Local Adventures - Yellow Smoke Park in Iowa

Yellow Smoke Park - Crawford County, Iowa

Sometimes the best getaways are right out your back door. No need to pack your bags or book a flight. When we are looking to get out of the house and experience nature, all we have to do is go to the edge of town. We are very fortunate that our county park is not only within walking distance but is large enough to provide the escape we crave. Thanks to our high-energy dog, we visit Yellow Smoke Park year round.

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Another Reason to Love the Midwest

The midwest is not usually at the top of most travelers’ must-see lists. Maybe if I had not been raised here, I wouldn't think of visiting either? But I’ve learned there really are many treasures sprinkled throughout the most unlikely places — including Iowa!

I feel you are missing out if you don't experience the midwest at least once. I think about this often when I am at Yellow Smoke. Out of all the places I have traveled I am still happy to call this place home. This is my park.

While this destination might not be for everyone, I definitely recommend that you check it out if you can. Maybe you live in Iowa and you are looking to explore more of your home state? Or you are passing through the area and need to stretch your legs? Whatever path you take to get here, you will find that Iowa has a lot to discover. So please take your time, grab a picnic lunch if you wish, sit back and enjoy this slice of midwestern life.

Yellow Smoke - A Quick Summary

Yellow Smoke park is a 358-acre recreation area in Crawford County located directly east of Denison, Iowa. The campground has 75+ sites with water and electric hookups, plus modern showers and restroom facilities. You can even rent a cabin year round! The cabins have heat, air conditioning, a small kitchen area, restroom, and a great view.

The park is so loved by locals that many will take up a second residence at the park throughout the summer. They work during the day and then come “home” to their RV at night to enjoy the outdoors. The camping area is incredibly kid-friendly and is full of families all summer long.

There are also several shelters, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The park is situated around a 40-acre lake where you can fish, kayak and enjoy the beach. The park has an excellent nature center, too. The Neal Moeller Environmental Education Center was my favorite place growing up.

Click here for more information about the park and/or making reservations.


What we love most about the park is the 4-mile loop trail that circles the entire park. It is a paved and accessible trail that is well maintained. It is excellent for walking, jogging, and our favorite - biking! The path is never dull. It runs along the lake, over several streams, passes by campers, goes through the forest and then alongside prairie grasses. Most notably though, the trail goes up and down, as we live in the hilly part of Iowa. No pain, no gain, right!?

Many Hiking Options

In addition to the 4-mile paved trail, Yellow Smoke has several hiking trails to choose from. These trails are shorter and connect to the paved trail, creating smaller loops. I am embarrassed to admit that it took me 10 years to find the section of trail that leads to 2 other ponds and a lookout area... This has become our favorite way to go. Especially when we bring our dog Harvey along.

Nature Galore - Guaranteed!

You are bound to see at least 20 deer if you walk the 4-mile trail and half as many rabbits! Also turkeys, ducks, geese and pheasants. There are lots of little birds too, like orioles, bluebirds, goldfinches… the list goes on and on. And if you are lucky, you could see a bald eagle! I don't know of any eagles currently living in the park but there are some nest sites nearby. You might catch one soaring over every once in a while!

I have also spotted a beaver, several minks and giant grass carp from the trail. If you time it right, you can find thousands of tadpoles in the spring or just as many caterpillars in the fall. (True story: The path was so full of caterpillars last fall that I had to tip-toe the entire way trying not to squish any!)

Getting to Yellow Smoke Park

Finding the park is super easy. From Highway 30 east of Denison, you head north on Yellow Smoke Road. The park has two main entrances which are both located off of Yellow Smoke Road. Alternatively, if you are already in the town of Denison, there is an access point at Tuckers Pond. This pond is located at the corner of 6th Ave North and Parkview Drive. You will find parking and a picnic shelter here. Now, you are only 1 mile from the beach!

Activities at the Park

The Crawford County Conservation Board hosts several programs and exhibits throughout the year at the Nature Center. These hands-on activities are a fun way for children to learn about nature. Check out their Facebook page for the latest scheduled events. The park usually hosts activities during different holidays as well such as Easter egg hunts and trick-or-treating at Halloween.

Red, White & Boom Celebration

The busiest day of the year for Yellow Smoke Park is July 3rd. Red, White and Boom is our day long 4th of July celebration. It is hosted by the Chamber and Development Council here in Crawford County. After a parade in uptown Denison, everyone heads to the park for sand castle contests, cardboard boat races, and many other fun festivities! Food vendors set up near the beach, and families picnic under trees. By the time the sun goes down the park has filled with people and it is time for the fireworks display. The fireworks reflect off the surface of the lake and light up the forests in a dramatic way. I love looking around to see so many happy faces enjoying the park on a warm summer evening. It is a magical night!

If you are interested in joining us in July or are looking for more things to do in Crawford County be sure to check out this site for the latest local happenings. (click here!)

Crawford County Beautification Week

Earth Day was last Monday which means I spent the entire week celebrating as a beautification volunteer. While others were picking up trash and planting flowers, my designer friend and I painted a mural. After we finished that project, I moved on to something much closer to my heart - The Denison Dog Park! We have been working on this project for many years, and it is finally coming together! The best part is that the dog park is located next to Yellow Smoke Park. I love that our small town has so many great options for enjoying the outdoors.

Soon we will be able to wear the pup out at the dog park before we go on our 4-mile walk around Yellow Smoke. I’m hoping this will make him behave better on his leash. However, I have a feeling we will have to end all walks with some fetch back at the dog park… this pup has never ending energy!


Support Our Parks

Yellow Smoke might not be a stunning National Park that attracts hoards of visitors with its outstanding scenery, but that’s also what makes it great. As much as I love our National Parks, I also love this park just the way it is. I love that it is quiet and familiar. I am a giant fan of all our parks; National, State, County and otherwise. Same goes for the forests and all protected wild areas. Supporting our parks doesn't mean only doing so financially. Support our natural treasures by standing up for them, protecting them and doing your part to keep them clean. But most of all, get out there and enjoy them! Go parks!

Inspiration - Yellow Smoke Park

Here is a bird’s eye view of my favorite local destination! We invite you to visit and experience our peaceful county park. Who knows… maybe you will catch a glimpse of energetic Harvey taking us for a walk! What is your favorite local escape? What park are you proud to call your own?

Cheers to all the parks everywhere!

Note: The above map is for illustration purposes only, and is far from being 100% accurate…

Roo Bea Design Co Graphic Designer Midwest Iowa

Meriah Blakley
Freelance Graphic Designer


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