Mainstream Adventures

When You Constantly Push Your Limits You Will Never Reach Them

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5 Iowa Hikes You Have Never Done

I don’t know what it is about the outdoors, but to me there are few things better then a great hike, if you are looking for a little pick-me-up  in Iowa, you don’t have to look very far for a great hiking trail to navigate. Spread out across the state, from the rolling Loess Hills in the west to the rocky bluffs over the Mississippi River in the East, an exciting hike in Iowa is easy to find.  Here is a list of 5 Iowa hikes you may have never done.

1.  The West and East Lake Trails at Backbone State Park

Located in the beautiful northeast region of Iowa, and with over 20 miles of trail to explore, Backbone State Park is an Iowa hiker’s dream come true. There are several great hiking options at Backbone State Park, but for the best bang for your buck,  check out the West and East Lake Trails! Stretching out for three and 2.42-miles respectively, the West and East Lake Trails follow the shore of Backbone Lake, navigating through the dense Iowa ecosystem and some of the most beautiful landscape in the Iowa State Park system. The East Lake Trail also connects to the state-famous Backbone Trail, which is my favorite trail in Iowa.

2. The Sylvan Runkel State Preserve Trail at the Loess Hills

Photo is property of Mark Karrer

Located in the rolling Loess Hills of western Iowa!To really get a feel of the unbelievably beautiful Iowa environment, I suggest the Sylvan-Runkel State Preserve.  This 12.4 mile out and back hike takes you past some magnificent landscape. This scenic trail is lined with wildflowers and will have you convinced that Iowa might be the most beautiful state in the country.

3. The Calcite Trail at the Mines of Spain Recreation Area

There are plenty of great  hiking options at the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, but if you want to find the one that will get your quads burning, the Calcite Trail is right for you.  At just over two miles, the Calcite Trail exposes the native rock that defines much of the recreation area. The steepest section of the Calcite Trail comes right out of the parking lot, which then leads to breathtaking views of the Mississippi River. To continue the adventure from the Calcite Trail, you can connect to the Mesquakie or Horseshoe Bluff Trail, which can lead to many full days of adventure.

4. The Squire Point and Woodpecker Trail Systems

There are a few trails in Iowa containing so much beauty that it’s easy to forget what state you’re exploring. A great example of that can be found with the Squire Point and Woodpecker Trail Systems near the Coralville Lake. While navigating around the rocky banks of the Coralville Lake, trail users experience slight elevation changes, scenic stopping points, and a full dose of the natural Iowa scene. Whether you run, walk, or hike, the Squire Point and Woodpecker Trail Systems are a great place to enjoy the outdoors.

5. The Crow’s Nest Trail at Ledges State Park

Located  in one of Iowa’s most popular state parks, the Crow’s Nest Trail in Ledges State Park is one hike you will not want to miss. The entire state park is lined with rocky bluffs and deep pockets of forest that define Ledges, and many of the trails take you up  steep steps and to fantastic overlooks, including most notably, the Crow’s Nest Trail. Make it to the top of this short, steep trail, and not only will you feel a sense of accomplishment, but you’ll get a great view as well. While you are there, be sure to take advantage of all the trails and views at Ledges, and you’ll leave feeling refreshed and renewed.

Safety Tips for Winter Hiking

At Mainstream Adventures we love hiking, camping, basically anything outdoors.  In fact we spend almost all our time on a trail, or in a canoe, or on a bike, or a ski slope, however during the winter months we have to take a few precautions before we head out.  Here is a few pointers to get you started hiking in the freezing cold.

 Proper  Planning

Like any outdoor adventure,  winter hiking takes planning. First, you need to know your limitations and those of others in your party. A 10 mile hike  might be fine for some, but not everyone will be able to handle that. Carefully study maps of the trail in which you plan to hike so that you are familiar with the area. Carry a day pack containing essential items, such as snacks, and extra clothing.  Always let others know where you will be going and when you plan to return. If you are hiking  off-trail, this becomes even more important. In such a case, it is important that you also leave an itinerary with a friend or family member that includes your destination and when you are scheduled to return.

 Maps, GPS and Compass

When hiking, use your GPS (Global Positioning System) and compass. If there is snow on the trail, it may become hard to follow, so trust these instruments to keep you on track. Because it operates off  of satellites, GPS can be affected by tree cover and weather conditions, but a compass is almost always reliable if you know how to use it. In addition to other navigation aids, you will need good maps of the area. Even if you don’t plan to rely on them for navigation, they can add enjoyment on your hike, because they will show important features and sites that you might otherwise miss. Maps can also show you the most practical route out of an area in an emergency.

