Iowa has much to offer in the way of historically fascinating ruins. These five amazing hikes will lead you to ruins that may leave you feeling somber, spooked, or inspired.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Gitchie Manitou State Preserve and the Gitchie Manitou Ruins
This nature preserve covers over 91 acres of land. Put 52141, Adams Ave, Larchwood, IA 51241 into your GPS to get there. It's located in the northwestern corner of the state, just a few miles from Sioux Falls.
Gitchie Manitou sights along the trail
This abandoned quarry is just beyond the ruins on the trail. Gitchie Manitou State Preserve is also a public hunting area, so you may want to put off your hike until after pheasant season and wear something blaze orange just to be safe.
Gitchie Manitou Ruins hiking path
The hiking path will take you to the Gitchie Manitou Ruins. You can enter the south or north area of the park to access the trail easily. The trail isn't particularly well-kept. Expect to wade through tall bluegrass, navigate some rough terrain, and weave through overgrown plant life.
Gitchie Manitou Ruins
This intact ruined quartzite stone structure is fully accessible. This area was the site of the 1973 incident where four teenagers from Sioux Falls were murdered by a group of three brothers, who are still serving life sentences at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.
2. Ledges State Park and the Fowler Homestead Remains
This popular state park, located in central Iowa, has a sandstone gorge carved by Pea's Creek which is a tributary of the Des Moines River. This was one of Iowa's first state parks, established in 1924. Low areas of this park flood regularly, so access to this site could be limited during certain times of the year.
Trail at Ledges State Park
The trails at Ledges State Park are well-maintained, and well-traveled. You'll likely see other people during your hike to this old homestead site.
Located within Ledges State Park, at 1515 P Ave in Madrid, the remains of the Fowler Homestead are less than a mile from the trail head. Go left from the last tent site down a 300-foot path to find the stone chimney and ancient cabin remains.
3. Lime Creek Nature Center and the Mason City Brewing Company Ruins
You'll find the Lime Creek Nature Center at 2501 Lime Creek Road in Mason City. The nature center owns the brewery ruins.
Trail at Lime Creek Nature Center
The trails get busy, depending on the time of year. You may see photographers, bikers, cross-country skiers, or even horseback riders.
View of Lime Creek
The Nature Center is staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who can point you in the right direction. The brewery itself operated until 1879, when a city ordinance made selling beer and liquor illegal. It was sold in 1890 and used as an ice storage facility. In 1914 it changed hands again and was used as a slaughterhouse. The Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board took over ownership of the ruins in 1976.
The Brewery Ruins
All that's left of the brewery today is a limestone cellar with an arching ceiling. Foundations of various outbuildings nearby still remain, as well. This is a protected site, so removing anything from the area is prohibited. The remains, as seen from the trail, are the back of the structure.
4. Dubuque YMCA and Union Park Ruins
An abandoned Victorian amusement park created by the Union Electric Company and opened in April of 1891. The park suffered a flash flood in 1919 that killed five people and destroyed the property. What's left of Union Park is owned by the Dubuque YMCA, and you must get permission to hike the grounds. Just stop into the Sky Tours YMCA Union Park Camp at 11764 John F Kennedy Road in Dubuque.
The Union Park Swimming Pool
After the flash flood destroyed much of Union Park in 1919, the original pavilion, often referred to as "Death Pavilion" was never replaced. Instead, a swimming pool was installed. This is what's left of it.
The Depot area of the Union Park Ruins
Looking down from the hillside behind what was the fishpond is the landing area of The Depot and a portion of what remains of The Loop. After the flash flood tragedy, the park rebuilt and reopened, but it didn't survive and Union Park closed for good in the height of The Great Depression during 1934.
5. Effigy Mounds Native American Burial Grounds and Ruins
Effigy Mounds National Monument is located at 151 IA-76 in Harpers Ferry. These prehistoric Native American Burial grounds are shaped like various animals. There are over 200 mounds located at Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Big Bear Mound
Big Bear Mound is one of the largest at the park. These monuments are located along the Mississippi River and are easily accessible. Great Bear Mound measures 42 meters from head to tail and is a meter above ground level.
Marching Bear Mounds
Created in the first millennium by Native Americans of the Woodland Culture, these burial grounds remain sacred to many people. It's important when you visit the mounds to never walk on them. Hiking maps and instructions on how to see the mounds are available in the visitors center located on the property. The entire hike is 12.5 miles, so plan to spend the day if you want to see it all.
These magnificent hikes offer some of the best scenery in the state. What’s left of the brewery, the homestead, the Victorian amusement park, the crumbling stone structure, and the ancient burial sites are the essence of Iowa history. Do you think you’ll plan to visit any of Iowa’s magnificent ancient ruins?