Water Trails

Links to Water Trails on rivers and lakes around Iowa.                                                                       For links to additional resources, visit the “Links” page.                                                                   Please forward corrections or additions to  iowawta@gmail.com

Of the hundreds of miles of interesting paddling routes in Iowa, 923 miles are currently (2014) identified by the Iowa DNR River Programs as “Designated Water Trails.” Info and downloadable maps are available on the Iowa DNR website at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/CanoeingKayaking/PaddlerResources/WaterTrailMapsBrochures.aspx

Cedar River Water Trail
Bremer-Black Hawk-Buchanan Counties
Also see Cedar River Water Trail Facebook Page,

Cedar Valley Paddlers Trail
This “Loop Trail” traverses 10 miles (8.4 water, 1.6 portage) connecting the Cedar River, George Wyth State Park, & the Hartman Reserve Nature Center. Primary access begins at Fisher Lake in George Wyth SP, and is connected via a series of portages to Alice Wyth Lake, the Cedar River, Brinker Lake & George Wyth Lake. A secondary loop located in the Hartman Reserve Nature Center provides water access to Shirey Lake & Lake Manatt. Each lake is unique, providing wonderful fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. The Cedar Valley Paddlers Trail is part of a large water trail being developed on the Cedar River in Black Hawk County.

Des Moines River Water Trail (Upper Section)
This trail in Polk County extends from Cottonwood Area (north of Des Moines, just below the Saylorville Dam) to Yellow Banks County Park. Caution: this trail excludes 2 miles of the downtown Des Moines area due to the deadly low-head dams which bookend the city.

Des Moines River Water Trail (Lower Section)                                                                             Enjoy paddling (and more) as you travel 44 miles of the river from Eldon to Farmington, through Wapello and Van Buren Counties. That “more” includes the historic “Villages of Van Buren,” a working pottery shop, and opportunities to camp or spend the night in an historic hotel.  http://www.desmoinesriverwt.com/

Dubuque “Mines of Spain” Water Trail, Mississippi River & Catfish Creek
Travel by canoe or kayak along the Mississippi River between A.Y. McDonald Park and Massey Marina Park. Access the 11-mile Dubuque Water Trail at one of five points: ramps on the Mississippi River at A.Y. McDonald Park, Schmitt Island, and American Trust River’s Edge Plaza in the City of Dubuque and at Massey Marina Park in rural Dubuque County, and the Catfish Creek canoe access in the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area. The Mines of Spain access also provides a five-mile loop on Catfish Creek.

Iowa River Water Trail
The Iowa River from Iowa City to the Mississippi River may be one of the state’s most underused paddling resources, with 72 miles of unobstructed paddling (no dams!), beautiful scenery, wildlife viewing, and access points with all the amenities. The river doubles in size when the Cedar River joins it at Mile 30, and passes through 7,000 acres of public wildlife land after it enters Louisa County. Descriptions, maps, water level links, outfitters, & amenities to plan a 4-hour float or a multi-day adventure at:

Lake Red Rock Water Trail
Enjoy paddling segments or the entire 36-mile loop around Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake. The trail includes opportunities to view eagles’ nests, a sea cave, rocky cliffs, and a variety of birds and other wildlife. Camping at the Hickory Ridge Wilderness area is accessible only by paddlers or hikers.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Red Rock:
Red Rock Lake Association:

Lizard Creek Water Trail
This is a rugged and scenic creek, running from Fairbanks Access to Fort Dodge in Webster County. It provides a somewhat unique experience in Iowa, with plenty of rock and sand bottom, and relatively clear water. Paddlers will enjoy sections below scenic limestone cliffs, and the challenges of paddling around boulders, through riffles, and over small drop-offs. Low water levels could alter your plans, so check gages or call ahead.

Maquoketa River Water Trail

Middle River Water Trail
One of Iowa’s newest Water Trails runs through Adair and Madison Counties. The trail begins at the Middle River Forest County Park and meanders downstream, covering approximately 45 river miles, and currently ends at the historic Holliwell Covered Bridge located 3 ½ miles southeast of Winterset. Middle River is a scenic stream that twists and turns through croplands, pasture, forested hills and limestone bluffs. Spanning the river are two of the famous “Bridges of Madison County”, Roseman Covered Bridge and Holliwell Covered Bridge.

Odessa Water Trail
Paddle through both Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge and Odessa Management Area in Louisa County. Navigate a complex series of ponds, chutes and waterways fed by the Mississippi River. The unique habitat is home to a vast array of wildlife including thousands of birds, & several threatened and endangered species. Water levels on Odessa change through the seasons so it will take several trips to see all the area has to offer.
Also visit Little Red Kayak blog: http://www.littleredkayak.blogspot.com/

Raccoon River Water Trail—North, Middle, South Branches
The North Raccoon River Water Trail enables recreational paddlers to enjoy the North Raccoon River from Vogel Access in northern Sac County to the junction with the Des Moines River in Polk County, a distance of about 180 river miles.
The Middle/South Raccoon River Water Trail is really two water trails in one. Paddlers have their choice of two routes. Route A is 36.5 river miles long. Route B is 34.2 river miles. Mile marker charts identify public access areas found along both Route A and Route B.

Skunk River Water Trail
Volunteers are pursuing recognition as a state-designated water trail:
South Skunk River facebook, for those who love to paddle, play and explore its waters:

Turkey River Water Trail
This 98 mile stretch of the Little Turkey and Turkey Rivers in Northeast Iowa, connected through signs, maps, and river access points, provides an enjoyable, scenic and educational experience for recreational users. It begins on the Little Turkey River at Gouldsburg Park and flows southeast through Fayette and Clayton Counties toward the Mississippi River. The Water Trail features beautiful scenery, diverse wildlife species, and numerous historic landmarks.

Wapsipinicon River Water Trail
This trail begins in northern Bremer County, flowing southeast through Black Hawk County and into Buchanan County. There are numerous accesses to tailor your trip. This is a smaller stream, so you are advised to check water levels before you launch.

Wapsipinicon River ”Bends & Beaches” Water Trail Clinton & Scott Counties
The Bends to Beaches water trail was developed by Scott and Clinton County Conservation Boards, with accesses maintained in both counties. Camping is available.

West Nishnabotna River Water Trail
Located in Pottawattamie County, east of Omaha/Council Bluffs, this is currently the only designated water trail in southwest Iowa. It features none of the dramatic bluffs seen on the opposite corner of the state, but this lazy, tree-lined prairie stream offers abundant wildlife viewing and plenty of sandbars for lunch breaks and treasure hunting for bones, fossils, and rocks.

Winnebago River Water Trail
Much of the land along this trail is part of the Winnebago River Greenbelt, which provides wildlife and scenery. Camping is available at two parks which adjoin the river. Visitors can find supplies and amenities at Forest City or Leland