See the tallest observation tower in the Midwest

Cordova Observation Tower sits on the north shore of Lake Red Rock in Marion County, Iowa, and is the tallest observation tower in a public park in the Midwest.

Location: Cordova Park, 1293 Emerald Drive, Otley, IA 50214

When is the Cordova Observation Tower open?

According to the Cordova Park webpage, it is open from 7 am to 8 pm. However, you’ll notice that the entrance has an automated gate, which means that once the gate is closed, you are not able to get out of the park. With that in mind, please be sure to read the signage as you enter to verify what time the gates will close.

How much does it cost to climb the Cordova Observation Tower?

It is 2 quarters per person to enter. There is a turnstile at the base of the tower and it only accepts quarters – and each person is 2 quarters. There is no change available on site, so you must bring enough quarters with you.

YouTube video
A short video showing how the turnstile works and what the staircase looks like leading up to the 106 foot Cordova Observation Tower.

How tall is the Cordova Observation Tower?

The observation deck measures 106 feet from the base and contains 170 stairs that you’ll need to climb. Not only is Cordova Observation Tower the tallest observation tower in Iowa, but it is also the tallest in any public park in the entire Midwest. On top of that, its 170 steps are the longest continuous fiberglass staircase in the world.

The staircase is completely enclosed all the way up and at the top of the Cordova Observation Tower.

Was it originally a water tower?

Yes, it was originally installed as a water tower in 1972, which lasted until 1984. In 1988 Marion County Conservation Board made plans to turn the water tower into an observation tower which was completed in 1999.

What is the view like? 

From the top, you can see Lake Red Rock and the nearby mile-long bridge that crosses the lake and heads south toward Knoxville. On a clear day, you can see up to 35 miles away

The view from the Cordova Observation Tower looking west towards the mile-long bridge.

What else is nearby that we should explore?

Hike down to the lake

There is a make-shift trailhead at the base of the tower, on the backside of the picnic shelter. This make-shift trail leads you down the lake. Depending on the water level, the trail may bring you the many rocks and boulders along the shore.

YouTube video
A short video showing the trail behind the picnic shelter that leads down to the lake front.
The trail behind the picnic shelter leads down to the lake front – and depending on the water level, you may get to explore these large boulders.

Cordova cliffs

Another popular scenic view is commonly called Cordova Cliffs and is just to the east of the observation tower. Here’s the Google Maps location for the closest parking to Cordova Cliffs, and here is the Google Maps location for Cordova Cliffs.

Aerial view of Cordova Cliffs on the north shore of Lake Red Rock.
Exploring along Cordova Cliffs on the north shore of Lake Red Rock.
Close up of the rocks that overhang Lake Red Rock at Cordova Cliffs show that the rocks have been carved into for many years.
Cordova Cliffs is a popular location for exploring and photography.

Rent a cabin

Cordova Park has several year-round available cabins for family outings. Check out their webpage for cabin rentals available at Cordova Park.

Drive across the mile-long bridge

Take a drive across the mile-long bridge that is just west of the Cordova Observation Tower.

Sunrise over Lake Red Rock with the mile long bridge in the foreground.

Visit the Peace Tree stump

The Peace Tree was an extremely large 500-year-old sycamore tree that was originally rooted about a mile west of the current day mile-long bridge. Prior other Lake Red Rock, it was speculated that the tree was a place where white settlers and Native Americans met to trade goods. When the dam was built and Lake Red Rock was filled in 1969, the Peace Tree was flooded. However, the tree was so large that the trunk still stuck out above the water and served as a marker for kayakers and boaters. In 2018, flooding at Lake Red Rock uprooted the Peace Tree and it began floating in the lake. With help from the marina, two boats are used to tow the tree back to shore and it was eventually placed in a parking lot area as you approach the marina. Here’s the exact Google Map location for where the remains are the Peace Tree are stored.

What’s left of the 500-year-old sycamore tree known as the Peace Tree is left in a parking lot near the entrance to the marina.

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