Iowa Water Trails

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Of the hundreds of miles of interesting paddling routes in Iowa, 1,010 miles are currently (2019) identified by the Iowa DNR River Programs as “Designated Water Trails.” Info and downloadable maps are available on the Iowa DNR website at:



Boone River: Hamilton County:

  • Wooded bluffs, fast riffles, runs clear, sandstone cliffs


Cedar Valley Paddlers Trail:  Black Hawk County

  • “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:

  • Boone County 
  • Polk County (Upper) 
    • 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.
  • Van Buren  and Wapello Counties (Lower)
    • 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.
  • West and East Fork, Upper


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

  • Iowa City to Mississippi:
    • 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:

  • Hardin County: 


Lake Red Rock:


Little Sioux River: 



Lizard Creek: 

  •   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 gauges or call ahead.


Lower Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek River: 




Maquoketa River:

  • Delaware County
  • Jones County
  • North Fork/ Whitewater Creek


Middle River: 

  • 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: Louisa County 

  •   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.


Raccoon River: North:

  • Sac. Calhoun and Carroll Counties :
    • 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.
  • Green County 


Raccoon: Middle and South Branches:


Rathbun Trail: 




Skunk River:

  • South,  North, and Big Cedar Creek Guide 
  • Story County


Turkey River: 

  • Fayette and Clayton Counties
    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: 

Wapsipinicon River ”Bends & Beaches”: Clinton & Scott Counties:


West Nishnabotna River: 

  • 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:

  • 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