 Dangers of Hypothermia

The main thing you will want to protect yourself against while hiking or pursuing any cold weather activity is hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition where your core temperature drops below 95 degrees. On a wet, windy day, hypothermia can strike if you don’t have enough clothing, even in air temperatures as high as 50 degrees. It can also happen if you are in water that is 60-70 degrees. The obvious solution to prevent or reverse hypothermia is to make sure you have warm, dry clothing when the weather gets cold. Always be prepared for wet weather conditions.

 Layering

Proper layering of clothing prevents excess sweat and moisture build up, which can chill you under winter conditions. Start with a moisture wickening base layer against your skin. Modern undergarments made of breathable synthetic fabric fit the bill. These can be had in long or short versions. If you prefer undergarments made from natural fabrics, silk is a great choice, but it is expensive.

Next come your pants and shirt. In cold weather, wool works great for both, but it is heavy and some people don’t like the feel of wool on their skin. In this case, you can again opt for synthetics. I personally like wool pants over synthetic long underwear for warmth. Wear a light breathable long sleeve shirt on top.

Keep your feet warm and prevent blisters. Include synthetic socks with wool hiking socks on top. Make sure your footwear is broken in before a long hike.

If conditions call for outerwear, you can wear a wool or fleece sweater. If it warms up, remove it and place it in your pack, so that you don’t sweat too much. Depending upon conditions, your outer garment could be a wind and water-resistant outer shell from Gore-Tex or a lightweight goose down vest or jacket. Mix the top garments as needed. You may want to also bring along gloves or a scarf. Choose a material like silk, synthetic or cashmere that won’t irritate the neck. Top it all off with a wool or synthetic watch cap.

 Proper Hydration

You may not crave water as much when hiking in winter, but your body loses a significant amount through breathing, sweating and urination, and it has to be replenished. Be sure and drink plenty of water.  I recommend carrying a hydration pack.  There is no easier way to transport drinking water on the trail.

 Snacks

Carry some snacks to keep your energy levels high. High carbohydrates , high fat combinations, especially those that contain dried fruit, nuts, and peanut butter, are popular, but tailor these to your specific dietary requirements. Always bring along a little more than you think you’ll need. If you don’t eat them, you can just save them for your next outing.

 Contingency Plan

As with any outing, you must expect the unexpected. You will most likely be hiking in a remote area. In such areas, cell phone service may be spotty at best, and in the event of an emergency, you could be on your own until help arrives. A charged cell phone with an extra power source is important, but also carry a day pack containing items to help you survive the elements.  A solar sleeping bag, a wool blanket, a poncho, and Hammock are just a few of the items i suggest.

. At the very least,  carry a jacket, some windproof/ waterproof matches and a sharp knife to make kindling and perform other tasks as needed.

Winter Hiking can be very rewarding and offer new views on your favorite trails.  But it can also be a devastating experience if you are not properly prepared. Happy trails!!

The Best Gifts for Outdoor Enthusiasts

The Best Gifts for Outdoor Enthusiasts

By Neil Stawski

Image result for christmas pictures

 

Finding the perfect present for everyone on your list is a fun challenge, but it can be a little overwhelming.  With the inundation of commercials, printed material and emails, you may feel that wading through catalogues and websites is getting to be a little too much.  If shopping for the outdoor enthusiast on your list feels like more of an adventure than you bargained for, these great suggestions will help.   

 

Lighting

 

Decent lighting means not only more comfortable outings but also better safety.  These suggestions give your loved one better visibility and lower risk.

 

  • Backpack lantern.  Recommended by the experts at Field and Stream, the Snow Peak Mini Hozuki Backpack Lantern is a compact LED with intuitive controls and magnetic fastener.  Useful on the trails, on the campground or even at home, users enjoy a candle-like glow that is convenient and versatile.  Available in a few different colors from Snowpeak.com.   
  • Headlamp.  An LED Headlamp allows users hands-free action when lighting is poor.  The Northbound Train LED Headlamp Flashlight and Case is waterproof and includes white, red, and strobe options along with a dimmer.  Available from Amazon.com.
  • Flashlight.  No outdoor enthusiast’s toolkit is complete without a good flashlight or two.  The Pioneer Woman recommends Surefire LED Flashlights, which are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes from Surefire.com.  

 

Matches

 

The ability to light a fire can mean life or death in some circumstances.  Whether your loved one is caught in an unexpected storm, suffers an accident or just likes to enjoy a campfire, the UCO Titan Stormproof Match Kit can be a vital addition to the adventure tool chest.  Kit includes a waterproof case, a dozen matches, three strikers and a carry cord.  Available from Amazon.com.  

