Kuehn Conservation Area is a 770-acre hidden gem nestled north of I-80 in Dallas County, Iowa. Kuehn’s picturesque landscape and trails draw many visitors each year. And it’s an easy day trip from Des Moines, just 30 miles west on I-80.
A Brief History of Kuehn Conservation
In 1982, Kuehn Conservation Area started when Gerald Kuehn donated a 300-acre parcel. Over the years, more land got added for conservation, and the area now totals 770 acres.
Archeology surveys here uncovered artifacts from the Late Woodland/Great Oasis cultures. And evidence suggests the area was once a small farming village for the Great Oasis culture, perhaps around 900-1000 AD.
The area is also home to a series of burial mounds that looters had damaged. In response to the damage, healing is a theme for events held at Kuehn. The First Nations peoples help Dallas Co. Conservation with the Healing of the Mounds and annual Prairie Awakening-Prairie Awoke Celebrations.
Things to Do at Kuehn Conservation Area
Kuehn Conservation Area is 770-acres of varied landscape. The area has a little bit of everything – woodlands, ridges, prairie, and a river with exposed sandbars to boot.
And don’t miss the annual Prairie Awakening-Prairie Awoke Celebration. Experience a celebration of music, food, and healing. And be sure to check out the seasonal tipi, arbor, wikiup, and council ring too.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities at Kuehn Conservation, where trails span the diverse landscape. They wind through the prairie to the riparian forest and along the banks of the Middle Raccoon River. Some routes are flat and easy, while others gain elevation as you scramble up the ridges.
Trail maps are available at Bear Creek Nature Center, near the parking lot. The map doesn’t provide distance, but you can hike well over three miles throughout the area. We made a big loop around the park, with a side trail up to the mounds, and walked a distance of 3 miles.
Go tent camping
Primitive tent camping sites are available at Kuehn Conservation. Though modern showers aren’t available, modern restrooms are at the education center. (We think this would be an excellent place to test out backpacking gear.)
The Upper Camping Area has four primitive tent sites. And it’s a short walk from the parking area and nature center. Campsites in this area are reservable. When not reserved, they’re first-come, first-serve. For reservations, call 515-465-3577 at least 14 days before your arrival. Campers without reservations register at the yellow self-registration tube near the education center.
The Lower Camping Area has a primitive site along the banks of the Middle Raccoon River. It’s a ½ to ¾ mile hike from the parking lot and nature center. This campsite is first-come, first-serve only; self-register near the education center at the yellow registration tube.
Have a picnic
Kuehn is a beautiful spot for a picnic! There are some picnic tables available near the parking area by the education center. Otherwise, take your picnic blanket and find a quiet spot for lunch on the prairie!
The bird blind provides an excellent place for spotting various bird species. To find the bird blind, hike the trail north from the education center (watch for signs). This fall, we spotted four bald eagles and a small flock of turkeys right off the path!
Attend a nature program
Dallas County Conservation naturalists provide programming at Bear Creek Nature Center. Fun educational programs include wildlife and plant diversity, prairie hikes, and archeological sessions. The Nature Center is open by appointment only or during a program.
If the river levels aren’t too high, you can fish from the sandbars on the Middle Raccoon River!
The public hunting area consists of 190 acres, and the bow-only site is 130 acres. Hunting is in designated areas only; signs mark the hunting boundaries. See the Kuehn Conservation Area map for more details.
Things to Do Nearby
Paddle the Middle Raccoon River! The nearest access upriver is Redfield (a great place to start). Eight miles from there is the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area Access, just across the river from Kuehn Conservation. Or you can float past Kuehn to access points further downriver, like the Earlham Bridge and Van Meter.
Visit Hanging Rock Park, just 11 miles away by car. This 469-acre scenic park is along the banks of the Middle & South Raccoon Rivers. It’s known for a prominent sandstone ridge along the Middle Raccoon River.
Hop on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, a paved bike trail, north of the conservation area in Redfield. This 89-mile trail spans four counties, including a 72-mile interior loop. And several stops offer a taste of railroad history.
The Glissman Conservation Area is a 62-acre nature area just northeast of Kuehn. There, you can go fishing in the 7.5-acre pond and stay overnight at the all-season lodge.
Are you looking for a place to stay? Rent a cabin at Glissman Lodge or the Des Moines West KOA. Also, check out Shady Brook Camping & RV, Des Moines West KOA, or Nations Bridge Park for modern camping.
Visit Kuehn Conservation Area Today!
The Kuehn Conservation Area is at 32849 Houston Trail, Earlham, IA 50072. It’s important to note that you must drive on a few miles of gravel roads to get there.