After the derecho rolled through central Iowa last week, (if you haven’t heard about this, read about it, it’s insane, 2020 is literally out to kills us all), it got me thinking about how we’ve been so lucky this summer – although it’s been hot and humid (per usual, Iowa) – we’ve really had good weather and have been able to do a lot outdoors.
This time of the year is my favorite, when summer starts turning into fall, it’s truly perfect in Iowa – warm days, cool early-mornings and late-evenings, the trees change colors, PSLs become socially acceptable. But then, winter comes, and I become a horrible, crabby hermit talking endlessly about how SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is real and how I JUST KNOW I have it. We’ve also decided to have Connie winterized and stored by a local RV dealer, so that means we’ll be camper-less for 4+ months… 😥 So, this year, I’m going to make damn sure that we stay busy outdoors so I don’t die of SADness inside.
Check out the below four adventures I’m going to book asap for Matt and I this winter!
1. Backbone State Park
Last winter, Matt and I went to Backbone State Park in Dundee, Iowa for a long-weekend getaway. Backbone State Park is Iowa’s oldest state park and most unique given the beautiful rock formations. The park is named after the highest point in Northeast Iowa – the Devil’s Backbone – which resides in the park. The steep and narrow ridge of bedrock was formed by a loop of the Maquoketa River.
Since we didn’t have Connie at that time, we rented one of the cabins located in the state park – which was perfect! The modern 1 bedroom cabin had electricity, heat, a full kitchen, queen bed and a nice bathroom. Our cabin sat right next to Backbone Lake and just 50 yards away from our cabin were hiking trails and paths we could hike through.
The night we got there, we ended up getting hit with a huge 8″+ snowstorm, which was actually kind of perfect… We stayed in, listened to music, drank and played cards. Thank god the cabin had heat.
We spent the next day hiking and exploring in the fresh snow. Hiking in winter is so great, other than slipping and falling constantly, because the combo of the cold air and your body heat inside your jacket makes it so you’re never too hot or too cold. We spent the entire day exploring the different trails, rock formations and even a cave! Since we went on a weekend with bad weather, we basically had the park to ourselves. I highly recommend spending a long winter weekend here, you won’t be disappointed. Just make sure you bundle up and bring hiking boots – the rocks can get slippery in the snow.
2. Seven Oaks Take the Class – Earn A Pass
If you’ve ever been to the Des Moines area in winter, you know that about the only place to go snowboarding and skiing is in Boone, Iowa – a short 45-minute drive away – at Seven Oaks. Seven Oaks is awesome, they have canoe, kayak and tube floats, camping (Matt and I did this 8+ years ago at the top of the ski lift and it was DOPE!) and paintballing in the summer. In the winter, they offer the best local snowboarding and skiing. I’ve never been to Seven Oaks in the winter as I’m not too graceful on skis or a snowboard – I went skiing once in highschool and rolled my ankle on a “bunny hill,” which was actually a super hard hill that I was way unprepared for. For this reason, I’m signing us up for the Take the Class – Earn a Pass deal this winter!
For only $149, you get 3 group lessons (I’m for sure doing snowboarding) complete with lift tickets and rentals, and once you complete the class you get a season pass! I figure that this will be the best way to learn how to snowboard, there are only 3 classes – each less than 2 hours long – and afterwards we’ll be able to snowboard for free the rest of the season. (Except for the fact that we don’t own any gear… hmm, need to start looking into that I guess, unless we want to rent each time which can get pricey).
3. Guided ice fishing trip in Okoboji
I grew up fishing on Lake Audubon at my grandparents’ house that sat right on the lake and love it – other than the worms, and unhooking the fish… no thanks, so when I saw this guided ice fishing trip in Okoboji I instantly knew we had to do this! Iowa Great Lakes Outdoors in Okoboji, Iowa offers a guided four hour ice fishing trip on West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, Minnewashta, Big Spirit Lake, Silver Lake (depending on the day).
IGL provides the following: rods, reels, tackle and flashers, bait, ice shack, heaters/propane, auger, snowmobile and gas, AND LUNCH on the ice! All you have to do is dress warm (and bring some recommended clothing items/accessories like sunglasses, ice shoes, etc.), bring a cooler for snacks and your camera! This seriously sounds like the easiest way to enjoy ice fishing for newbies like us. I’ve been ice fishing before, but I spent 99% of the evening drink hot cocoa with peppermint Schnapps and hogging the heater.
Plus, Okoboji is much quieter in the winter, and they have a ton of lodging options that sit next to one of the many lakes in the area.
4. Cross-country skiing at Jester Park
Another Iowa destination I’ve been dying to go to is Jester Park in Granger, Iowa. The park has campgrounds, picnic areas, shelters, boat ramps (where you can drop in to Saylorville Lake – read about mine and Matt’s trip here), a natural playscape, fishing ponds, golf, horseback riding, snowmobile and hiking trails, reservable cabins, a Lodge rental facility, and the Jester Park Nature Center.
In the winter, Jester Park offers cross-country ski rentals for only $15/day and has over 5+ miles of trails. In addition, there are numerous trails that connect to Jester Park, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt as well as at Big Creek State Park.
You can donate to help preserve these parks and “Become a Friend of Jester“, a collaborative program of Polk County Conservation and the Great Outdoors Foundation that provides opportunities for outdoor fun and nature adventures. Taken from the Great Outdoors Foundation’s website,
“Our priority initiatives expand and restore natural spaces, foster outdoor recreation, promote conservation and build passion for nature. We connect people of all ages and backgrounds to nature by collaborating with other organizations who share a common vision of healthy environments that provide a variety of outdoor recreation and education opportunities.”Great Outdoors Foundation
5. University of Okoboji Winter Games
Last, but definitely not least, are the University of Okoboji Winter Games, (COVID-permitting). This weekend is a winter tradition (since 1981) that brings tens of thousands of people to the Iowa Great Lakes Area for three days of fun. While tons of people Matt and I know have been, we’ve never made the trip. But we’re already looking at Airbnb’s for that weekend because this is a can’t-miss.
Among the many events are a Chili Cook-Off, Chocolate Classic & Galleria, 5K Fun Run, Axe Throwing, Bean Bag Toss, Bowling, Broomball, Cribbage Classic, Flag Football, Hammerschlagen, Human Dog Sled Race, Human Foosball, Ice Auger Races, Ice Oval Races, Keg Toss, Mega Pong, Pickleball, Ping Pong, Polar Plunge, Snow Softball, Stein Holding, and Volleyball!
For updates on tickets and COVID-related cancellations, follow their Facebook page.
Do you have any favorite winter activities? Or tips on beating SAD? Leave them in the comments below! ❄️