 

Sleeves

 

A long-sleeved shirt protects wearers from sun, wind, bugs and branches.  Some experts prefer the Patagonia Cayo Lago Shirt, available in men’s sizing and three colors.  It’s breathable and offers pockets for toting other essentials.  Available from Patagonia.com.  

 

Stove

 

Not just any stove, the Etekcity Ultralight Portable Outdoor Backpacking Camping Stoves with Piezo Ignition is tiny, sturdy, versatile and convenient.  Experts note the stove’s tiny flame is powerful enough to boil water in just three and a half minutes.  The stove fits in your backpack, runs off butane and adheres to “Leave No Trace” principles.  Available from Amazon.com.  

 

Dog first aid kit

 

If your loved one’s furry friend joins in explorations, a first aid kit for Fido is a thoughtful way to show your love and support.  The experts at Redfin note you can assemble your own; add an attractive case for an attractive presentation.  Include essentials such as first-aid gel or spray for pets, buffered aspirin, butterfly bandages and gauze, and tweezers or scissors for removing ticks.  

 

Tech equipment

 

In this day and age, even the most rugged, outdoorsy enthusiasts can appreciate the safety and convenience technology offers.  

 

  • Speaker.  A portable speaker can be handy for camping, cookouts or tailgate parties, so almost anyone would enjoy a Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth Speaker.  It’s compact but packs a wallop, generating quality sound from any Bluetooth device but small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.  Available from Nordstrom.com.    
  • Charger.  For those who are out long enough to need a recharge on smartphones, tablets or speakers, the Kodiak Portable Power Bank allows powering up without outlets.  Available from Nordstrom.com.    
  • GoPro Camera.  Whether your outdoor enthusiast wants to record wildlife in its natural habitat or antics of the kids at camp, the GoPro Hero4 Silver offers built-in touch display, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability, and has improved camera control with video trimming.  Available from Amazon.com.  

 

At this time of year we’re all flooded with ideas, thoughts and suggestions everywhere we turn.  Use these great gift options to simplify shopping for the outdoor enthusiast in your life.  You’re sure to find the perfect present to make a fun and exciting addition to their gear!

10 Reasons You Should Take Adventures With Your Significant Other.

Adventure requires a lot of patience, strength, cooperation, and planning. Spending a few days and nights in the back woods with your spouse can be a great test of your relationship. If you are newly dating someone, backpacking could be a make it or break it scenario. If you’ve been married for ten years, backpacking could be just the thing that brings you even closer together.

So whether you are trying to impress someone new, or you are looking for fun  with the love of your life, a weekend adventure can be just the thing you are looking for. Here are a few reasons why you should take adventures with your significant other:

1. You get to share a tent.

This is a big bonus, whether you are newly dating your partner, or you’ve been together for a long time. Sharing a tent is great excuse to cuddle.

2. Discover how well you work together.

Backpacking with someone requires teamwork. Finding your way, setting up camp, preparing meals, and gathering firewood are just some of the necessary tasks. Backpacking is a great way to test out how well the two of you can work together.

3. Solve problems as a team.

Anything can happen in the backcountry. More than likely, a problem will arise at some point, whether it is a big one or a very small one. Regardless of the size, you will need to put your heads together and solve the problem together. This can bring the two of you closer and give you a whole new appreciation for each other.

4. Share responsibilities.

Maybe you will gather the water, while your partner starts setting up the sleeping bags and sleeping pads inside the tent. Maybe you will work together to cook your dinner. Sharing responsibilities around camp will make the whole experience go smoother. You can see how willing your partner is to help out and to take on tasks.

5. Explore new places.

Seeing new places together for the first time is an incredible experience. Exploring areas that neither of you have been to before will create memories that will last a life time.

6. Find out if you get sick of each other.

Spending days and nights together, non-stop, can be a real test of your relationship. Especially if it is a newer relationship, you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if your significant other is going to be a hard person to be around for an extended period of time. You’ll undoubtedly discover some new things about your partner that you weren’t aware of before – which can be  very good or very bad.

7. Quality time.

Being alone in the wild is a great way to spend quality time together. Without the distractions of every day modern life, you will be able to focus solely on each other. It’s also the perfect opportunity to have any important conversations, as you’ll have their full attention.

8. Share in each other’s highs and lows.

Adventure travel is full of extreme highs and the occasional low. You’ll cheer each other on as you climb that gorgeous but tricky cliff for the unforgettable view; You’ll cheer each other up when it’s raining and you are shivering in your tent. The point is, that whether you’re experiencing something great, or something down right miserable, you’re experiencing it together.

9. Learn how your significant other handles roughin’ it.

Sometimes people surprise us. Your makeup-loving, stiletto wearing girlfriend may blow you away with how down and dirty she is willing to get in the back woods. Your suit and tie wearing husband may be a beast climbing up a rugged mountain. You just never know how tough a person is until they are thrown 10+ miles into the wild with a heavy pack strapped onto their back.

