Ledges State Park is my old stomping grounds. I grew up on a farm three miles to the east. I never realized how distinct the Ledges is until our family started camping and hiking other state parks!
The limestone cliffs and a shallow creek leading to the Des Moines River set the Ledges apart and place it in a truly unique category. I would rank the Ledges as one of the top three state parks along with the Loess Hills and Maquoketa Caves State Park. Each of these parks offer a different geological experience.
Place/Event: Ledges State Park
Location: 1515 P Ave. Madrid, IA 50156
Grade/age range: K-12
Group size: large or small (Great for large groups!)
Stroller friendly: Most trails: No. Roadway/grass along Canyon Drive: Yes. Lost Lake trail: Yes.
Bathrooms: Yes, but rustic (no running water)
The key to visiting the Ledges is making sure that Canyon Road is open, not closed due to flooding. Flooding occurs almost every spring and can happen throughout the summer.
If Canyon Road is closed, you can still enjoy a lovely hike along the upper ridges on the east side to lookout points like Table Rock. There is parking lot at Oak Woods Shelter to access these trails.
During the heat of the summer, cool off in Pea’s Creek which runs along Canyon Road out to the Des Moines River.
There are six locations where the creek crosses the road and you can drive your vehicle through the water. The Ledges has several amazing structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.
In addition to the lower Ledges, the Lost Lake area in the southeast corner is a must visit and a favorite of ours. Probably because this is where hubby and I first chatted about marriage. Now we hike these same paths with our children. Lost Lake is at the top of the hill and not effected by flooding.
Be extremely careful with your children if you venture off the main trails and tour some of the rocky cliffs. One main cliff, which has incredible views, also has at least a 50 foot straight drop down. There are no guard rails as this is not part of the maintained official trail system. In recent years there have been several news stories of hikers who were killed in off trail areas in State Parks. Use caution!
The Lost Lake area has a flat crushed rock trail that would be easy for strollers or little ones. Off of the flat path is some stairs and trails that lead to views of the Des Moines river. Note that there is NO bathroom at this trail head. Drive down the hill to the west to find a rustic bathroom on the right or north side of the road.
There are several beautiful meadows and wild flower prairies. Deer are typically seen throughout the park.
Cute critters and insects are easy to find all over the Ledges. The kids were ecstatic when we saw raccoons in the campground late at night. Bring along nets, buckets and nature journals!
We enjoy tent camping at the Ledges. The campground is mostly shady and in the woods. During our last trip, we tried Katy’s Campfire Cinnamon Bites. It was a good thing we had cinnamon rolls because I forgot the chocolate for S’mores. These rolls were SO good!!!
Our family has made so many great memories camping and hiking the Ledges State Park! It’s part of my history and now I truly appreciate the park in a new way with my own children!