Hiking in Whitewater Canyon Wildlife Area

Whitewater Canyon Wildlife Area sits on the border between Dubuque and Jones County and has one of the best overlooks you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, I used to live in Jones County and didn’t visit this location until after I moved to another part of Iowa.

Parking: 29912 9th Ave, Bernard, IA 52032
It’s a gravel parking with room for up to 30 cars.

Bathrooms: No

Water Fountain: No

Camping: No

Basically, it’s 500+ acres that open up to public hunting during the right seasons. During the rest of the year, it’s a unique hiking location that you might not expect in Iowa. From the parking lot, there are four hiking paths: Stream Bottom Trail, Overlook Trail, Land Bridge Trail, and Lost Canyon Trail.

For this post, I’ll be focusing on the two most common trails: Scenic Overlook Trail and Stream Bottom Trail

Scenic Overlook Trail

[Google Map location for Scenic Overlook Trail]

If you’re looking for a relatively easy trail with a great reward at the end, I highly recommend the Overlook Trail. From the parking, the trail heads west and is mostly a walk-through open prairie that has a mowed walking path. When the land transitions from the prairie to the woods, the trail will drop in elevation and there are a few steps in this area, but it’s just a short distance before you hit the location where the scenic overlook presents views of Whitewater Canyon. You’ll end up taking the same route back to your car – and the total distance (out and back) will be right around 1 mile.

When you start out on the Scenic Overlook Trail, you’ll be walking down a mowed path that cuts through some prairie area.
As the Scenic Overlook Trail leaves the prairie area, you’ll encounter some steps that take you into woods and to the scenic overlook
A view from the scenic overlook at the end of the Scenic Overlook Trail, which is a great place to catch the sun setting over Whitewater Canyon.
The view from the scenic overlook at the end of the Scenic Overlook Trail in Whitewater Canyon.
An aerial shot taken with a drone looking down on Whitewater Canyon.

Stream Bottom Trail

[Google Map location for Stream Bottom Trail]

If the Scenic Overlook Trail is considered easy (one mile, very few inclines), the Stream Bottom Trail would be considered just a bit more challenging. The trail starts at the same location as the Scenic Overlook Trail but turns to the right and winds through similar mowed paths through the prairie. It then enters the forest and then declines down to the stream bottom and along the limestone bluffs. This trail used to be an out-and-back – but they recently added to the trail and it now works its way back out of the canyon and then connects to the Scenic Overlook Trail. So if you’ve got the time and are interested in the challenge, you can hit the Stream Bottom Trail first, then still visit the scenic overlook. The Stream Bottom Trail is only 1 mile and its only about 1/2 mile back to your car from the overlook, so the total trip will still be less than 2 miles.

Map of Whitewater Canyon Trails (provided by Iowa DNR)

YouTube video
A short drone video showing the mowed hiking paths through the prairie that lead towards Whitewater Canyon.

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