10. Make memories.

The memories that the two of you will make together will be one of a kind and priceless. You will laugh, and you may cry. You could end up screaming at each other and realizing that your new date is just not the guy or gal that you need in your life, or you could end up falling even deeper in love. Regardless, the memories you make in the wild stay with you forever, for better or for worse. Usually for better.

 

Wilderness Survival Skills

At Mainstream Adventures, we celebrate a life spent in the outdoors, and with the sense of adventure must come a heavy dose of precaution. The wilderness can be a dangerous place, after all, and while much of it has been tamed from the  ever expanding industrial movement, certain skills are necessary in order to keep you safe and happy while you venture into the great unknown. Undoubtedly, we have all heard stories of those who wander into the woods without a sense of their own abilities, lacking preparation and a healthy fear of what can happen miles away from civilization. The consequences can be catastrophic, but generally speaking the wilderness is a great place for those who have the skills to explore it the right way.

First and foremost, be humble.

A sense of humility will keep you from being reckless. No your limits. Spending time in nature can be one of life’s most rewarding endeavors, however it can also be a dangerous one.  Hiking in the forest gives the adventurer the right to roam, an opportunity to explore, a vast  open landscape with few rules for travel. An environment like this will encourage you to follow impulse, to act on will alone.  But an adventurer cannot exist in the outdoors without first observing the limitations of his/ her, or their own responsibility. This is built through experience.  I can’t stress this enough, know your limits and error on the side of caution.

Learn how to use a map or compass.

Proper orientation and navigation is first on the list of essential skills. Adventuring into the outdoors, especially where off-trail excursions are concerned, requires the ability to read a map, orient it to the landscape, and use a compass to direct navigation. Triangulation is the simplest technique of orientation. The technique is simple, generally speaking: orient your map to magnetic north and compensate for declination, choose two visible landmarks and measure their degree deviation from north, then converge those lines at a central point, which will give you a rough approximation of where you are.

Know how much, and what types of food to bring.

Adventurers into the wilderness carry everything they eat on their backs until they eat it, and this is not just a concern because of weight, but because of nutrient density and cooking requirements, too. High-calorie foods are a prerequisite, especially for thru-hikers, who burn many more thousands of calories per day than usual. Even day hikers should pay close attention to what they bring with them to eat, and it is a good idea to prepare for scenarios in which they find themselves stranded for a night in the wilderness.

Animal Safety

When it comes to food, storage is especially important when venturing into bear country. Proper steps need to be taken in order to ensure your safety from bear attack—which are unusual, but not impossible—and more typically the safety of the bears. When habituated to human food, bears become dependent and must be euthanized. For that reason, proper safety and food storage is important

Know how to build a fire

In the back-country, it is important to first and foremost check the fire safety levels and prepare accordingly. If it is safe to build a back-country fire, one of the best methods is the tee-pee method, like building a pyramid of silverware. The idea is to build slowly; especially in damp conditions, it is easy to smother a fire before it has a chance to grow.

Drive a forked stick into the ground so that it leans against a supporting stick. Build around it with more tinder, leaving enough room to light the fire with fire-starting materials, placed inside the tee-pee dry grass and moss are especially useful. Once you have sparked these fire-starting materials, build the fire slowly by adding more sticks, and when the coals have grown, logs.

In the back-country, the more efficient you can be with fuel, the better. Search for  fallen debris, never living material. A fire does more than warm you; it is a morale booster, a task to focus on, and a great way to add to the experience of being in the outdoors.

Building a Shelter

For the purpose of survival, there are two types of shelters you need to know: the kind that keep you dry and the kind that keep you warm.

In wet conditions, a simple lean-to is easy to build and protects you from the rain. Prop a 8- to 10-foot beam between two forked supports, creating a triangular opening. Leaning sticks against the support beam, create an enclosure. Complete the shelter by layering branches or leaves on top of the shelter to shield the rain. This shelter, though simple, will keep you dry, but its simplicity makes it vulnerable to collapse, so it is important to build it near windbreaks or low the the ground.

In snowy conditions, a snow cave will keep you dry and warm—remarkably so. However, its design carries an inherent danger of asphyxiation if not properly ventilated. In deep snows, burrow 8 feet horizontally into the snow and begin to excavate out, building a sleeping platform raised above the floor. Add a thin trench below your sleeping platform that leads to the exit. These will ensure that your exhaled carbon dioxide does not “pool,” which carries with it the danger of asphyxiation. Curve the walls and ceiling to a point rather than square walls to direct meltwater to the floor without dripping.

