The Loess Hills are one of the most striking and scenic locations in Iowa. There are only two locations in the world where loess (wind-blown dust) has accumulated to a significant amount – Western Iowa and along the Yellow River in China.
Address: Oak Avenue, Monona County, Iowa.
Water available: No
Hours: The overlook is open 24 hours a day.
Handicap accessible: The overlook is accessible by a ramp. However, the trail is not accessible.
Parking: Next to the overlook is a gravel parking lot area, which can fit 10+ vehicles.
What is the Loess Hills Scenic Overlook Trail like?
From the overlook, there are a few stairs down to the path, which is just a simple, narrow dirt path. It rides along the top of the loess ridges for about a half mile. The trail then turns down into a small valley and comes back to the overlook on a different ridge. Or you can just go down and back and stay on the same ridge, which is what many people do during their first visit. AllTrails has additional information and maps showing the trail options: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/iowa/loess-hills-scenic-overlook-trail
What’s the best time of day to visit the Loess Hills Scenic Overlook?
My personal favorites are sunrise, sunset, or at night. Sunrise and sunset are fairly obvious – although the overlook looks south, so you’ll never be looking directly into sunrise/sunset. Instead, the light cuts across the tops of the hills and gives them some added dimensions.
Since the overlook has no parking lot lights or light sources – I have really enjoyed the overlook at night. It’s relatively dark, and although you do see lights from a few rural towns on the horizon, it is generally pretty dark. The deck of the overlook is also relatively large and has lots of benches, so it has a nice convenient place to take in the night sky.
What’s the history of the Loess Hills Scenic Overlook?
At the entrance to the ramp, there’s a plaque that tells the history…
Walter Ordway Jr. 1947-2014
This location at the Loess Hills Forest Overlook was named “the spot” by Walter as a salute to the land he called home. An accomplished artist and innovative organic farmer, Walter was instrumental in developing the scenic byways program. Carrying on a family tradition – Sgt John Ordway was a mainstay of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition which journeyed near here in 1804 – Walt circled the globe, bicycling through 104 countries, his spirit lives on in these trails. Walter is remembered with love by hundreds of friends with whom he connected across this community and the world.
“When you get to be a part of life’s motion, there is not time – just the moment, Walt Ofrom the Loess Hills Forest Overlook plaque