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Iowa State Parks

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USA Parks
Northeast Region
Yellow River State Forest
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Eastern Goldfinch
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YRSF, 729 State Forest Road
Harpers Ferry, Iowa   52146

Phone: 563-586-2254
Reservations: 877-427-2757
Email: park email button icon
Nature of the Area

Yellow River Forest is home to many species of wildlife who live in its various habitats. From a recreational standpoint, Yellow River Forest presents opportunities for hunters to take deer, squirrel, raccoon and various species of waterfowl and upland game birds; the trapper to harvest beaver, mink and other furbearers and the angler to take trout and other species of gamefish.

The forest has many good opportunities for bird watchers to pursue their interests. Many ducks, wading birds and other marsh dwelling birds occupy the marshes and beaver ponds on Little Paint Creek. Bald eagles may be seen at any time on the forest and surrounding environs. A threatened and endangered bird of the forest is the red-shouldered hawk.

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The major Yellow River Forest plant communities are maple-basswood, oak-hickory and bottomland hardwoods. Prairie species may be found on dry bluff tops, rock outcroppings and steep slopes that face south and west.

The maple-basswood forest type is commonly found on north and east facing slopes and is largely comprised of sugar maple, basswood, white ash and red and white elm.

The oak-hickory forest type occupies drier sites such as ridge tops and south and west facing slopes. Components include red and white oak, red and white elm, bur oak and hickory.

The bottomland hardwoods forest type includes red and white elm, green ash, cottonwood and several other bottomland species.

Prairie sites contain big and little bluestem, needle-and-thread grass, indiangrass, prickly pear and others. Jeweled shooting star (Dodecatheon amethystinum) is a state endangered species found on the forest.

Many acres have been planted to native hardwoods like black locust and English oak and several species of conifers. Species adaptation plots (trial plantings of conifers) have been established to test the practicability of planting the various species represented.
History of the Area
The first lands acquired for Yellow River State Forest were purchased in 1935 with funds that were appropriated to support the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.). The original purchase was adjacent to the Yellow River near its confluence with the Mississippi and the name "Yellow River Forest" was appropriate. In 1949, 1500 acres of the Forest was transferred to the National Park Service and became a part of Effigy Mounds National Monument. The larger units of the state forest are now located in the Paint Creek watershed, north of Yellow River. Subsequent land purchases consolidated scattered tracts and today the forest is 8,503 acres in size.

Because most land purchased was farmland and pasture, the early management of Yellow River Forest was concerned with protection from grazing, fire and soil erosion. Timber harvests provided material that the C.C.C. used for construction on state parks and other state areas.

During the 1940s, most of the open land was planted to trees. The plantations of large pines that can be seen on the forest today are the result of these efforts. The extensive system of fire lanes that provided protection to these plantations serves today as part of the recreational trail system for hiking, cross country skiing, horse riding and snowmobiling.

In 1947, a sawmill, which the Forestry Division continues to operate was moved to the Paint Creek Unit from Pikes Peak State Park. All the trees processed at the mill are harvested from state land and the lumber used on state parks and wildlife areas, other DNR areas, sold to other state agencies or sold to private individuals. About $20,000 worth of lumber is transferred each year to units of the DNR and another $10,000 worth of lumber is sold each year to other units of government.

During the 1950s and 1960s, outdoor recreation became more important on the forest. Camping and picnic areas were developed. Access to the area for hunters, fishers and other outdoor recreationists was improved. Trail systems were extended to accommodate horses and hikers. For a time, there was a trail ride concession where visitors could rent horses to ride.
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Yellow River State Forest is


Yellow River's backpacking trails were featured in an article which appeared in the April 1996 edition of ?Outside? magazine entitled ?America?s Top 50 Hikes--The Finest in Every State?. The best hike in Iowa was chosen to be the Backpack Trail at Yellow River State Forest. We are honored to have been given this distinctive endorsement, and anticipate lots of usage on the backpack trails as a result.

Incidentally, if you haven?t had the opportunity to hike our trails, they are open year ?round. Degree of difficulty ranges from relatively easy to moderate. If you have a scout or other youth group looking for a backpacking experience, or if you are planning a ?real? backpacking trip out west and need some place to train, this is for you.

There are over 25 miles of marked & maintained trails in the Paint Creek Unit alone. There is no charge or registration required for the use of our backpack trail facilities. We have two camp areas along the trail which are not accessible by vehicles so you can really ?get away from it all?. If you are looking for something in particular in a day hike or an overnighter, give us a call and we?ll be happy to give you some ideas and places to go.

Our backpack areas are large enough to support a large group or several small groups. They are not organized areas so you can spread out if you arrive to find a group or individuals already at the site. On nice weekends, slight but not overwhelming traffic can be expected. Our backpack trail is also part of our equestrian trail for some of its length, so horses may be encountered. On weekdays, you will seldom encounter other users.

We have a public water supply at our sawmill/headquarters areas. Water from springs or streams should be suitable for bathing but not for drinking or brushing teeth.

Camp fires are permitted. Please practice fire safety and be sure your fire is dead before leaving the site. Do not use a camp fire during extremely dry conditions.

No reservations are necessary, nor do we accept them. Facilities at the forest are on a first come basis.

You may wish to try other backpack opportunities at Stephens, Shimek or Loess Hills State Forests.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
April 29 great park by the dog lady of harpers ferry
park review stars; one to five We have stayed in Little Paint campground and it is wonderful. No Elec or water but always clean.
March 24 Horseback Haven by Hadherway girls
park review stars; one to five Yellow River forest has great horse trails, and a very clean camp. Rilen (The DNR) is a great! He is respectful, and easy on the eyes. We always have a great time there!
May 28 My favorite camping place by Corely Washburn
park review stars; one to five I really love this park for camping, you can put your tent near enough to the creek to be lulled to sleep by the water rushing,there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy and lots of trout in the creek. If you really like to rough it this is the place for you. There is not any electical hook ups or water hook ups and most cell phones do not have signal in Little Paint Creek camping area!
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Iowa State Parks