How to find clean water.

Access to water is of utmost importance for survival in the outdoors. As such, there are several tools at your disposal to keep yourself hydrated and safe. Experts argue that you should drink half of your body weight in ounces every day to ensure that you are properly hydrated, and it is a burden to carry this amount of water with you—especially when planning for longer journeys.

A wide array of alternatives is at your disposal for the treatment of water.   I prefer to carry a life straw with me on long trips into the woods.  However there are several other brands available as well. Bringing water to boiling point kills off deleterious bacteria,  but you want to conserve your fuel, so this is an option used only when necessary.  (Sometimes a bandanna or clean t shirt is all you need.)

Learn the signs and symptoms.

For adventurers who spend enough time in the wilderness, a Wilderness First Res-ponder certification is a good idea, but some basic first aid skills are a must while in the open country. Chief among these, other than avoiding danger, is the ability to prevent worsening conditions before they become dangerous. Drink enough water, and pack adequate filtration devices to keep yourself hydrated. Learn how your body reacts to heat and cold, and learn how to layer your clothing so that you can quickly react to changing conditions.

Should dangerous situations arise, learn how to quickly assess and act in potentially life-threatening situations. Hypothermia and dehydration are a nuisance in urban settings, but they can kill you fast on the trail. Assessing an injured and unconscious hiker can make the difference between life and death. It is absolutely critical to know the signs and symptoms.

Though by no means comprehensive, these skills will help to keep you safe and happy in the outdoors.  Proper research is so important when traveling into new area’s.  Know your exits, learn the trails, study maps, find the park ranger stations, carry walkie talkies. All of these things will help to keep you safe in the forest.

Iowa Guide to Winter Adventure

As you can tell by the cold weather, winter is almost upon us.  When the cold weather hits, all to often Adventure comes to a halt.  With that said I thought it was a good time to compile a list of some of Iowa’s best winter activities.  These Adventures are guaranteed to get the blood pumping, and give you the sense of Adventure you desire.

Visit Climb Iowa:

Escape the cold weather  with a trip to Climb Iowa, This indoor(Climate Controlled) climbing facility is located only 5 miles from Des Moines. With more then 10,000 square feet of climbing space and over 200 different routes, a fitness room, and a yoga studio, There is literally something for everyone, regardless of skill level. Climb Iowa offers day passes and monthly memberships. For more info call 515-986-2565

Matt Leyden’s Dive Shop:   Mastering a new skill is always a great way to spend the winter months, just think by spring time you could be a certified scuba diver! Classes are offered year round, and are taught by some of most experienced dive masters in the state. Matt Leyden’s Dive Shop is located in Clive, and offers classes all over the Des Moines area. For more information or to register for a class call 515-777-2751

Seven Oaks Recreation:

Seven Oaks is a great location year round for adventure, but in the winter months it turns into one of the states best ski resorts.   Offering guests a wide range of fun activities including, skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing.  The slopes consist of 11 runs, from beginner to expert, so no matter your skill level, your sure to find what your looking for at Seven Oaks. The ski resort also has a terrain park, rail yard, and a beginner area. For more information call 515 432-9457

Bear Creek Cabins: 

  This is a perfect location to spend winter break, and is also a popular location for many families during the holidays.  Words really can not do this place justice, a trip to Bear Creek is like taking a trip back in time.  The cabins are situated between the number 1 and number 2 ranked trout streams in the state, and offer breathtaking views year round.  I can’t think of a better location to get snowed in, then Bear Creek Cabins. They are several cabins of all different sizes available, so bring the whole family. For more information call 563-546-7722

Climb an Ice Silo:  

Located In Cedar Falls, silo ice climbing is really catching on attracting over 300 people a season.  This may not sound like very many, and that’s because the world of ice climbing is still fairly young, especially in Iowa.  But if strapping into a harness and attempting to scale a frozen silo sounds like fun to you, then visit Siloiceclimbing.com

Chimney Rock Campground:

 One of the most beautiful campgrounds in the Midwest, located next to the Upper Iowa river.  The campground is surrounded with back wood charm, and has 200 foot high bluffs overlooking the river valley.  With 7 different cabins to choose from, Chimney Rocks is the perfect destination for a romantic winter getaway.  For more information call 563 735-5786

Is there anything I left off the list?  What are some of your favorite winter activities?

 

Come Explore Bluff Dwellers Cave

Located deep beneath the ground just south of Noel Missouri, lies a beautiful subterranean wonderland.  Bluff Dwellers Cave is a rare gem, lost in the Ozark region of Missouri.  This cave has a long rich history in the area, dating back over 5,000 years, when Paleo-Indians used the cave as shelter.

