My favorite level B roads in the Loess Hills of Iowa

my favorite level b backroads in the Loess Hills in Iowa

It’s time to get your vehicle dirty!  (or trapped in mud, if you’re not careful).  Iowa Road Trip has spent numerous hours traveling level B roads in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa and we are now releasing a list of my favorite Loess Hills backroads.

Yes, level B roads contain some of the most beautiful scenes – but yet are also some of the most dangerous roadways.  Level B roads receive very little maintenance and are extremely dangerous during or after rain/snow.  

Lake Hill in Mills County

What criteria were used to determine my favorite level B roads in the Loess Hills?

The following factors were collected:  how long is the drive?  How tall are the sidewalls?  Hills or inclines?  S-curves or winding curves?  Any bridges or other unique features?

I then assigned them to a 5-star format, with 5 stars being one of the best backroads available, working down to those with just one star.   

Hastie Hollow in Mills County

I think Hastie Hollow in Mills County is the best level B backroad in Iowa. It has high sidewalls that cut through the loess hills soil, towering to heights near 20 feet. The road curves and winds through the hills, creating fantastic s-curves leading down to a single-lane bridge to cross Waubonsie Creek. On the other side, it winds again back up through the hills. Although the locals refer to it as Hastie Hollow, you’ll find it on Google maps as Pathfield Road.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Length: 0.7 mile. Although it’s relatively short, it has quite a few features.

Sidewalls: Yes, the highest sidewalls are while you drive through the s-curves that wind down towards Waubonsie Creek.

Hills: Yes, it inclines down towards the creek. The hills on Hastie Hollow are not as sharp or steep of an incline compared to places like Olive Ave, but I think the other features more than make up for it.

S-Curve: Hastie Hollow has the best s-curves that wind through the towering sidecuts.

Bridge: Yes, a single-lane wooden bridge crosses the Waubonsie Creek.

Location: Here’s how to find Hastie Hollow: Google map location

It feels like the trees are going to fall into the roadway on the exit out of Pathfield Road

.

The s-curves of Pathfield Road are one of the main highlights, as there are times when you can’t see ahead on the path.

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera, which shows the route heading southeast through Pathfield Road.
Roots dangling over the edge of the sidewalls.
For a unique photo view, take advantage of the sunroof or ride in the back of a pickup while driving the route.
Find a location to hike to the top of the sidecuts to provide another unique view.
With very little traffic, it’s also a great location to let your teenager drive, they will love the experience!
For the adventure junkies – take a drive and a hike down Pathfield Road at night.
YouTube video
A quick two minute video showcasing the drive down Hastie Hollow in Mills County, Iowa.
During our night hike down Pathfield Road, we spun some steel wool during this long exposure photo.
Playing with flashlights at the single lane, wood-planked bridge that crosses Waubonsie Creek.
To understand the size and scale of the sidecuts, the person in this photo is 6 feet tall.

Lake Hill in Mills County

Mills County has some of the most outrageous backroads in Iowa – and Lake Hill is one of the best. Its sidewalls are some of the tallest and sharpest cut among level B roads.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Length: 1  mile

Sidewalls:  Yes, in fact, Lake Hill has some of the tallest and sharpest sidewalls

Hills: Yes

S-Curves: Although not a true S curve, there are several curves along the path that help conceal the upcoming view.

Bridge:  No bridges. 

It’s technically Raleigh Road, but the locals refer to it as Lake Hill and it’s one of the best level B roads in the state of Iowa because of the sidewalls.

Location: Here’s where you can find Lake Hill – Google map location

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera stretching above the sunroof to show the view of the road.
Lake Hill (Raleigh Road) has some of the steepest sidewalls of any level b road in Iowa.
Be sure to watch the weather. If there’s been any recent rain, the floor of the road will contain significant ruts.

Sometimes its best to park near the entrance and walk a short distance to check the condition of the road.
The sidewalls of Lake Hill (Raleigh Road) can be 20+ feet.
Roots dangling down over the sidewalls of Lake Hill (Raleigh Road)

Lambert Ave in Mills County

The next 5-star road is also in Mills County and not very far from the first two recommendations.  What’s unique about Lambert Ave is a 4-way intersection of level B roads.  Otherwise, there are no S curves and the sidewalls are still tall, but not necessarily taller than the previous routes. Although it is a short route, it’s highly rated because the sidewalls are extremely sharp and tall.  The intersection with 245th Street is also interesting as both are level B, so I would encourage you to travel north on 245th as well.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Length:  0.5 miles

Sidewalls: Some of the best sidewalls in Western Iowa.

Hills: Yes, but nothing major

S-Curves: No S Curves

Bridge:  No bridges.

