Yellow River State Forest

729 State Forest Road
Harpers Ferry, IA 52146


The Paint Creek Unit is of primary interest to the recreationist. It has the Big Paint Creek, Little Paint Creek and equestrian campgrounds with capacities of 48, 80 and 40 sites respectively. It also contains 6 miles of trout stream stocked from April through October and a marsh from which bass and panfish may be taken.

Camping fees are $9.00 per night during the summer and $6.00 per night the rest of the year. An additional $3.00 per night is charged for equestrian campgrounds. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through the park reservation system. One quarter of the campsites are available for self registration on a first come first-serve basis. See maps for campground and trail locations.

One camping cabin is available to rent from April 1st through October 31st of each year.  There is a minimum stay requirement of 2 nights for this cabin.  This rustic cabin has electricity, microwave, a full sized refrigerator, and two porches, where one of them is screened in. Visitors must provide their own bedding, towels, cooking utensils and other essential items. The cabin is located near the back pack registration parking lot and the forestry office.  There are no modern showers or restrooms available at Yellow River State Forest. This cabin can be reserved online through the park reservation system.

Hiking, snowmobile and horse trails and several picnic areas are located on the Paint Creek unit. Several scenic overlooks are accessible by horseback, foot or auto and a large portion of the cross country ski trail system is found here.

The entire forest is open to hunting (except for campgrounds), hiking and cross country skiing. However, designated hiking trails are maintained only on the Paint Creek Unit and designated cross country ski trails are maintained only on the Paint Creek and Luster Heights Units.

Yellow River Unit Information

Yellow River's backpacking trails were featured in an article which appeared in the April 1996 edition of “Outside” magazine entitled “America’s Top 50 Hikes--The Finest in Every State”. The best hike in Iowa was chosen to be the Backpack Trail at Yellow River State Forest. We are honored to have been given this distinctive endorsement, and anticipate lots of usage on the backpack trails as a result.

Incidentally, if you haven’t had the opportunity to hike our trails, they are open year ‘round. Degree of difficulty ranges from relatively easy to moderate. If you have a scout or other youth group looking for a backpacking experience, or if you are planning a “real” backpacking trip out west and need some place to train, this is for you.

There are over 25 miles of marked & maintained trails in the Paint Creek Unit alone. We have four camp areas along the trail which are not accessible by vehicles so you can really “get away from it all”. If you plan on staying overnight during your backpacking trip, you must sign in at the forest headquarters prior to your departure.  These campsites are free of charge and offer you the feeling of complete solidarity.  If you are looking for something in particular in a day hike or an overnight stay give the office a call to get some ideas on places to go.

Our backpack areas are large enough to support a large group or several small groups. They are not organized areas so you can spread out if you arrive to find a group or individuals already at the site. On nice weekends, slight but not overwhelming traffic can be expected. Our backpack trail is also part of our equestrian trail for some of its length, so horses may be encountered. On weekdays, you will seldom encounter other users.

We have a public water supply at our sawmill/headquarters areas. Water from springs or streams should be suitable for bathing but not for drinking or brushing teeth.

Camp fires are permitted. Please practice fire safety and be sure your fire is dead before leaving the site. Do not use a camp fire during extremely dry conditions.

No reservations are necessary, nor do we accept them. Facilities at the forest are on a first come basis.

Fauna (Animal Life)

Yellow River Forest is home to many species of wildlife who live in its various habitats. From a recreational standpoint, Yellow River Forest presents opportunities for hunters to take deer, squirrel, raccoon and various species of waterfowl and upland game birds; the trapper to harvest beaver, mink and other furbearers and the angler to take trout and other species of game fish.

The forest has many good opportunities for bird watchers to pursue their interests. Many ducks, wading birds, and other marsh dwelling birds occupy the marshes and beaver ponds on Little Paint Creek. Bald eagles may be seen at any time in the forest and surrounding environs. A threatened and endangered bird of the forest is the red-shouldered hawk.

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