- 220 miles (354 km)
- Plan 5 hours to drive or 7 or more hours to enjoy the Byway.
- There are no fees along the Byway proper.
The Loess Hills Scenic Byway traverses internationally distinctive landforms as it follows the Missouri River Valley in Western Iowa, taking you through some of the most interesting country in the Midwest. Thousands of years ago, active glaciers covered much of the northern United States. When these glaciers melted, they left fine silt particles that formed a yellow soil called loess (pronounced "luss"). Strong windstorms deposited layers of loess several hundred feet thick on both sides of the Missouri River Valley, molding the soft soil into sheer ridges and rippled hills. Only two places in the world have such extensive loess layers- the Yellow River Valley of China and the Loess Hills of western Iowa.
If you'd like to see the Loess Hills the way the pioneers and native people might have seen them, visit Five Ridge Prairie, where several trails head deep into undeveloped country. Hike past fields of wildflowers and through burr oak forests to the top of the two-hundred-foot ridge, where you can see miles of green-gold prairie stretch out before you. You can tackle the slopes on your mountain bike for a faster trip, or if you want to spend more time on the prairie, Preparation Canyon and other state parks feature several hike-in campsites.
Many other travelers have lived off the land in the Loess Hills, following the valley westward towards a brighter future. At the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, you can learn the history of the trails that cross the Loess Hills. Relive the first westward exploration along the Lewis and Clark Trail, or experience the desire for freedom and prosperity that drove more permanent pioneers along the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Stop by the Harrison County Historical Village to learn to see some of the sites and structures that were a part of their lives.
Drive the Loess Hills Scenic Byway and experience Iowa trail life.
Points of Interest Along The Way
Broken Kettle Grasslands (IA)
The preserve is half prairie and constitutes the largest remnant of the prairie that once covered most of Iowa. The preserve contains some flora and fauna not found in any other part of the Loess Hills to the south or the State of Iowa; these include the prairie rattlesnake and the 10-petal blazing star.
California National Historic Trail (IA)
Set foot at the beginning of the California National Historic Trail in Council Bluffs, Iowa. From here you can look west down the trail and imagine the quest for gold that led the earlier settlers ever westward.
Council Bluffs (IA)
The area that is now the city of Council Bluffs was once knownas the "gateway to the American West." Explorers like Lewis andClark stopped here. The great Indian tribes of the past called thisarea their home. Pioneers and travelers passed through CouncilBluffs for decades. In the 1840's more than 30,000 Mormon refugeesstopped in Council Bluffs on their way to Utah. These pioneersbuilt structures that are now historic sites in the city. NowCouncil Bluffs is a growing city with lots of places to explore andenjoy.
DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (IA)
In November, 500,000-plus snow geese pause here a few weeks while migrating south. The visitor center has preserved artifacts from the paddlewheeler Bertrand which sank here in 1865 and was discovered a century later.
Take Exit 75 (Highway 30 West) to the refuge. (It is on the south side of the highway.)
Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center (IA)
The Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center allows travelers to experienceprairie life in Iowa to the fullest. The center has live animaldisplays, hands-on exhibits, a butterfly garden, and a walk throughexhibit showing life under the prairie. After exploring all theexhibits, take a hike along the two miles of trails at thecenter.
Five Ridge Prairie (IA)
Located at the north end of the Byway, the Five RidgePrairie is one of Iowa's best unbroken prairie remnants.Since the area is largely undeveloped, visitors will be able toaccess it only through hiking trails as there are no roads. But thewalk is worth it with a hike through the forested ravines betweenthe Loess Hill Ridges. Catch a glimpse of the prairie as pioneersand native people would have seen it.
Leave Highway 12 at K 18 (north). The entrance to the Five Ridge Prairie Preserve is about a mile north of K 18 via 260th Street, a dirt road.
General Dodge House (IA)
This is an 1869 brick Victorian home of Civil War General and railroad builder, Grenville Dodge, who directed construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
Glenwood Lake Park (IA)
Located at the southern end of the Byway, Glenwood offers asmall town feel and attractions for visitors. East of downtown,the city park features a pond with waterfowl, playgroundequipment, the 750-seat, open-air Davies Amphitheater, and theMills County Historical Museum.
Harrison County Historical Village and Iowa Welcome Center (IA)
Get to know a little more about Iowa at this historical villageand welcome center. Visitors will find displays and exhibits thatrepresent the cultures of Iowa both past and present. Indianartifacts are coupled with historic display buildings and a logcabin. Visitors may even want to take a piece of Iowa with them byselecting an item from the shop of Iowa products.
Hitchcock Nature Center (IA)
Located on the Hitchcock Loop of the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, this 1,003 acre preserve harbors some of the largest remaining prairie remnants in the state of Iowa.
At Hitchcock, visitors can enjoy many unique recreation opportunities such as hiking, camping, picnicking, bird watching, sledding, star gazing or simply enjoying nature. Hikers of all abilities can explore the Loess Hills via a network of over 10 miles of hiking trails and an equal access boardwalk. The new 45â€™ observation tower reveals fantastic views of the hills, the Missouri River Valley and Omaha, NE skyline.
The newly renovated Loess Hills Lodge will open in summer 2007 and will feature unique Loess Hills exhibits, childrenâ€™s areas and rental spaces. For more information, please call 712-545-3283. We hope to see you soon!
Take the Crescent exit, a few miles east of Omaha, Nebraska, a few miles north of Council Bluffs, off of Interstate 680. Take Hwy 988 east into Crescent. From Crescent take the Old Lincoln Hwy. north and watch for the Hitchcock Nature Area sign on the left.