If you’re a fan of hiking or just enjoy tranquility, then a visit to Five Ridge Prairie in northwest Iowa is perfect for you. A lone one-room cabin sits high above the river valley at the northern end of the world-famous Loess Hills in Plymouth County.
Positioned between Sioux City and Westfield off Highway 12, Five Ridge Prairie gives visitors the solitude they may be seeking, away from the lights and noises of city life. Unplug your phone for a few days and just enjoy the scenery and nature sounds that are amplified because of where you’re at. We visited Five Ridge Prairie State Preserve as part of Iowa’s 99 Parks campaign, encouraging people to visit the state’s parks.
The experience truly is for people who can survive without the comforts of home, like electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. The cabin is powered by solar energy which creates enough power to charge a cell phone (you’ll need a 12v adapter to plug your phone in). A single light illuminates the room. There is an LED lamp you can use as a night light.
State park officials provide five gallons of fresh water for the cabin on a daily basis. A small propane grill can be used to prepare meals. However, without a refrigerator, plan accordingly how to store any fresh food you may want to bring.
The cabin has a nice supply of kitchen items, so you don’t need to bring any of your own. You can use your imagination in creating meals or you may want to use the state parks’ recipe ideas.
A portable toilet is available to use in the attached outhouse. You’ll need to use the provided bags for your personal needs, and then transfer them out when you leave.
The Five Ridge Prairie cabin sleeps up to four people with a double bed in the loft and a foldout futon on the main level. Both are comfortable.
Before our weekend at the cabin, my version of camping was spending the day in nature and then returning to my comfortable hotel room. Now, I’m looking forward to another cabin adventure.
The walk to the cabin can be a challenge for some people. You leave your vehicle in a parking lot about a half-mile from the cabin. You then walk uphill for almost the entire journey, climbing very steep hills. Plan to spend 20-30 minutes walking to the cabin, especially if you are carrying items. We used a wagon to carry supplies, such as a cooler, clothes and food.
During one of our rest stops, I mentioned to Lisa that I realize people traveling during the 1800s truly did have it tough. By the way, I work out almost daily, walking about seven miles a day, and that initial hike up took a lot out of me.
Relax and enjoy your visit
Since the goal of your visit is to relax and explore the nature around you, the park has a 4.8-mile loop with some additional trails branching out from it. Walking paths are actually mowed fire breaks, so you may have some high grass during your explorations. The woods consist of a variety of trees, such as fir, oak and spruce. They add to the majestic views.
The rolling hills and the Loess Bluffs negate any stereotypes about Iowa being flat and boring. The beautiful scenery is a photographer’s dream. The river valley below the bluffs showcases Iowa’s role as a major agriculture force in the world while offering an impressive view.
Five Ridge Prairie once served as a military training area, so it’s possible to find old fox holes along the bluffs.
During your hikes, look for signs of wildlife. The area is known for deer and other animals. While we didn’t see any during our jaunts, we did come across a rabbit, who tried its best to conceal itself from us. As we approached within about 15 feet, the rabbit quickly hopped away into the deep woods.
We were fortunate to watch butterflies at work on plants. The beautiful insects mesmerize me. I can spend several minutes watching them flutter here and there, stopping to work on a flower for a few seconds, then moving on to the next.
As you relax at the cabin, you can enjoy the songs of the birds from inside the cabin in one of the two comfortable lounging chairs, or outside on a bench on the porch. Either way, you’ll hear sounds you’ve not heard at home.
We had hoped to do some stargazing during our visit, but the clouds refused to give way…until late on our second night. Without using our telescope, we observed the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. Venus was shining brightly in the night sky. Even the moon seemed to battle through the clouds, as if telling us to view its craters.
As we turned in for our final night’s sleep at Five Ridge Prairie, we could hear coyotes off in the distance, howling. Yep, for sure, we were among Mother Nature and her children.
While the cabin is available year-round, you’ll want to plan your stay accordingly. During the fall hunting season, there will be people in the area with hunting rifles. Hunting isn’t allowed within 200 yards of the cabin, but you’ll need to carefully plan activities.
Five Ridge Prairie would be a perfect spot for hunters to stay during the season. They would be near their favorite sites and have a cozy place to come home to after the day’s events.
As always, when you leave the cabin and the state park, practice the old adage of leave no mark. Take your waste with you to dispose of safely. And treat the park as if you were never there.