About half an hour north of Iowa City, Palisades-Kepler State Park is worth the drive whether you’re interested in a quick evening hike or a weekend filled with outdoor activities.
The 840-acre state park along the Cedar River in Linn County features impressive ecological diversity, with huge river bluffs, deep ravines and hardwood forests. It’s known for its wildflowers in the spring and brilliant foliage in the fall. There’s also historical significance in the area—the exposed rocks display millions of years of fossil history.
The site of the current state park has been attracting visitors for more than 100 years. James Sherman Minott bought 160 wooded acres along the Cedar River in the 1890s and build an inn and summer cottages so people could enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
The park was established in 1922, using Minot’s property. In 1928, land from the adjoining estate of Louis H. Kepler was acquired, doubling the size of the park. During the Great Depression, the park was one of several in the state to take advantage of work by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC crews built the hiking trails, roads and many of the historic stone structures that give the park its character today.
The park features more than six miles of hiking trail, taking advantage of those tall river bluffs for some excellent views. You’ll often see white-tailed deer and wild turkey along the wooded trails. For those who want to take advantage of the water, the Cedar River offers good fishing for catfish, bass and bluegills. A boat ramp makes access easy for paddling or fishing below the dam on the river.
The park features an open picnic shelter, which may be reserved, and a 1930s lodge (built by the CCC) that’s available for group events like weddings and reunions.
A campground features 44 sites (26 with electrical hookups) that are available in the summer months. Half can be booked through advanced registration, while the other half are available on a first-come/first serve self reservation system. Restrooms and showers are available in the park.
Four family cabins are also available for rent, each accommodating up to four people with a shower, restroom, stove-top and refrigerator.