Jul 19, 2023 Communities

The 8 Best Ways to Get Outside in the Council Bluffs Area

Council Bluffs is a hidden gem nestled in the heartland of Iowa, where vibrant landscapes and endless outdoor adventures await. If you’re seeking a refreshing escape from the urban bustle and a chance to reconnect with nature, this charming city offers a myriad of opportunities to soak up the sun and explore the great outdoors.

From invigorating hikes and serene swimming spots to exhilarating biking trails and tranquil kayaking experiences, Council Bluffs has it all. Plus, if you have a craving for nature’s sweet rewards, the region’s orchards provide the perfect opportunity to pick your own fresh fruits. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your gear, and join us as we uncover the best ways to experience nature in Council Bluffs!


Go Swimming at Lake Manawa State Park

Lake Manawa State Park Council Bluffs, IA
Photo Courtesy of Unleash CB

Lake Manawa State Park is one of the area’s most popular destinations for outdoor recreation of all kinds, from boating and swimming in the lake to hiking and picnicking along the shore. This massive state park encompassing more than 1,500 acres has miles of hiking trails, plenty of boat ramps, lots of picnic/shelter areas, and a newly constructed campground. The modern swim beach is the perfect place to swim and relax by the water’s edge. There’s a refreshment stand near the beach area as well, so you can grab some food and a beverage while you relax on the water’s edge. Lake Manawa State Park is also home to Dream Playground, which is the largest ADA-accessible playground in Iowa. No matter what you’re interested in, Lake Manawa State Park is the place to be during the spring and summer! Keep in mind that non-Iowa residents must pay a $5 entrance fee to enter the park.


Pick Fruit at Ditmars Orchard

Since 1994, Ditmars has been a favorite fall destination amongst Council Bluffs residents. They’ve always been known for their apple orchard — with nearly 20 apple varieties available — but they’ve evolved to offer so much more over the years. Ditmars now has their own vineyard and wine production, a pumpkin patch, and a variety of produce throughout the summer and fall. Check their website to see what’s in season for picking! Their fruit is sold by the pound and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Ditmars has plenty of bags available, but you are welcome to bring your own reusable bag or basket!


Sightsee at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park

Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park Council Bluffs, IA
Photo Courtesy of Unleash CB

Keep it simple by sightseeing at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, the 85-acre preserve that rests along the Missouri River, offering uninterrupted views of the Omaha skyline. Sit on the terraced steps or opt for the 5-acre great lawn to provide a clearer view of the city. Afterwards, take a stroll along the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which connects to Omaha, or explore other trails connected to the park.


Hike at Hitchcock Nature Center

The Hitchcock Nature Center is the perfect place to go hiking in the Council Bluffs area. This 1,268-acre park has a 10-mile unpaved trail system, where you can go hiking, trail running, bird watching, snowshoeing, and backcountry camping. Plus, the trails are not open to bikes, ATVs and horses, which creates a more relaxed experience for hikers. The Chute and Heritage Trail Loop is a relatively easy 2.3-mile loop trail that typically takes just over an hour to complete, and rewards hikers with some breathtaking vistas of surrounding countryside. While you’re at the Hitchcock Nature Center, make a stop at the 45-foot-tall observation tower, the Loess Hills Lodge Interpretive Center, and the playground near the entrance.


Go Kayaking at Botna Bend Park

Botna Bend Park is situated along the West Nishnabotna River about 45 minutes away from Council Bluffs in Hancock. This incredible 119-acre riverfront park is the perfect place to go canoeing, tubing or kayaking — as the park provides easy access to this peaceful river. While you’re at the park, keep your eyes peeled for elk and bison! The enclosed pastures at Botna Bend Park are the only place in the area that house bison and elk herds, and visitors have come here to see them since the 1960s! Admission to the park is $3 per vehicle, payable with exact change or check at the park gate.


Bike Along the Wabash Trace Nature Trail

You can conquer so much more terrain on two wheels! The Wabash Trace Nature Trail is a converted railroad right-of-way running 63 miles through the scenic southwest Iowa countryside. On the trail, you’ll travel through the picturesque Loess Hills, over 72 bridges, four different counties, and even a few ghost towns! You can traverse the entire 63 miles by foot, bicycle, wheelchair, ski or snowshoe, but no motorized vehicles are permitted. The trail has a $2 daily fee to use the trail. Click here for a map of the trail and information on what you can do along the way.


Splash at Pirate Cove Water Park

Pirate Cove Water Park Council Bluffs, IA
Photo Courtesy of City of Council Bluffs

Pirate Cove Water Park is a popular water adventure destination in Council Bluffs. The water park includes an enormous Z-shaped pool with a zero-depth area, play features, a diving board, two water slides (one covered and one open), a separate splash pool area, and a sand area. And one of the most unique features is the pirate ship with a slide! After swimming and splashing, grab some food and drinks from the concession stand and relax in the shaded seating area. Admission to Pirate Cove is $5 (or $6 plus slides) per person. And if you think you’ll return several times throughout the summer, you can purchase a 10-swim punch card for $40 (or $50 with slides).


Go Fishing at Big Lake Park

Big Lake Park is a sprawling 191-acre park that offers a range of outdoor activities and amenities for visitors to enjoy. The park is centered around a beautiful natural lake that is stocked twice a year with rainbow trout, making it a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts. In addition to fishing, the park features two playgrounds, a baseball and soccer field, a tennis court, and a picnic shelter, providing plenty of options for outdoor recreation. The park also serves as a trailhead for the Iowa Riverfront Trail, so it’s an excellent starting point for exploring the surrounding area. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the five Art-in-the-Park signs!


Get Outside!

Where is your favorite outdoor recreation destination in Council Bluffs? Let us know in the comments below!

Jul 19, 2023 Communities
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