Rated among the best in the nation, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is a 220-mile paved highway that spans seven counties along the Missouri River and offers views of the steep, sharply ridged Loess Hills. UNdoubtedly one of the best stops along the byway is Hitchcock Nature Center!
Hitchcock Nature Center is a nature lover’s wonderland, found in Honey Creek, IA just a few miles north of Council Bluffs. The park is nestled in the Loess Hills, a rare formation of wind-deposited loess soils, that are home to some of Iowa’s largest remnant prairies. Towards the end of the last ice age, winds picked up soils and formed dunes along the Missouri River. Although deposits of loess are found across the world, nowhere else besides China have deposits higher than they are in Iowa.
Hitchcock Nature Center is best known for its hiking and striking views. Regardless of which time of year you visit, there is always something exciting to do whether it's hiking, snow sledding, camping, or bird watching according to Jeff Franco, operations supervisor for Pottawattamie County Conservation.
“Hitchcock is an absolutely amazing landscape and land feature,” Franco said.
The park’s HawkWatch tower is one of its most popular attractions, found at the park’s Loess Hills Lodge. It’s a 45- foot tall tower on top of a 250-foot-tall hill. The view from the top gives you an UNmatched sightline of the Missouri River valley.
The park’s proximity to the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro allows hundreds of thousands of people to visit the park on a regular basis. About 20 miles from downtown Omaha, Hitchcock Nature Center is easily accessible and provides a stark contrast in scenery for locals use to the cityscape.
"Locals get to get out and experience an area that is as close to a truly naturalized area as possible,” Franco said. “They really get to experience just a very peaceful, serene environment that gets them out of maybe the daily struggles of city life or whatever they’re dealing with—it’s a place to escape.”
In the summer, guests can hike to remnant prairies, try out their skills at the park’s archery range, and camp at the park’s campground. The campground has cabins, RV, and tent sites to choose from. If you are looking for a more remote experience, you can check out the backcountry campsites!
If you need to take a break from the great outdoors, check out the Loess Hills Lodge Interpretive Facility. This unique exhibit gallery features a variety of hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. Children can visit Curiosity Cove to make animal prints, build their own habitat, read nature stories, and complete a scavenger hunt!
Fall’s cooler air and changing colors make it a beautiful time to get out and hike in the park, but bald eagles are the big draw during the fall at Hitchcock. “We are one of the top 25 HawkWatches in North America, and we are one of the top five sites in North America for migrating bald eagles,” Franco shared.
Volunteers utilize the center’s HawkWatch tower from September 1 to mid-December, counting bald eagles as they fly by.
“The volunteers are happy to educate you, to teach you about raptor migration,” Franco said. “It’s a great experience in the fall.”
Follow your wanderlust and come experience the one-of-a-kind Loess Hills in Pottawattamie County! Whether you enjoy hiking, bird-watching, or landscape photography, the UNmatched beauty of the Loess Hills will keep you coming back for more.