With Iowa’s prized Loess Hills right in our backyard, Council Bluffs is just steps away from some of the greatest hiking and million-dollar vistas along the Missouri River. Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and enjoy one of these four trails located within an hour of the city.
Converted from a railroad right-of-way, the Wabash Trace Nature Trail winds 63 miles across the scenic southwest Iowa countryside from Council Bluffs to Blanchard at the Iowa-Missouri border. Don't let the "nature trail" part of its name fool you. Though rich in wildlife, the Wabash Trace is one of Iowa's longest and most popular rail-trails, passing through the Loess Hills and teeming with history and local color. A word to the wise? Watch out for hungry cyclists once warmer weather hits. From the time this trail is dry enough in the spring until late in the fall, the Taco Ride draws hundreds to the Wabash Trace for a popular Thursday evening bike riding ritual.
Once you’ve stabilized your boots on a paved city path, it’s time to head a bit deeper into the hills with a visit to Hitchcock Nature Center. Hitchcock’s robust network of trails allows you to make this hike as long or as short as you’re feeling, with options ranging from easy ridgeline walks to difficult climbs along rugged terrain. The 45-foot observation tower offers a sweeping bird’s eye view of the 1,200-acre preserve that can’t be beat, and budding nature enthusiasts can explore a variety of hands-on activities at the adjacent Loess Hills Lodge.
Nestled in the northeast corner of the Loess Hills State Forest, Preparation Canyon State Park is a naturally secluded, uncrowded park with several hiking options. Approachable for most beginner hikers, this 344-acre park is surrounded by dramatic ridges that create a beautiful backdrop for family outings. The Loess Hills State Forest scenic overlook on the northernmost edge of the park provides a spectacular view as Preparation Canyon unfolds to reveal the border of the Loess Hills and the Missouri River in the distance. At just under one mile, the hiking trail from the overlook is a relatively easy stroll through open fields and groves of cedars and oaks.
When you’re ready to spend a little longer on the trail, Waubonsie State Park is a great place to explore. Part of the historic Lewis and Clark Trail, interpretive signs guide you through the history of Waubonsie as you snake through the hardwood forest. If nothing else, a trip to the park is well worth it to see the overlook from the Sunset Ridge Nature Trail, which offers an unforgettable view of rolling farm fields that stretch for miles in the Missouri River valley. Fair warning, you’ll have to earn that view, as some of the hills peppered throughout the trail network are rather steep.