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Iowa State Parks

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USA Parks
Northeast Region
Backbone State Forest
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Eastern Goldfinch
Eastern Goldfinch ©
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Backbone State Forest is adjacent to the northeast corner of Backbone State Park, 4 miles south of Strawberry Point. Access to these 186 acres of pine plantations and upland hardwood forest is from a parking lot located just east of the north entrance to Backbone State Park. This parking lot is a convenient place to unload horses or snowmobiles. Although the area is not open to snowmobiling, sleds may be unloaded in the parking lot and ridden the short distance to the park entrance on the road or in the road ditch. Backbone State Park is open to snowmobiling.

The area is open to hunting, hiking, horseback riding and cross country skiing.

Backbone State Forest was acquired for the purpose of protectingthe watershed of the lake at Backbone State Park. Most of the land being farmed at the time of acquisition was planted to red, white, jack, and Scotch pine. The extensive trail system rose out of a system of fire breaks that were developed to protect these plantings.

Users should be aware that hunting and horseback riding are legal on Backbone State Forest but not on Backbone State Park. We have made every effort to plainly mark boundaries between the two areas.
History of the Area
Backbone State Forest, also known as Backbone State Park, is the first and oldest state park in Iowa, United States. It is located in Delaware County, approximately three miles south of the town of Strawberry Point. The area was initially inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Sauk and Meskwaki.

In the early 1800s, European settlers began arriving in the region, primarily for farming purposes. The land encompassing Backbone State Forest was initially owned by several individuals, including the Murray, Beatty, and Miles families. In 1904, the state of Iowa started acquiring land in the area for conservation and recreational purposes.

The park's name derives from the unique geological formation known as "The Backbone," a narrow and sharply defined ridge of bedrock that extends for approximately 80 feet above the valley. This natural feature was shaped over millions of years through erosion and glacial activity.

In 1919, the Iowa Board of Conservation officially established Backbone State Park, making it the first state park in Iowa. Facilities such as a lodge, cabins, camping areas, hiking trails, and picnic areas were gradually developed over the years. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) also played a significant role in the park's development during the 1930s, constructing bridges, fire towers, and other infrastructure.

During the Great Depression, the park offered employment opportunities for local workers through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs. Backbone State Park played a vital role in providing recreational opportunities and an escape from the hardships faced by the local community during that time.

Backbone State Forest spans over 2,000 acres and offers numerous recreational activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, and wildlife observation. The park continues to be a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, providing a beautiful natural setting and preserving Iowa's natural heritage.
1. Backbone State Park: This is the oldest state park in Iowa and offers 125 campsites, including both electric and non-electric options. The campgrounds have modern restrooms, showers, a trailer dump station as well as picnic areas.

2. South Lake Campground: Located within Backbone State Forest itself, this campground has over 50 sites available for tent or RV camping with many offering electrical hookups.

3. Six Pines Campground: A more primitive option located on the east side of the forest that provides several walk-in tent sites without electricity but does offer pit toilets and drinking water access points nearby.

4. Richmond Springs Cabins & Camping Area: These cabins are nestled right next to Richmond springs stream providing beautiful views along with basic amenities like fire rings, grills etc.

5. Dundee City Park: Although not directly inside backbone state forest it's just few miles away from main entrance of park making it convenient place to stay while exploring area around.

6. Modern Cabin Rentals: For those who prefer some comfort during their outdoor adventures these fully furnished cabin rentals provide all necessary facilities such as heating/cooling system, kitchen appliances etc.
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1. Backbone Trail: This is the main trail that runs through the park, spanning about 21 miles in total length. It offers a challenging hike with steep inclines and rocky terrain but provides stunning views of limestone cliffs, dense forests, and wildlife.

2. Bluebird Trail: A relatively easy looped trail stretching around two miles long which takes hikers past several birdhouses designed to attract bluebirds specifically - hence its name.

3. East Lake Trails: These trails are located on the eastern side of Backbone lake offering beautiful water views along their paths ranging from half-mile to one mile each way depending upon chosen route.

4. Six Pines Campground Loop: An approximately three-mile-long hiking path starting at Six Pine campground leading into deep woods before looping back again towards campsite area providing an excellent opportunity for spotting local flora & fauna including white-tailed deer or wild turkeys.

5. Barred Owl Pathway: Named after barred owls often seen here this short pathway leads you directly under towering trees where these birds usually perch making it perfect spot for birdwatchers.

6. West Lake Spur: The West Lake spur connects backbone trial with west lake beach picnic areas giving visitors chance to cool off during hot summer days while enjoying scenic beauty surrounding them.

7. Devil's Chair Trial: One of most difficult trials within forest due its uneven surface filled large rocks roots however those who dare take up challenge will be rewarded breathtaking view Devil's chair rock formation end journey.

8. Townsend Bridge Access Point: This access point allows hikers enter/exit state forest via Townsend bridge over Maquoketa River adding extra element adventure your trip especially if enjoy fishing canoeing.

9. South Flats Picnic Area Connector: Connects South flats picnic area rest network allowing families have fun:filled day out combining picnicking hiking same time.

10. East Ridge Pass: As name suggests pass goes right across east ridge providing panoramic views surrounding landscape from high vantage point.

11. Lost Canyon Trail: This trail is a 2-mile loop that takes hikers through the beautiful and secluded lost canyon, with opportunities to see unique rock formations and wildlife.

12. Hawk's Nest Pathway: A short pathway leading up to Hawk's nest lookout spot where you can enjoy stunning aerial view of entire forest especially during fall when leaves change color creating mesmerizing sight behold.

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You will feel right at home when you reach Carroll County, our corner of beautiful Northwest Illinois. The magnificent Mississippi River and outdoor spaces will refresh your spirit and touch our soul.
78.9 miles from park*

Backbone State Forest is located in northeastern Iowa, approximately 5 miles southwest of Strawberry Point. To reach the forest from Des Moines, take I-80 E for about 100 miles until reaching Exit 267B to merge onto US-151 N toward Cedar Rapids/Dubuque. Continue on US-151 N for around 40 miles and then take exit IA-13 towards Central City/Manchester/Monticello.

After taking the exit, turn left onto IA-13 S and continue driving south for approximately 15 miles. Then, turn right onto County Road X31 (also known as Backbone Rd) and follow it westward for another mile or so until you arrive at the entrance of Backbone State Park.

Once inside the park area, there will be signs directing you to various amenities such as campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails like Devil's Backbone Trail or Six Pine Trail Loop which are popular options among visitors.

To leave Backbone State Forest after your visit concludes simply retrace your steps back along County Road X31 eastbound until you reach IA -13 North where a left-hand turn can be made heading northwards again towards Manchester/Central City before continuing onwards using either local knowledge or GPS navigation systems if necessary!

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Iowa State Parks