Dolliver Memorial State Park is a fantastic 594-acre park in North-Central Iowa. It offers a unique, scenic Iowa landscape. There, limestone bluffs tower over the Des Moines River Valley. Prairie Creek winds through a canyon with swirling sandstone formations. And native burial mounds rest above the river valley.
The unique geographical features remind us of Ledges State Park. It’s a must-see! And the good news is, it’s an easy day trip from Des Moines.
A Brief History of Dolliver State Park
There are signs that the native Woodland Culture called this area home 1000 years ago. Burial mounds on the Des Moines River bluff give the best clues. Also, the Boneyard Hollow site is evidence that they drove bison off the cliff or trapped them there. (You can hike to the burial mounds and through the box canyon at Boneyard Hollow.)
Dolliver Memorial State Park became Iowa’s third state park in 1925. Several historic park structures date to the 1930s, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). You can see CCC quality and design at the park on the lodges, footbridges, and other features.
Things to Do at Dolliver State Park
The hiking is excellent here! Explore canyons, rocky bluffs, woodlands, and creeks throughout. See a trail map here.
Boneyard Trail (~1 mile) runs along a ridge, where mature trees surround you as you wind above the valley. (We explored the ravine too!)
River Trail (.6 miles) is an easy trail that takes you along the shores of the Des Moines River.
Center Trail (1.4 miles) is a loop trail west of the campground. It connects to Boneyard Trail on the north and Copperas Trail on the south.
Copperas Trail (1 mile) is an interpretive trail through ancient sandstone formations. This trail is surreal, fun, and informative!
Indian Trail (1.2 miles) is the most challenging trail in the park. Steep climbs and switchbacks lead to the top of the bluff, near the burial mounds and a view of the Des Moines River.
Explore the Copperas Beds!
The Prairie Creek canyon transforms you into another world! Beautiful swirling sandstone formations (Copperas Beds) extend 100 feet above the creek. Explore them along Copperas Trail.
Kayak or canoe the Des Moines River Water Trail!
Whether you want a short float or a multi-day adventure, the Des Moines River Water Trail delivers! Choose your own adventure. The park’s boat ramp has a large gravel parking area.
Dolliver State Park is access #283. Downriver access is at Lehigh (#280) and Deception Hollow (#276), or further south. Henderson Landing (#291) is the closest access upriver from, but the trail runs north of there too. Check out the DNR’s water trail map for more details.
Want to rent a kayak or canoe? Check with Webster Co. Conservation.
Fish the banks of the Des Moines River! The area near the boat ramp has easy accessibility. Or bring your canoe or kayak to get out on the water.
At the bottom of a winding hill off the park road, stop for a picnic! Several picnic tables are in a scenic green space among mature trees. Grills are available too.
Two 1930s CCC lodges each accommodate up to 100 people and are available by reservation. South Lodge is near the south entrance, and Center Lodge is by the campground.
Further down the park road, stop at the picnic shelter. It’s a great place for adults to rest while kids play on the playground nearby. It’s available by reservation and otherwise first-come, first-serve.
Hike to the burial mounds
For a good workout and rewarding views, hike up Indian Trail to the Native American burial mounds. At the top of the bluff are three mounds, two conical and one linear. Please be respectful and don’t walk on the mounds. (For Woodland Culture burial mounds near Des Moines, check out Woodland Mounds State Preserve.)
This park is great for a drive, especially in the fall! It’s long and narrow, with scenic views along the way. The road winds down through the hills and bluffs to the valley when you enter the park from the south. Cross the Prairie Creek ford, take in the river views, and see Boneyard Hollow.
Dolliver State Park Campground and Cabins
Dolliver’s campground overlooks the Des Moines River midway through the park. There are 22 electric sites, two of which are tent only. There’s also a youth group site and two family cabins. Family cabins sleep four and have electricity, a dorm fridge, stovetop, microwave, and sink. Also, modern restrooms/showers and a dump station on-site. And you can make reservations online. Go here for a campground map.
Note on the campground: Some campsites are pretty short and cannot accommodate large RVs or trailers. Also, turns are a bit tight, and the dump station could be challenging for large units. If you have a large RV or trailer, you might consider camping nearby at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area.
The group camp is in a beautiful valley, surrounded by wooded hills and bluffs. There are ten camping cabins with modern restrooms/showers on site. Available by reservation only through the park office.
Things to Do Nearby
Brushy Creek State Recreation Area is 8 miles to the east. At 6500(!) acres, it ranks among the largest of the Iowa state parks. There are over 45 miles of multi-use trails and a 690-acre lake to explore, and a campground too!
Gypsum City OHV Park is 8 miles to the north, on the south side of Fort Dodge. The 800-acre park has 60 miles of ATV trails and a motocross track. There are also picnic areas, a campground, and fishing ponds.
For more things to do, head to Fort Dodge. There you can grab a bite to eat, tour a museum, go swimming, golf, and more!
Visit Dolliver Memorial State Park Today!
Dolliver Memorial State Park is at 2757 Dolliver Park Ave, Otho, IA 50569. It’s about 80 miles northwest of Des Moines, near Fort Dodge.