Bluff Dwellers Cave is located on Missouri’s southern border, in the heart of the Ozark’s, and has been offering cave tours for over 90 years!  But whats even more remarkable is that, the cave has been owned by  the same family that entire time.

A tour through Bluff Dwellers Cave, is as much educational as it is beautiful.  During the 1 hour guided tour you will hear the history of the cave and learn about all the different mineral formations.  You will see cave popcorn, flow-stone, stalactites, stalagmites, as well as cave coral, and the saw tooth drapes.

Perhaps one of the most famous attractions found inside the cave is The Musical Chimes.  These curtains of rock have been a highlight at Bluff Dwellers Cave ever since its inception in 1927.

Other attractions in the cave include: The 10 Ton Balanced Rock.  This rock is balanced so perfectly that it can be moved by just one finger!  One of the most fascinating features of the cave is the 75 foot Rim-Stone Dam.  This Dam is one of the longest in the entire state, and is perhaps the most beautiful formation found in the cave.

One our favorite things about Bluff Dwellers Cave is the intimate setting in which the tour takes place.  Tours start every 20-30 minutes, and are limited to 15 people at a time.    The smaller tour group allows for a much more enjoyable caving experience.

Bluff Dwellers Cave also has an amazing gift shop featuring a collection of rocks, and precious gem stones from around the world.  If that was not enough, there is also a museum, featuring over 600 locally found arrowheads, and one of the most extensive rock and mineral collections in the tri-state area.  The kids will also enjoy panning for gemstones at the sluice.  Lodging is also available, at the Cavern Inn, for those looking for a unique place to stay.

Bluff Dwellers Cave is located at 163 Cave Rd Noel Missouri.  More information is also available at:  https://bluffdwellerscave.com/ or by calling 417-475-3666

Canoe the Upper Iowa River

I first heard about the Upper Iowa River from an article in National Geographic Magazine.  This article listed canoeing the Upper Iowa River as one of the top 100 adventures in North America.  Upon reading this, I instantly found it hard to believe.  I have canoed in Iowa my whole life and never found anything to rank it as one of the best Adventures in North America.  However I had never canoed the Upper Iowa before.  I started researching and planning my trip in 2016.  Right away I noticed something very different about this area,  It just did not feel like Iowa.  This section of the state is made up of several smaller towns, and the landscape is unlike the rest of the state.  Decorah is the largest city in the area, but it even has a small town feel to it as well.  The city is packed full of adventure, with the ice cave, the fish hatchery, hiking trails and 3 waterfalls all with 20 minutes of each other.  Highlandville is also located nearby, and is surrounded with rolling hills packed with trees.  This small town has some of the nicest cabins I have ever seen, (Bear Creek Cabins) as well as the top 2 trout streams in the entire state!  Kendallville and Bluffton are also nearby and have several wild caves, tall bluffs, and miles after miles of trees.  There is so much to see and do in the area, I felt like I could spend an entire month exploring and still not see everything this area has to offer.  As awesome as this would be,  I came to explore the river not the land.

Our Cabin at Chimney Rock Campground and Canoe Rental

The Upper Iowa River runs for 156 miles, with the headwaters located in southeastern Minnesota, and continuing into Iowa and eventually flowing into the Mississippi.  The stretch of river from Granger Minnesota to Decorah Iowa is about 45 miles long, and offers some of the best scenery the Midwest has to offer.

Malanaphy Springs

We decided to spend the night in Bluffton, at a place called Chimney Rock Campground and Canoe Rental.  This campground was extremely hard to find and that deep in the backwoods, cell service, and GPS where unavailable.  Finally after stopping and asking for directions twice!  We managed to find the campground, way off the beaten path.  Knowing I was a writer, the owner quickly upgraded us from campsite to cabin, and even threw in a huge steak to cook on the grill.  (So far I’m very impressed!)

After giving me a key and a map, i followed a gravel road into the woods, that quickly turned to dirt, after a few more turns, I found our cabin.  As soon as I stepped out of the car I was blown away.  We where surrounded with wilderness and completely  alone.  Our back yard was gigantic, with at least 100 yards of wooded plain between our back porch and the river.  On the opposite bank was a huge 200 foot high limestone bluff overlooking the entire river valley.

The next morning I woke up early and went outside and climbed into my hammock, it was still dark out, but laying there all alone starring into the night sky really helped me appreciate the moment.   In my fast paced world of adventure sometimes its hard to relax and really enjoy things.  To often I’m chasing my next adrenaline rush, and I miss out on the moment in front of me.  Well on this day I decided to live in the moment.  Watching the sunrise come up over the limestone bluffs was breathtaking and helped get me excited for the days upcoming adventure.

