When I was in grade school, I distinctly remember taking a winter field trip to Hillview Recreation Area, just outside of Hinton in Plymouth County (and an hour south of where I went to school), to go snow tubing down their huge hill. That's been roughly 25 years ago and I don't know whether my alma mater still does that field trip. However, what I do know is that Hillview continues to be the hub of outdoor recreation in Plymouth County with a bustling schedule of year-round activities and offerings.
Earlier this year (when it was still lush with green grass and leaves), a friend and I visited the park to check out their diverse array of amenities. It's located about exactly half-way between Sioux City and Le Mars, just a little bit off the well trafficked Highway 75.
As the MyCountyParks.com website notes, "The 275-acre Hillview Recreation Area (managed by the Plymouth County Conservation Board) contains a mixture of open grasslands, reconstructed prairie, woodlands, and wildlife habitat. Year around outdoor activities that are available include camping, both primitive and modern; camping cabins, picnicking, including shelters, fishing, swimming, hiking, horseback riding and cross country skiing over a network of trails that traverse the entire park; snow tubing; and hunting (October 15 through January 10) in the northern portion of the park set aside for this activity."
My friend and her family recently moved to the area and she was unaware that such a beautiful park was only minutes from their home. She was immediately drawn to all of the potential to keep her young children busy burning off energy.
For example, there is nice playground equipment.
But if hiking is more of your thing, there is a nice inter-connected network of trails. Most of them are dirt but some are paved.
While hiking through one of the well maintained trails, we spotted some wildlife.
There is a small fishing pond that also includes a beach where swimmers can go for a dip. Though, it should be noted that a lifeguard is not on duty.
Though there is no lifeguard on duty, they do offer some life jackets to use while there.
If you enjoy picnicking, there's a wide selection of both individual tables and a few shelters that can be utilized for larger crowds.
The area includes a disc golf course too.
During warmer weather, the infrastructure for the snow tubing hill is mostly packed up. However, you can see that the hill is quite impressive in scope.
There is a small shed that is open during the winter months when the hill is available for tubing. There is a fee for tubing and the hours are set. However, you can rent out the hill for a private tubing event. Of course, it helps if there is actually snow on the ground - which obviously varies.
However, there are few installations up that show where the "tow" system is to help tubers get back up the hill.
Hillview is also home to Plymouth County's elk herd. They encourage visitors to stop during the winter time to see the bull's magnificent antlers.
There is a sizable fencing system in place to keeps the herd contained.
The Dennis L. Sohl Center for Outdoor Learning acts like a welcome center for the park as well as a place for indoor activities to take place. It can also be rented for events and the rates seem pretty reasonable. There is great natural lighting and the windows offer some spectacular views of the countryside.
On the day that my friend and I stopped, it was closed. However, I've visited previously for a private event. There's ample parking nearby as well.
They have planted native prairie plants and flowers around the building.
They have put up a few signs around the building to teach visitors a little bit more about their surroundings.
The county conservation board offers a constantly updated schedule of organized activities but it's quite evident that there is plenty to do if you just want to go exploring and enjoy the great outdoors. It's a space with a broad variety of natural and man-made amenities.
With 99 counties, our state has an abundance of public county and state parks. However, not all parks are created equal. For Plymouth County, Hillview is their crown jewel. If you are local and haven't been there in awhile, it might be time to check out what is in your own backyard. If you are looking to spend some outside time at a park or area of the state you've never been to, you might want to make an adventure to Plymouth County and check out Hillview - just be careful around that elk bull's rack of antlers.