Hol­i­day Hike

Stephens State For­est, Iowa


Sure, hik­ing sea­son in the Mid­west may be wind­ing down come the end of Novem­ber, but it’s not over yet. I know it as I walk be­neath a canopy of gilded oaks and hick­o­ries on a short, 3.4-mile loop an hour out­side Des Moines. It’s the day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, and the Wood­burn Unit seems dressed for the oc­ca­sion. Wild tur­keys even flut­ter across the path. To­mor­row, I’ll be sit­ting around a long ta­ble with friends and fam­ily cel­e­brat­ing a great Amer­i­can hol­i­day, but when you can sneak in a quick overnight in th­ese fallper­fect woods, it makes for a fes­tive start.

Turn-by-turn From the Wood­land Unit trail­head

1 Cross un­paved 330th Ave. and pick up the Turkey Foot Trail to tackle the East

Loop coun­ter­clock­wise. Take it roughly .8 mile to a river cross­ing.

2 Cross Ar­row­head Stream (likely only a trickle in Novem­ber) and con­tinue north­east on the Black­jack Trail to a junc­tion at mile 1.2.

3 Turn north­west onto the Buck­eye Trail and go an­other .2 mile to an in­ter­sec­tion. 4 Veer north­west to­ward signs for

Long­beard Camp at mile 1.6. 5 Back on the Buck­eye Trail, con­tinue .2 mile south­west to the Bro­ken Bone stream cross­ing.

6 Rock-hop through the trickle and keep go­ing 1.4 miles on the Twin Oaks Trail to the park­ing lot. (From there, you can tack on the 2.7-mile West Loop to make a longer fig­ure eight.)

Camp­site Long­beard Camp (mile 1.6)

Find this shady spot a short jaunt off the main trail. Set up your tent in the small clear­ing of oaks and hick­o­ries. A num­ber of un­named streams run by, but they’re un­re­li­able in fall, so pack in your wa­ter. (It’s just 1.6 miles, after all.)


Tur­keys, cot­ton­tails, squir­rels, and white­tailed deer roam through the forests here in fall. (Novem­ber is hunt­ing sea­son, so wear blaze orange.) Keen-eyed hik­ers may spot foxes or coy­otes.


Red and white oaks, along with shag­bark hick­o­ries, thrive in the up­land flats. Fo­liage here tends to peak in late Oc­to­ber, but the color of­ten lasts well into Novem­ber. Ashes, cot­ton­woods, hack­ber­ries, and elms along the ravine bot­toms change color ear­lier in Oc­to­ber.

DO IT TRAIL­HEAD 40.964067, -93.576785; 15 miles east of Osce­ola on 330th Ave. SEA­SON Year-round; Novem­ber is best for soli­tude and fo­liage.

PER­MIT None CUS­TOM MAP bit.do/ BPmapWood­burnUnit ($15) CON­TACT bit.do/stephens-sf

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