Yellow River State Forest
Hikers from Chicago and Milwaukee sometimes use the Yellow River Backpack Trail as a warm-up for longer hikes, but this 25-mile path is also a good place to slow down. It winds through native hardwood forest, up and down among limestone bluffs, past scattered camps, and along trout-stocked streams. Whether you dangle your feet or a shiny lure in the sun-dappled waters of Little Paint Creek, you can't help but unwind.
Contact: Yellow River State Forest, (319) 586-2254; www.state.ia.us/government/dnr/organiza/forest/yr.htm.
Brushy Creek State Recreation Area
Endless wild horizons are hard to find in Iowa, but they do exist-you'll find proof at 6,000-acre Brushy Creek, one of the largest spreads of public land in the state. A web of 35 miles of multi-use trails crisscross the area. Several nonequestrian campsites are available, especially in the southeastern part of the park.
Contact: Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, (515) 543-8298; www.state.ia.us/government/dnr/organiza/ppd/brushy.htm.
Ledges State Park
Deep sandstone canyons, 200-year-old white oaks, a chattering stream, and 13 miles of trail attract backpackers, while archaeological finds dating back 4,000 years capture the interest of history buffs.
Contact: Ledges State Park, (515) 432-1852; www.state.ia.us/government/dnr/organiza/ppd/ledges.htm.