Best Family Hikes in the Driftless Area

The Driftless Area is a region in Southwest Wisconsin, Northeast Iowa, and the Northwest corner of Illinois.  The region escaped the flattening effects of glaciers during the last ice age and is characterized by steep ridges, valleys, streams, and waterfalls.  With the Mississippi River passing through this area, the area is beautiful and has many amazing hikes for families to enjoy.  There are so many breathtaking views to be had when you hike the driftless area.   I have compiled a list of hikes that are family-friendly for you to enjoy everything that this area has to offer! 

I usually roll my eyes when people who don’t live in Iowa tell me Iowa is flat.  They probably have never visited the Northeast part of the state.   The “driftless” area covers Northeast Iowa, Southwest Wisconsin, the Southeast corner of Minnesota, and Galena, Illinois.   This area is stunning.  There is a lot of outdoor recreation for families to enjoy.

A few things to consider before you go:

Review each hike on before hiking-  We love taking our kids hiking!  I always review trails on to make sure the trails are appropriate for kids.  *Tip- if a trail is appropriate for pets, I assume it is also appropriate for small children. 

Pack lunch!- Some of these trails are in small towns or areas without a lot of restaurant options.  Pack snacks and lunch before you go!  Check out these tips on packing food when traveling. 

You may not have cellular coverage o these trails- I suggest downloading tail maps onto your phone before heading out.  You don’t want to get lost without having phone coverage!

Effigy Mounds National Monument

151 IA-76, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146

Eggigy Mounds National Monument preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by Native Americans.  Quite a few of the mounds are shaped like animals, so it is fun for kids to see them.  I suggest Litte Bear Mound for kids.  You can find guided hikes that are appropriate for all skill levels.


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Pikes Peak State Park 

32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157

Pikes Peak State Park is an Iowa State Park and is one of the most photographed places in the State of Iowa, and is the highest point in the state. It is named after Zebulon Pike.  You can overlook the Mississippi river at Pikes Peak. You can hike through bluffs and valleys and view stunning limestone walls and check out fossils. The Bridal Veil Trail is a great hike to take kids on!

Yellow River State Forest 

729 State Forest Rd, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146

Yellow River State Forrest is located in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. Yellow River State Forest is filled with nature trails, trout streams, and camping among other activities.  You will find easy and moderate trails that are appropriate for kids.  You probably won’t have cell phone coverage while in the Yellow River State forest so plan accordingly!

Horseshoe Mounds 

1679 N Blackjack Rd, Galena, IL 61036

Horseshoe Mound is a 1-mile loop located near Galena, Illinois.  This is a fun place to bring kids! Horseshoe mounds have breathtaking views, where you can see for miles into the town of Galena.  You will also be able to see the Mississippi River,  Dubuque Iowa, Bellevue, Iowa, and Wisconsin.   You will also find a few activities for kids along the trails.  In my opinion, Horseshoe Mounds alone makes the drive to Galena, Illinois worth it!

Also, check out 11 things to do with kids in Galena, Illinois

Sugar Creek Bluff Natural Area

Ferryville, WI 54628

Sugar Creek Bluff Natural Area will give you stunning views of the Mississippi River and your kids will love to watch the Turkey vultures and eagles flying over the river.  Sugar Creek Bluff Natural area is located in Wisconsin, north of Prairie Du Chein.

Melanaphy Spring Falls

Decorah, Iowa

Melanaphy Spring Falls in Decorah Iowa is an easy 2-mile hike that kids will love!  This is a very kid-friendly hike!  Make sure you check Melanaphy Spring Falls out when you explore Decorah!

The trailhead can be tricky to find.  I suggest looking up the trail on and downloading a map before you head out!


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Mines of Spain 

The Mines of Spain in Dubuque, Iowa, is an outdoor area with several trails to satisfy all skill levels.  You will get to see some breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and see limestone walls and bluffs.  Mines of Spain is an iconic site in Dubuque, Iowa, which is where Iowa started.

Also, check out these hidden gems in Dubuque, Iowa

Kickapoo Valley Reserve

S3661 WI-131, La Farge, WI 54639

You will find a visitor center along with a few nature loops at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Billings Creek Trail,  Hayview Trail, and Weister Winter Creek Trail are all great for kids!


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Fenley State Recreation Area 

Hazel Green, Wisconsin

Fenley State Recreation Area is 4 miles from Dubuque, Iowa.  You will find hiking, cross country skiing trails, and is also a great place for snow shoeing in the winter.


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Have you hiked any of these areas? Do you have a favorite hike in the Driftless area? Please comment below and let me know about it!



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