Location: Google map location

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera stretching above the sunroof to show the view of Lambert Avenue in Mills County, Iowa.
Lambert Avenue in Mills County, Iowa.
Be sure to check the recent weather – as rain will leave the floor of the road in a really soft condition that may leave you stranded.
The sidewalls of Lambert Avenue in Mills County, Iowa.
The intersection of two level b roads


Fulton Ave in Harrison County

Fulton Avenue is a long level B road, but it’s the first half mile that you’ll remember.  The entrance has a narrow strip of loess that separates the level B road from the gravel road.  Within the first 100 yards, the road takes a nearly 90-degree turn, then you’ll pass directly underneath a fallen tree that dangles over the tops of the loess ridges.   For the next mile, you’ll be dodging ruts, ridges, and potholes to protect your vehicle’s suspension.  I’ll warn you now, this road is usually in the worst condition of all the level B roads I’ve driven – but of course, the condition always depends on the recent weather. 

In fact, if you want to experience one of the best level B roads without having to actually drive on it, then I would recommend parking on the gravel road at the start and then walking up the first quarter to half a mile.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Length: 2.4  miles

Sidewalls:  Yes

Hills: Yes

S-Curves: No S curves –  but there is a really sharp 90-degree turn just a short distance from the start.  

Bridge:  No bridges.

Location: Google map location

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera stretching above the sunroof to show the view of the road.

Within the first half mile, you’ll encounter a large tree that fell over years ago and sits atop the sidewalls.
The entrance of Fulton Avenue is crazy – there’s a narrow strip of soil that looks like it might fall over. However, its been there for years.
Another view of the entrance of Fulton Ave, where it intersects with 138th.


Knox Ave in Woodbury County

There are no S curves and the side walls are not as high as the others – but Knox Avenue makes up for the difference in length and gorgeous views.   When you combine Knox Avenue with 260th Street (another level B road), the path is over 2 miles long.  

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Length: 2.23 miles, if you drive north on Knox Ave and turn right and follow 260th Street, which is also a level B road.

Sidewalls: Yes, lots of sections with high sidewalls.

Hills: The hills on Knox Avenue are what make it one of the best backroads. Starting at the intersection of Deer Run Trail and Knox Ave, facing north you’ll see the first really steep incline with large sidewalls. Once you make it to the top, you can see the rolling hills in the distance, with high sidewalls at most of the hilltops.

S-Curve: No curves.

Bridge: No bridges.

Location: Google map location

YouTube video
This video starts at this GPS location and travels south on Hardin Ave. The video was taken with an insta360 onex camera sticking out the sunroof.
Knox Avenue in Woodbury County is one of the few level b roads that have high sidewalls and still has a view of the overall landscape.
YouTube video
Video was taken with an insta360 onex camera sticking out the sunroof of traveling on Knox Ave in Woodbury County, Iowa.

 


Sophies Hollow in Monona County 

On Google maps, you’ll find this as Olive Avenue, but locals know it as Sophie’s Hollow.  The entrance near Preparation Canyon State Park is a deep dive down into the hollow with sharp sidewalls.  This section is also commonly referred to as “Suicide Hill” by the kids who remember sledding down the large hill during the winter months. 

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Length: 1.5 miles

Sidewalls: Yes, the highest sidewalls are near the intersection of 314th Street and Olive Ave.

Hills: Yes, the most significant hill is located near the intersection of 314th Street and Olive Ave. Locals refer to it as “suicide hill” as they remember sledding down the hill in the winter.

S-Curve: There are a few slight curves to the road, but not any real dramatic S-curves like some of the other Loess Hills backroads.

Bridge: No

If it’s one of the most popular backroads, why is it only 4 stars?
It’s one of the most popular because of its location. It’s right between two popular locations: Preparation Canyon State Park and the Loess Hills Scenic Overlook, which leads to getting more visitors than most level B roads. However, as you explore other backroads, you’ll find that others have just as many, if not more features and adventures.

Location: Google Map Location

This is the intersection of 314th Street and Olive Ave looking north down Olive Ave. (exact google map location of this photo). As the sign reads, “Enter at your own risk” as the road is not paved and is not even gravel. Level B means that the county has designated this road for minimal maintenance.

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera, which shows the route heading towards the intersection of Olive and 314th Street.
Sophie’s Hollow is best known for the high sidewalls that tower over your vehicle.

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera, which shows the route from the intersection of Olive and 314th Street all the way to the intersection of Olive and 298th Street
Looking south down Olive Ave, the large hill leads up to the intersection at Olive Ave and 314th Street. Locals refer to this hill as “Suicide Hill” as they remember sledding down the hill during the winter.

The road cuts through the loess soil that makes up the Loess Hills. This type of soil is only found in two places: in western Iowa and also in China.

