Amie Takes A Hike: George Wyth State Park Is An Accessible, Easy Hike

A soft trail single-track cuts through a wooded area in George Wyth Memorial State Park in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo by Iowa Starting Line.

It’s tempting, easy, orlet’s be honestlazy to only think of Iowa as a flat state divided into squares of corn and soybeans. That’s what everyone else thinks of us, looking down from their airplane as it flies over, right?

Sure, we’re an agricultural state. Many of Iowa’s once-defining features of windswept prairies, wild woodlands, and lush wetlands have been drained and plowed under because that soil, some of the best around, helps grow the food that feeds the world.

But along the way, a few conservation-minded individuals, groups, tribes, and elected officials worked to save some of that wilderness, preserving a portion of Iowa’s historic landscapes and defining features. And maybe we don’t make that as big of a part of our state’s story as we should!

Welcome to Amie Takes a Hike, a series on those natural, public places. I’m hiking every beautiful place I can think of around my home state, to showcase the beauty Iowa has to offer. Follow along here, or on Twitter using #AmieTakesAHike, to pass along your suggestions and see where I’m headed next.

I’m starting in my own backyard.

A fallen tree is its own ecosystem! (and looks cool, too)

George Wyth Memorial State Park, in Waterloo right on its border with Cedar Falls, is a quick drive off of US Hwy. 218 or a smooth, easy bicycle ride from either city’s downtown.

Its proximity to the highway is both a blessing and a curse, as the sound of tractor-trailer tires whining across pavement to the north and the east might disrupt your serenity at times. But the park’s multitude of trails, numerous bodies of water, and plentiful activities make it a great choice for hikers, nature lovers, and busy families alike.

Map of George Wyth Memorial State Park in Waterloo.

The hike

This week, I went hiking with my wife, an avid lover of both nature and technology—she has apps on her phone that tell us what plants we’re seeing and what birds we’re hearing—and our dog Phoenix, a German shepherd/husky mix and avid lover of any kind of walks.

See a plant, name that plant—apps today can do anything, can’t they?

The weather played nice this day, after a run of scorching temperatures in the mid-90s, and we were able to go on a few different trails—including the paved recreational trail, which connects to the larger trail network, as well as dirt trails through the wooded areas and mowed grass trails around the lakes.

George Wyth has plenty of parking (so long as it isn’t a holiday weekend), and it’s easy to go right from pavement to paved trails, and from paved trails to soft trails that cut through the woods. The paved trails are nice and wide, used by cyclists and walkers alike, and they’re kept in good shape, though when the water’s high, you might do a little wading to get across some sections.

George Wyth is a throughway to the 100+ miles of recreational paved trails around Waterloo and Cedar Falls and connects both downtowns.

The sights

Though it’s still May and the trees aren’t fully leafed out and most flowers not quite in bloom, we were lucky enough to catch the Virginia bluebells and their dramatic patches of bluish-purple throughout as we walked in the shade.

Bluebell season is prized among Iowa nature lovers and photographers alike.

Canada geese and ducks, which seem to always populate the park, lounged about on the lakes and Cedar River, no doubt enjoying the cool water amid the 80-degree temperatures. We also spotted a buzzing dragonfly and the app noted several songbirds around. But mostly, hiking with a big, doofy dog tends to make wildlife viewing next to impossible—if you’re without a dog or a small child, you’ll likely spot more than we did.

He thinks he’s the boss of us.

Speaking of water, it’s unavoidable in George Wyth! The park has four separate lakes contained within it, plus the Cedar River to the south, meaning it’s a big spot for all kinds of water recreation: fishing, pontooning, kayaking and even swimming at the beach (that’s right, we’ve got a beach! Just check to make sure there’s no E. coli or algae warnings first).

Canada geese float along the Cedar River.

The park

George Wyth was named after J. George Wyth, one of the founders of Viking Pump, still in operation today in Cedar Falls.

Wyth was also a big city park promoter and helped establish both Overman and College Hill parks in Cedar Falls. So when he died in 1956, the Iowa State Conservation Commission voted unanimously to change the name of Josh Higgins Parkway (named for a fictional popular Waterloo radio character) to memorialize Wyth.

Brinker Lake is the go-to spot for party pontoons and speedboats pulling tubers along, while casual paddlers can rent a kayak or more from Maxx Rentals at the beach and explore the quieter parts of the park. Cyclists use the trails to move along the 100+ miles of recreational trails in the Cedar Valley, while mountain bikers and hikers share the almost-hidden single-track soft trails (there’s been more signage added for visibility in recent years, however). And campers can enjoy parking their RV right along the Cedar River, or enjoying plenty of space to grill or let the kids run at the shelters.

The Cedar River is the beautiful southern border of George Wyth.

The verdict

There aren’t any terribly dramatic views, caves, or climbs in elevation. But the flat, paved trails provide great accessibility, and the hop-on, hop-off nature of the soft trails allows the busy or inexperienced the chance to experience a nice hike without the threat of getting lost or in over your head.

Especially if you live in the Cedar Valley, George Wyth is an easy, more-than-welcoming excuse to get out and enjoy nature.

Two roads diverged in George Wyth’s woods/ And (sorry) you totally can travel both!


By Amie Rivers

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2 Comments on "Amie Takes A Hike: George Wyth State Park Is An Accessible, Easy Hike"

  • Its been many years but I have enjoyed visiting George Wyth Park. Remember visiting there during the My Waterloo Days – lots of fun and good memories.

  • Nice article about a nice park. Thank you.

    To address the second paragraph, it was, to be blunt, a colossal blunder to destroy so much of Iowa’s original landscape. And it was done not out of a noble desire to feed the world, but because of the desire to make money, partly with the help of generous public subsidies.

    Iowa has less of its original landscape left than any other state. Apart from other bad impacts of that loss, it is a major reason why our water is so bad. Unless and until we are willing to turn some of our corn and bean ground back into reconstructed woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, we will NEVER have clean water, and Iowa will continue to be one of the biggest reasons (arguably THE biggest reason) why the Gulf Dead Zone stays dead.

    And any ag interest group that says we just cannot convert a significant amount of cropland back to nature because we’re nobly feeding the world is lying. The majority of our corn and beans crops are fed to livestock, and Iowa’s livestock industry is pushing to get the entire world hooked on eating more meat than is good for human health, the way most Americans do. That’s not noble.

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