kearny, who died in the Civil War. He’s buried in Squire Boone Cemetery in Luther. (My 3rd great grandfather)

    • Matt October 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm - Reply

      Is it possible that the Fowlers purchased your 3rd great grandfather’s original homestead? I’d be interested in any information you have on Fleming McGaw. My information came from the post above by Claus. He sites a document that provides some history for the ruins. Apparently, there is more to the story. 🙂

  5. Richard York October 5, 2014 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Fleming McGaw bought 5 acres of land on January 31, 1863 in township 83 north (Worth). He and his wife Rachel built the house there and raised their son Samuel McGaw. The photos you show on the website show the same ruins that my uncle Roland photographed in the 1960’s as Fleming’s house-though in one family photo there was part of the house extant.

    Photo 1
    Photo 2
    Photo 3

    Was the Fowler homestead after 1863? Here is Fleming’s obit. Boone County Republican 1877:

    “Died at his residence in Worth township, Saturday morning, Nov. 3d of intermittent typhoid fever, Fleming Megaw, in the seventieth year of his age. The above notice chronicles the passing away of another of the old settlers of the county. Mr. Megaw was a native of Philadelphia, where he learned his trade, that of carpenter and joiner, and where he grew up to manhood. He was a soldier in the Mexican war and participated in many of the hard fought battles of that great struggle, being a non commissioned officer in a cavalry company in the division of General Phil. Kearney, the gallant commander, who afterwards lost his life in one of the Virginia campaigns during the late Rebellion. In a cavalry charge in Mexico, Megaw met with an accident which disabled him and from which he never fully recovered. The horse he rode stumbled and fell upon him in such a way as to injure him internally, and cause him to suffer for many years. It is believed that for a number of years he has been the sole survivor of the company to which he belonged. He was an active and out spoken friend of the Union cause during the late war, and had he been physically able to perform the duties of a soldier in that struggle, there is no doubt that he would have entered the army. He was a man of fine social qualities, scrupulously honest in all his dealings, a warm and true friend and neighbor, and a good citizen. He was probably one of the best mechanics in the county, and the evidences of his skill are seen in many of the dwellings and other buildings of the older settlers in the southern half of the country, as well as in Boonsboro and Boone. In this city he helped to build the first business house erected here in 1865. He was twice married, his second wife and two grown children surviving him. The funeral, which was largely attended by his old friends and neighbors, took place at the old home on Sunday, and the remains were buried in the graveyard in the Boone neighborhood. Many of those who thus assisted in paying the last sad rites of respect too their old neighbor evinced a personal sorrow in the loss which not only the bereaved family, but they themselves had sustained. They had learned to know and respect the man despite his faults, and they had proved his worth and sterling qualities of head and heart, through long years of association. Peace to his ashes.”

    Matt…I’m interested in knowing one way or the other so our family history is accurate. 🙂 Richard

    • Matt October 6, 2014 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Here is what is know of Elmer E. Fowler’s ownership of the property. The text below comes from a document titled, Natural History of Ledges State Park and the Des Moines Valley in Boone County.

      “Specific historical and archival references are, as yet, obscure. The house was evidently occubied for a time by Elmer E. Fowler, the husband of Emma Main (or Mary E.) Fowler who is known to have operated the Beulah Home sometime between 1905 and 1911 a short distance away in the Ledges canyon. A plat map of 1918 shows that 20 acres of this vicinity were owned by E. E. Fowler at that time. Local legend says that Fowler, a food faddist, operated a sanitarium here in the late 1920’s. Some evidence to corraberate this legend may be found in land transfer records for Boone County.”

      • sue April 26, 2015 at 7:16 am - Reply

        Does anyone have information on Beulah’s Home?

        • Matt May 18, 2015 at 10:18 am - Reply

          I have not heard the name before. Is that an early settler?

  6. megen April 2, 2016 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    good is a lots of trails

  7. Kelvin May 5, 2016 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for all this information. I’m new to hiking and have wanted to hike Ledges for awhile but, could not find any helpful information. Thank you so much!

  8. Carson May 20, 2016 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Which trail is best if you are hiking with a dog?

    • Matt May 20, 2016 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      I’m not a dog owner so I’m not sure what qualities are best for hiking with a dog. I’m guessing that fewer distractions are better as well as terrain that is not overly rugged. If that’s the case then I would recommend Oak Woods Trail. Hog’s Back Trail combined with Mesquakie Trail would be a nice walk as well, but a bit more crowded on a busy day. Enjoy your walk!

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