They had me at “one of the most photographed dams in the Midwest” (obviously!).
Beeds Lake State Park in Hampton is among the smaller state parks in Iowa. It contains precisely one, 1.79-mile “easy” trail, as rated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR.)
But that trail is all you need.
I’ve never gotten so close to the water, for so long, on an official hiking trail. Plus, an earthen causeway, originally built to store water for the raceway to the old mill (either flour or sawmill; there were both in the 19th century), cuts right through the heart of Beeds Lake.
It’s a lake hike THROUGH a lake! This is basically the glass-bottomed boat of lake hikes.
I did the full hike, beginning at the lodge. It was built with local fieldstone in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), who built basically everything else on the property, including the trails and the lake itself, which had been drained in the early 20th century. (William Beed built the causeway, though the CCC reinforced it later.)
I walked through the open lodge to the stairs down to the causeway, basically a strip of ground that takes you across the lake. Geese apparently love it on this stretch, as evidenced by the tiny land mines of poop throughout.
Once you’re across, the trail bypasses a parking loop and heads east, closely following the lake as it winds through forest, open ground, and even people’s backyards. (When in doubt of the trail, walk next to the lake.)
When it turns back south, you’ll hit the 56-foot-high limestone dam. It’s certainly as impressive as they say and has a lovely, loud waterfall sound. Plus, the way the trail winds down and back up, the CCC made sure to give you plenty of angles to see and photograph it.
The sights and sounds
The reason I like round-the-lake hikes so much is because I get the benefit of different wildlife and plant habitats all at once.
Being so close to the lake made it easy for me to spot a pair of turtles sunning on a log. I even watched what I can only assume was two big fish battling it out near the surface (a first for me!).
Little wild roses and tiny daisies were in bloom when I went in mid-June and they hugged the shoreline. I also spotted a few different mushrooms clustered around the bases of the larger trees, probably loving the recent rainstorms we’ve had.
If you’re looking for an accessible, easy hike, Beeds Lake is your jam. Even on a hot, sunny day, there’s enough shade to keep you cool and not too many inclines (though, near the dam, there are a fair amount of stairs).
There are three parking lots I counted, so even if you’re not hiking but want to get up close to the lake or the dam, you’ve got options.
And if you love a good lake hike, like I do, you can’t get much closer to the water than going to Beeds.
By Amie Rivers
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