Tip: First park at the top of the hill at the intersection of 314th Street and Olive Avenue – then walk down the hill partway to check on the condition of the road. If it has rained significantly, the road may be washed out and not driveable.


260th St in Woodbury County

Although it is relatively short in length, 260th Avenue has a very dramatic entrance where the road climbs a sharp hill that is carved through the hills. Trees dangle over the edge of the ridge.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Length: 1.07 miles

Sidewalls:  Yes, 10 to 15-foot sidewalls

Hills: Yes, the first hill is probably the steepest climb with the highest sidewalls

S-Curves: No curves at all, this is a straight east-west road

Bridge:  No bridges.

Location: Google map location

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera stretching above the sunroof to show the view of 260th Street in Woodbury County, Iowa.
The entrance to 260th Street in Woodbury County, Iowa.
260th Street in Woodbury County, Iowa.


Ideal Ave in Harrison County

Although it is relatively short in length, Ideal Ave picks up a 4-star rating because it contains a unique 3-way intersection with another level b road.  At that location, all of the side walls come together.  

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Length: 0.4 miles

Sidewalls:  Yes, especially at the intersection with a field access road (which you can see in the video

Hills: Yes

S-Curves: No curves at all, but the intersection with a field access road is very interesting

Bridge:  No bridges.

Location: Google map location

YouTube video
This video was taken with an insta360 oneX camera stretching above the sunroof to show the view of Ideal Ave in Harrison County, Iowa.

The 3 way intersection on Ideal Ave in Harrison County, Iowa.

Some additional level B roads that I traveled in the Loess Hills and rated as 3-stars
Kelsey Ave in Harrison County3 stars
Hardin Ave in Harrison County3 stars
Peach to E54 in Monona County3 stars
Peach to 314th St Monona County3 stars
Upper Olive Av Monona County3 stars
Lower Peach Av Monona County3 stars
200th St in Woodbury County3 stars
Hastie Hollow in Mills County, Iowa
Hastie Hollow in Mills County

Full list of all Loess Hills level B roads that I traveled

Here’s the full list of all roads that I traveled by county, along with their rating. I have even left the 1 star rated routes on the list, in case you wanted to know which routes aren’t really worth the trip. To find a comprehensive map of all level B roads in Iowa, visit: https://iowadot.gov/maps/digital-maps/city-and-county-maps

Fremont County……………………..

Harrison County………………………….

Mills County……………………………………………

Monona County …………………………………………………….

Woodbury County…………………………………………………

What is a level B road?

Basically, it’s a dirt road that receives very little maintenance. Each county gets to designate nonpaved roads as Level A, B, or C. Level is A is your standard gravel road that leads to a family home and receives standard maintenance including grading and snow plowing. Level B roads do NOT lead to family homes, but they may provide access between other gravel roads or to farm fields. Level B roads receive minimal maintenance and are not plowed in the winter – however, level B roads are still open for the public to travel. Level C roads receive no maintenance at all – and are NOT open to the public. Are level B roads found all across Iowa? and are they just like these roads?

Do you need a four-wheel drive for this road?

No. In fact, I’ve driven on Pathfield Road with just a Hyundai Sonata, as well as a Santa Fe, Toyota Sienna, and a Ford Explorer (that wasn’t in 4-wheel drive). The most important factor is whether it has recently rained or not. Considering that this road doesn’t get much maintenance, it can easily deteriorate with heavy rain.

How can I find out the condition of the road prior to going?

Sorry, there is no place to call or check online for the status of the level B roads. As the sign at the entrance states, it is “enter at your own risk”. As a general rule of thumb, you do NOT want to visit after heavy rain.

If there are level B roads in every county in Iowa – do all of them look like this?

It’s true that every county in Iowa has level B roads, but the backroads of the Loess Hills are truly unique due to the soil type. The loess soil is a fine-grain, powdery soil that accumulates over time due to the wind. There are only two places in the world with this type of soil: one location in China and the other in Western Iowa. It’s this unique type of soil that doesn’t really collapse after each rain.

If the sidewall doesn’t collapse after heavy rain, then why do not advise traveling on it after rain?

After heavy rain, the main concern is the floor of the road, which is typically washed out and will contain large ruts.

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18 Comments

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  15. Is there an available route/plan so visitors can experience as much of this as possible and not waste time wandering around lost?

    1. Sorry, at this time we don’t have route/plan. For, I would recommend checking out the very bottom of the post, which has a list by county.

  16. Nice article and TV interview!

    Iowa is pretty special to us, but “Ten percent of Earth’s land area is covered by loesses or similar deposits,” so not just Iowa and China. Ref. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loess and esp. section, “Large areas of loess deposits and soils” for other locations and a map of large loess areas in North America.

    If visiting these areas, keep your eyes open for loess kindchen rocks–children of the loess.