After packing everything up, the staff at Chimney Rock, took us up stream to the city of Granger.  Granger is a small town in southeastern Minnesota.  We dipped our canoes into the river and we were off.

Day 1  The Upper Iowa River is a little different then most of the Iowa, and Illinois rivers i have canoed.  For starters it seems to be very cut off from the rest of the world.  You can paddle for miles without seeing any signs of life.  There are very few bridges crossing the river, and the ones you do see are seldom used.  The isolation you face on this river is part of what makes it so great.  This river seems to be running a little high for this time of year, and this has the current moving at a fast pace.   This makes the paddling easier but it also adds some hazard to our trip.  Every couple hundred yards we are running into mini-rapids, which adds excitement to our day but is also causing some concern.  As the river begins to calm we come around a corner and all of a sudden the river is lined with towering 200-300 foot high bluffs creating a majestic river corridor.   We spot a deer drinking from the river, and a bald eagle flying high above.

We spent the night at Kendallville Park, which is a public campground just south of the Minnesota border.  We had to pack light so instead of tents, we spent the night in hammocks.  For me, sleeping in a hammock not only feels great on my back, but there is just something about sleeping under the stars that makes for an unforgettable night.  After a hearty dinner we spent the night, sitting around the campfire under a nearly full-moon well into the early morning hours.

Day 2  We shipped out a little later then we had planned, but getting some rest was just as important as getting an early start.  I woke up a little sore this morning after a long day of sitting in a canoe paddling.  Today we are planning on paddling another 15 miles to take us back to Chimney Rock, where we spent our first night.  Our days travels took us past an old bridge, that looked to be falling apart a bit, we also past several trees that had fallen down into the water.  Hitting some rapids we lost control of our canoe and ended up pinned against a tree flipping our canoe over into the water.   After chasing down all our gear, we managed to find a sand bar and flip the canoe over.  Right away we noticed, we had lost 2 smart phones and a camera, but more importantly I had lost all my photos.  Luckily everything else was safe inside my water proof pack.  We pulled into camp around 6 pm,  and decided to hang our hammocks up next to the river.  I layed down around 9 pm  and woke up around 7 am but it felt like I had just closed my eyes.

Day 3  We started our third and final day feeling a little sluggish.  I was sore from all the time spent bent over sitting in a canoe.  I was annoyed that I had lost my camera.  I was ready for the trip to be over.  About a half hour in we passed a campground, someone was cooking breakfast,  Good Morning I yelled towards shore.  You hungry?  Someone yelled back.   Now I have a firm policy I always follow when meeting strangers in the woods, be friendly, and never ever turn down food.  We pulled onto the bank, and enjoyed a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs and hot dogs.  Not a bad way to start the day.  After this my mood had changed and I was again enjoying the trip.  After another long day we finally made our way to Malanaphy Springs,  the springs is a beautiful state preserve located just north of Decorah.  We decided to pull our canoe over to shore and do some exploring.  We followed the water trail up a short but very steep bluff, upon reaching the top we found a cave where the water was pouring from.  Climbing the bluff we had worked up quite a thirst so we cupped our hands and  took a taste of the natural spring water.  It was so cool and refreshing.  After making our way back down to the canoe we spent another hour splashing around underneath the water fall.  This was a perfect ending to our 3 day adventure.

Several things came together perfectly to make this float so special.  For one the weather was perfect for late July.  The scenery in northern Iowa and along the Upper Iowa River makes you feel like your somewhere much more exotic.  The current and rapids we faced also helped in turning the adrenaline dial up compared to other rivers in Iowa.  But more then anything, the trip was special because of who I was sharing it with.  My daughter is 13 and this was her first overnight canoe trip, and she really seemed to love it.  For us spending the weekend in the woods is an every weekend occurrence.  But somehow this was different.   I walk away from this trip convinced that canoeing the Upper Iowa River, deserves its place as one of the top 100 adventures in North America.

Bear Creek Cabins

A special thank you to Chimney Rock Campground and Canoe Rental,  this place is one of the most beautiful campgrounds in the Midwest, and the staff went out of there way to make sure we would have an unforgettable experience.  While we where in Northern Iowa we also took a visit to Bear Creek Cabins, and The Niagara Cave, in Harmony Minnesota.  Both locations where outstanding,  Niagara Cave was one of the most beautiful caves I have ever visited, and  Bear Creek Cabins is also a very special location.  Do yourself a favor and take a visit to Northern Iowa and most importantly canoe the Upper Iowa River.  This is a trip you will remember for years to come.

Niagara Cave, Pictures do not do it justice.

As mentioned in the article my camera was destroyed, so some of the pictures used in this article were supplied by Chimney Rocks Campground and Canoe Rental.

