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.
Hitchcock Nature Center is best known for its hiking and striking views. Regardless of which season 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,” Franco explained. “It gives you an amazing view of the 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.”
And escapes can happen throughout the year thanks to the park’s diverse activities. Whether you’re paying a visit to the area or if you just live nearby, you’ll want to check out the park throughout the year to fully experience all it has to offer.
As warmer weather begins, visitors can camp, hike—download a Trailcast for a personal guided hike—picnic, hang out at the park’s playground, and watch for songbirds. The park’s central location in the Midwest puts it right on the edge of territories for many eastern and western birds.
“We get a great diversity of birds,” Franco said. “A lot of birders out here, they come out to see some really unusual things, some rare species. So springtime, definitely get out.”
In the summer, guests can hike to remnant prairies, try our their skills at the park’s archery range, and camp at the park’s campground.
“Pick a nice weekend, you can check out one of our backcountry campsites,” Franco said. “We have tent camping, RV camping, or you can stay in one of our cabins.”
While campsites are first-come, first-serve in the campground, cabins and backcountry sites can be reserved through mycountyparks.com.
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.”
If anything, snowfall makes the park more magical with winter activities like snowshoeing and sledding. Snowshoes can be rented for $6 a day from the Loess Hills Lodge during regular business hours. View their website for more details on rentals.
The roads to the park are highly maintained, making Hitchcock easy to access even in the winter months. Thanks to the road and maintenance crews of Old Lincoln Highway and the park, guests can experience the peacefulness of the snow-covered park for themselves.
“Just getting out and taking a very quiet hike in the snow is something that people really enjoy,” Franco shared.
Activities for Kids
Visitors and locals with families can find many things to do at the park with children.
“Getting outside and going for a hike, one of the best things you could possibly do,” Franco said. “Just letting those kids experience and explore nature a little bit. There’s a lot of ways to do it: you go for a hike, you go camping. Those are probably the best things that I can recommend for kids to do.”
Check out our event calendar for a list of upcoming programs at Hitchcock Nature Center for both adults and kids.
One Day Visit
Visitors may not have the time available to partake in all of Hitchcock’s activities, but Franco shared the absolute necessities one must see and do during a visit to the park.
“I recommend Badger Ridge Trail if you’re going to get out there,” Franco said.
Admission to Hitchcock Nature Center costs $3 per vehicle, paid by exact change or check at the park entrance. Locals may find it more worthwhile to purchase a year-long membership for $20. Memberships may be purchased in person at the park or online.
Photo Credit: The HawkWatch tower photo and the photos under the spring and fall sections are by visitor Ev Luecke.