Every once in awhile I hear someone repeat the tired and obviously wrong cliche that Iowa is just a boring and flat state. Sure, we may not have any mountain ranges, oceans, or grand canyons, but it would be totally incorrect to think we are just mile after mile of flat fields of corns and beans.
One such area of Iowa that is definitely not flat is the world re-known Loess Hills, a an amazing wind-blown geological phenomenon that sprawls and contours along a large percentage of our state's western border. There is even now a Loess Hills National Scenic Byway that offers an impressive array of options and stops to enjoy this unique feature of our state.
One such stop is the Murray Hill Scenic Overlook in Harrison County, located now far from the communities of Little Sioux and Pisgah. It is a property that is owned and up-kept by the Harrison County Conservation Board. A few friends and I stopped late last summer and spent about a half hour hiking around this public property.
According to the park's profile on MyCountyParks.com, "Murray Hill Scenic Overlook offers a hilltop view of the Missouri River valley. Yucca plants and other native flowers dominate the prairie landscape. Interpretive signs are located at the overlook that explain the significance and history of the Loess Hills. It is located along the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. Murray Hill Scenic Overlook is also part of the Loess Hills Bird Conservation Area designated by the Iowa DNR."
When you roll up to the location, you find a small parking lot that can accommodate several vehicles at once in case others have the same hiking idea that you do or you recruit a big caravan of fellow adventurers to spend the day together.
You will be greeted by a sign that provides some information about the park as well as the trail known as "Brent's Trail".
I don't know how I would rate the trail in terms of degree of difficulty, but there is a nice well-worn dirt path to follow. If you stay on it, I can guarantee you that it will take you up to some overlooks that offer some breathtaking scenic views.
From time to time, you will encounter additional signage or picnic tables or benches. I can think of much worse places to have lunch.
The signs give some great history about the hills as well as the life (plant and animal) around you.
The view from this bench is astonishing. You'll have to check it out for yourself.
Once you get to the top, a selfie station has been added to aid you in catching that perfect "Insta-worthy" photo. As I've been out and about hitting up other state and county parks around the state, I've noticed that these have become a regular presence. It's a smart way to use the social media accounts of everyday Iowans and visitors to promote these great public spaces.
So what kinds of views might you enjoy from on top of these Loess Hills? You can literally see for miles and it is incredible how stark the difference is between the hills and the land between the hills and the Missouri River (which is in the distance).
I particularly love how you can see the highway trying to snake its way through the hills. It really is a scenic journey that winds through some of the best of what Iowa has to offer.
However, you can also see great views of the hills if you look off in other directions.
Of course, no matter where you go hiking in Iowa or elsewhere, it's always important to recognize where the boundaries are between public and private land.
Whether you love the Loess Hills or have yet to experience their unique beauty, making a stop at Murray Hill is worth your time. It's not only a nice, moderate hike but it offers views that really capture the essence of this geologic phenomenon. As the weather gets warmer and things start to green up again, make your way to the Loess Hills for spend the way wandering and weaving up the scenic byway. You won't regret it.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Harrison County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this website.