The Iowa River meanders through the central and eastern parts of Iowa, protected by the Iowa River Greenbelt, an effort started in the 1980s to connect Iowans to this river with hundreds of adjacent acres of recreational and protected lands.
It means there are plenty of trees carpeting the deep river valley, where a rocky stream that isn’t much wider than 75 feet bustles through.
I recently checked out a segment, a short 6-mile trip from Steamboat Rock to Eldora.
“It has bluffs, a rocky bottom and a nice drop (or gradient). It’s a nice stretch of river,” said Sandra Morlan of Rock-n-Row Adventures in Eldora.
If you go
Here are other recommendations of paddling trips with good fall colors from Central Iowa Paddlers and Todd Robertson, the DNR’s River Programs Outreach Coordinator.
• Red Rock Water Trail at Lake Red Rock: This 36-mile trail is a great back-up plan if stream levels are too low. The trail includes rocky cliffs and a sea cave at Elk Rock State Park and a paddle-in campsite at Hickory Ridge. Eagles’ nests and migratory birds make for great wildlife viewing and fall colors are in blaze, especially around Hickory Ridge. Use caution on windy days that create big waves on the lake. As the days get colder a wetsuit may be needed.
• Middle/South Raccoon Water Trail near Adel and Redfield: The Middle Raccoon’s high bluffs and the South’s unspoiled, remote woods make these great rivers in Central Iowa for fall colors. They are also good fishing streams for catfish, smallmouth bass and walleye.
• Middle River Water Trail near Winterset: A nice trip is from Roseman Covered Bridge to Pammel State Park. The river is tight, usually only 50 feet wide, which makes for a nice tree-lined trip. The river may be swift in higher waters, but watch out for low water in fall. The covered bridges of Madison County are famous for love, of course, so bring a honey on this one.
• Upper Iowa River near Decorah: If you want to take a longer drive, it may be worth it. Although it’s not yet an official state trail, this National Wild and Scenic River is nothing short of a gem and has long topped the lists of paddlers statewide. The water is spring-fed and clear, and the rocky bottom leaves fun riffles to paddle through, all along breathtaking bluffs that rise up to 60 feet. Fall paddlers love this one, of course, because of the surrounding blanket of trees and forests and the selection of numerous outfitters to drop you off.
DNR maps and brochures of Iowa water trails:www.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/CanoeingKayaking/WaterTrails/WaterTrailMapsBrochures.aspx.
For nearby outfitters to rent canoes or kayaks, go towww.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/CanoeingKayaking/PaddlerResources.aspx.