 

 

The Vacation of a Lifetime Awaits at Branson Treehouse Adventures

Looking for a unique vacation destination that you will never forget?  Look no further!  Branson Treehouse Adventures is the perfect location for your next family vacation.  Located in the heart of the Ozarks, this is the perfect place to let loose, unwind, and getaway from it all.

This heavily wooded area is an outdoor paradise featuring 4 absolutely breathtaking tree-houses, as well as 6 gorgeous ground level cabins, there is also an RV campground featuring 67  sites with electricity, and 6 primitive sites perfect for tent camping!   The campgrounds are spread out over 40 acres  of  natural beauty that can  only be  found in southern Missouri.

This is one of only a few places in America, where you can experience the great outdoors , and still be only minutes away from all the family entertainment and attractions of Branson Missouri.  One weekend here, and you will never want to leave.

Branson Treehouse Adventures was established in 2013 and with lots of hard work, and by providing families with an unforgettable  experience they have already grown into one of the most sought after cabin resorts in the Midwest!  This  family owned business, is located in Branson Missouri, just a few miles from the Arkansas border.

Branson Treehouse Adventures is conveniently located only minutes from some of  the Midwest’s best attractions including Silver Dollar City, Talking Rocks Caverns, and White Water Park, as well as some world class shows such as  Amazing Pets, Billy Dean, Comedy Jamboree, and Spirit of the Dance, along with many others.

This campground is loaded with family fun, during your visit feel free to take a dip in the swimming pool, or how about a game of horseshoes, or maybe volleyball, you could play a game of pool in the recreation hall or maybe try your hand at ping pong.  There is also the basketball court, tether ball, and  surrounding the campgrounds are wooded rolling hills, with hiking trails throughout.  If that was not enough they recently added a pirate ship play area, zip-lining, and two climbing walls.  After a long fun filled day of adventure, you can unwind next to a campfire.

These charming log cabins very in size and style, so weather your looking for a great location for your next family reunion,  an amazing vacation destination , or just a romantic get away with that special someone you’re sure to find exactly what your looking for at Branson Treehouse Adventures.

For more information call 800-338-2504 or 417-338-2500 or visit  https://bransontreehouseadventures.com/

 

Life Straw (Product Review)

A major concern for anyone spending long amounts of time in the wilderness is hauling around enough drinking water to keep you hydrated.   I had experimented with hydration packs on several occasions.  However using these just added another pack for me to carry, and on a long hike that is the last thing you want.  So recently I decided to explore some other options.   I had always heard of Life Straw, but had never used it. In case you have not heard of the Life Straw company, I will give you a little history and explanation of their products.

The Life Straw company was born in 1996, as a way to remove Guinea worm larvae from drinking water.  By 2005 Life Straw had evolved into a water filter capable of removing virtually all of the microbiological contaminants that make water unsafe to drink.  This great product was originally designed to be used in emergency settings, following a natural disaster, and other times when clean water is not available.  By 2011 Life Straw products began being sold in retail stores and became popular among outdoor enthusiasts, who use them on hiking and camping trips. Today Life Straw is used in 64 different countries around the world.

Upon visiting the life straw website, I found they had several different products available for sale.  Instead of choosing just one, I decided to pick out the three that best fit my needs .  The Life Straw Go, the Life Straw Personal, and Life Straw Steel.

On my first trip I hiked through Starved Rock State Park, and Matthiessen State Park Located in Olgesby Illinois.  These parks offer many miles of trail, and feature some extreme elevation changes.  I figured this would help work up quite thirst.  On this trip I packed my Life Straw personal, and my Life Straw Steel.   Both of them did a great job.  They filtered the water well and provided me with an endless supply of drinking water.

Something that needs to be kept in mind when planning to use a Life Straw on a hike, is that in most circumstances you will need to lay down on your stomach to be able to get a drink.  When your talking about survival, this is not a problem,  but on a casual hike you may not want to lay down every time you want to take a drink.  Its reasons like this, that they created the Life Straw Go!
The Life Straw Go is a great product, it incorporates 2 stage water filtration technology into a refillable water bottle.  This way you can refill your bottle at every body of water you come across.  This is not just convenient, but it turns any water source into clean, safe drinking water.  Its also a lot easier to use then the Personal and Steel models.Now I carry both my Steel, and Go, Life Straw products with me when I hike.  They are lightweight and do not take up much space in my pack, and both provide me with good clean drinking water when needed.  I hike and/or camp almost every weekend, and after almost 6 months the products are still doing a great job and have not shown any signs of wear.  Overall I think the Life Straw products would be a great addition to your outdoor gear.  If you have not yet tried any of these products you can find them online at http://lifestraw.com/

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