It’s easy to spend the winter indoors, but for a town surrounded by numerous state parks - don’t let the cold scare you. There are no mountains for downhill skiing, but for cross country skiing and snowshoeing, there are hundreds of miles of trails to explore. Snowy hills, ice pellets on trees, and abundant animals create a picturesque wonderland. The snow also makes it easy to spot animal tracks as well as animals themselves, making winter exploration an awarding season for spotting wildlife. But don’t let the lack of mountains fool you - the terrain is not flat.
For showshoeing, locations that border water bodies are local favorites including the University of Iowa Macbride Nature Recreation Area, which borders the Coralville Lake; Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, located next to the Iowa River with trails surrounding a small lake in the park; and the Waterworks Prairie Park running along the Iowa River.
My favorite is a little more remote* and hidden between two cities. On the stretch of the Iowa River from the Waterworks Prairie Park to Thornberry Dog Park is a hilly terrain and park area owned by the City of Iowa City. The meandering river has created low and high contours with rolling hillsides and bluffs along the peninsula highlands. The trails are used by mountain bikers in the summer months, but are mostly abandoned in the winter months. This location is ideal for spotting eagles and other wildlife where the fast river current approaching the Iowa River Power dam keeps the river from freezing over.
Where the warmer months make it harder to find the wildlife, the snow exposes tracks leading to its busy nature community. On the bluff side, deer can be found having pushed away areas of snow in search of anything green. Leading to a hole near a large oak tree, small tracks led to a red fox family who have moved their den to a ravine on the riverbank and bluff across from the Marriott hotel.
The lower River valley toward the interstate is a flat land that is almost impossible to explore in the warmer months as its low elevation keeps it a marsh area. But now that the area is a sheet of ice, it is easily accessible with an abundant assortment of animal tracks. At the foot of the hill is a creek that meets the Iowa River. The trees are noticeably deforested in this area, where at the creek junction is an eight-by-eight foot stack of tree branches—a muskrat home on the river. Eagles have made large nests up and down the river hillside and can be easily seen from the river valley looking up the hillside at the river bluffs.
Be sure you’re appropriately prepared with the right gear. In addition to snowshoes, I recommend ski goggles to block blowing snow from your face. Gators are also a great accessory for your boots to keep snow from getting inside.So, get outdoors this winter and take advantage of the snow to explore the parks and nature with skis and snowshoes.
*Access to this trail can be found by a trailhead between the postal addresses of 719 and 670 Walker Circle, Iowa City or by taking the northwest trail junction across the Iowa River Power dam bridge.
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