Ledges State Park: Campground Review
Of all the things I love about camping in Iowa, the diverse “naturescapes” tops the list. From the Driftless Area in Northeast Iowa with its rolling hills and waterfalls, a place where you easily buy into the illusion that you are miles away from civilization to “City Glamping” at Cutty’s in Des Moines, and everything in between. I like variety. It is the best inoculation against boredom.
While we have visited some Iowa State Parks only once, Ledges State Park is one we return to time and again, from as early as March to as late as October, and every month in between. In the Spring we like to explore some of the prairie flowers and the picnic area at the top of the park. In the summer we like to cool off in the bottom of the park, wading in the stream. In the fall, once the park has dried out some and the air temperatures have cooled, we like to hike the amazing trails and do some bird watching.
The campground has been updated and now offers sixteen (16) full hookup sites, fifty-three (53) electric sites, and for the more adventurous “off grid” type campers: twenty-five (25) hike-in primitive sites. Some sites are reservable through the Iowa State Parks website, and some are only available on a first come, first serve basis. Many sites also allow pets. The campground has a nice playground, dump station, modern restrooms, firewood for sale, and an amphitheater for movie nights. If you are a Ledges fan but have never camped there because you need a pull through site, then I have wonderful news for you, the park was updated last summer (2020) and now has a whole row of wide pull through sites.
Despite being in the middle of “Nowhere,” literally over 10 miles from the nearest town, Ledges State Park Campground is easily accessible by heading South on Highway 17, and after about 2 miles, turn right (West) onto 250th Street for about 3 miles, and the campground is on the North side of the road. You can also access the Park by heading South out of Boone, but that path winds up the canyon road and may be more difficult if you are pulling a heavy load.
If you plan to stay “at the top” in the Campgrounds throughout your entire stay, you will be missing a lot of the beauty of the park, but there will be no need to bring an extra vehicle. However, if you decide you want to explore the canyon, just know that the distance between the gate and the bottoms is only about a mile and a half, but very steep (29% grade) and heavily trafficked, especially on sunny days. So, I highly recommend having a vehicle you can drive down the one way road to Pea Creek if that’s part of your plans.
Wading in Pea Creek, or “Stream Walking” as my hobbits and I call it, is our favorite pastime while visiting Ledges. Somedays, between the cool water and the breeze you can blink your eyes and a whole afternoon has gone by. While “Stream Walking,” we have constructed and deconstructed dams, we have been splashed by incoming traffic, we have spotted water snakes, water bugs, minnows and tadpoles. We have spotted Turkey Vultures, Hawks, and an occasional Eagle. Anything that hunts near the Des Moines River will likely be found soaring over Ledges. The sandstone cliffs, topped with wise old trees, make a wonderful perch for wildlife. Every time we visit we see or experience something new.
For hiking enthusiasts, the trails range from about a half a mile to just under two miles and are rated moderate to difficult, with the exception of the Interpretive Trail, designed for all levels of hiking experience. The Interpretive Trail also hosts many wildflowers and lichens and takes you out to Lost Lake and back. So, bring your favorite plant ID app and be ready to explore!
The last time we visited Ledges State Park, we saw several people biking the trails at the top around the campground area. Many of them are wide enough to bike without disturbing the walkers, and there is plenty of shade to share, as well. We even saw the DNR making his rounds on a mountain bike!
Ledges State Park is one of the most unique stops in Iowa. There are many things to do for every style of camper. Hope to see you there soon!
Ledges State Park
1515 P Ave
Madrid, IA 50156
Review by Sashya C.