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Siouxland Families Explore Stone State Park

One of the most peaceful places in Siouxland is also bustling with life and adventure. Stone State Park, nestled in the northwest corner of Sioux City, provides just under 1600 acres of hiking, fishing, camping, and other outdoors fun in all seasons, from spring and summer wildflowers to beautiful autumn colors and snowshoeing in winter!

Where is Stone State Park?

Stone State Park's official address is 5001 Talbot Road, and you can get to it from Highway 12 on the west of the park, or Stone Park Boulevard or Talbot Road from the east of the park. The Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center is connected to Stone Park by hiking trails, but to get there by car, you have to take Highway 12 for just a few minutes (the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center is south of the Stone Park entrance on Highway 12). You can read more about the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center on the Woodbury County Conservation website.

What is Stone Park?

Stone Park is an Iowa State Park that is part of the Loess Hills, a unique geographic formation. Loess hills are formed by glacial silt windblown over many years in prehistoric times! The only other loess deposit as extensive in the whole world is in a remote part of China! Stone Park is part of the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, which extends from southwest to northwest Iowa as the Loess Hills meander roughly parallel to I-29 and the Missouri River.  
turtle lake at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowatrees, shrubs, and grasses against a blue sky at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa

History of Stone Park

Stone State Park is considered an "urban wildlife sanctuary" and has a rich history! The land was originally privately owned, partially by a man named Talbot who was known for his unusual collection of animals. As his menagerie grew, he allowed the public to come see them. Eventually the land was purchased and turned into a public zoo in the late 1910's. The zoo was one of Sioux City's most popular tourist destinations in the roaring 20's with dozens of animals including bears, alligators, monkeys, snakes, and much more. Some were rescued from an Omaha area circus that closed, while others were brought back from the Mexican border when Siouxland troops were deployed in pursuit of Pancho Villa. When the Great Depression hit, the state of Iowa couldn't justify the cost of feeding the animals and the zoo was closed. Shortly after, the park served as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The CCC built the Lodge and many of the other structures and entrances that are still in use today! Since WWII, Stone Park has increased a bit in size, and added tons of modern amenities, but largely remains the same in terms of purpose and design, to the delight of visitors. 
CCC built stone lodge at Stone Park in Sioux City Iowa

Things to Do at Stone Park 

Opportunities for fun abound at Stone Park! The park offers 6 miles of equestrian trails, 6 miles of trails for mountain bikes and snowmobiles, and 8 miles of hiking trails, plus there are also many deer trails that are fun for adventurous hikers. There are three camping cabins available for rent, as well as a large lodge with its own kitchen and restrooms that can be rented for events. There are also campsites for tents or RVs including a large campground area for scouts and other youth groups. For day use, there are also restrooms, shelters, picnic tables and benches scattered throughout the park, Kids will also enjoy the  playground near the highway 12 entrance, and fishermen will love the fishing dock near Turtle Lake, where canoeing and kayaking are also welcome. 

fishing dock at Turtle Lake in Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa
Fishing dock at Turtle Lake in Stone Park

Our favorite activity at Stone Park is hiking. The trails tend to have a lot of hills, some pretty steep, so for most of the trails I recommend sturdy hiking boots or shoes if possible, or running shoes with good traction at the least, and toddlers will need to be in a carrier for much of the time, and preschoolers will likely need some assistance on the steepest hills. For a flatter walk, try parking at the Pammel Valley shelter and walking along the lake a bit. It's not a very long hike, but it's beautiful and the terrain is easy enough for most kids and many people with limited mobility. Our oldest could handle the hills, and our younger two loved exploring from the safety of carriers most of the time and on their own feet on the flat bit!

One of the steep hills at a Stone State Park trail

While we rarely see animals other than bugs and birds at Stone Park, there are many species known to live there, including deer, turkeys, vultures, coyotes, foxes, snakes, frogs, and some rare butterflies, and it's fun to help your kids find signs they were there. We saw a stump covered in beaver teeth marks, and footprints from deer and raccoons! My kids were so excited to see them and guess what kind of animal made each mark. The raccoon print is especially fun to compare to a human kid hand!

tree stump with beaver toothmarks at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa

raccoon handprint in dried mud at Stone State Park in Sioux CIty, Iowa

There are also many wildflowers in bloom throughout spring and summer. If you stop at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center before hiking, they have a brochure available with the estimated blooming dates of many of the flowers visible in the park, along with trail maps and other information about the park. 

a tiny bee sits on a yellow prairie wildflower at Stone Park in northwest Iowa

bright yellow, daisy-like wildflowers line the road at Stone Park in Sioux City Iowa
Overall, Stone Park is a beautiful place to hike, picnic, and play that always leaves our family feeling refreshed, and I definitely recommend it to Siouxland families and to visitors!

view of hillsides covered in colorful fall leaves as seen from ridge in Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa

For more information about Stone Park

You can find out more about Stone State Park on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website.
For more of our favorite places in Siouxland for adventures with kids, check out the Siouxland Families Explore page.

a small girl with curly blonde hair and a pink headband holds the top rail of an old metal bridge while gazing at the woodland view at Stone State Park


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