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5 Great Trails To Try At Lake Manawa State Park

Lake Manawa State Park may be best known for its namesake, Lake Manawa, but hear me out: Don’t skip a trail hike or a trail ride while you’re there. After you’ve had your fill of water sports, the park has several trails for hiking and biking that offer beautiful views of the lake and surrounding natural areas. It’d be a shame if you missed out on their beauty.

A sign for Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Where is Lake Manawa State Park

One of the larger parks in western Iowa, Lake Manawa State Park is located on the southern portion of Council Bluffs. The man-made lake itself draws visitors with watercraft of all types: Sailboats, waterskis, kayaks and canoes. Motorboats are permitted.

Beyond the lake, though, you’ll find trails for hiking and biking; fishing spots; a spectacular playground; and bird-watching (it’s an excellent spot to watch for bald eagles). The park has a new-constructed campground, as well. Camping reservations can be made online, with reservations being accepted reservations April 15 through Oct. 15.

A dirt trail running parallel to water at Lake Manawa State Park

Incidentally, “Manawa” is a Native American word meaning peace and comfort.

Best trails at Lake Manawa State Park

Here are some of the best trails to explore:

Lake Manawa Trail and Trail Loop

The Lake Manawa Trail encircles the lake and is perfect for hiking and biking. The trail is relatively flat and mostly paved, and roughly 4 miles long, making it popular for all skill levels. It connects to other trails in the area, including the Wabash Trace Trail and Indian Creek Trail, which is another reason for its popularity. When you view the map, you can see that you can take the trail around the lake, or if you keep to just the south side of the lake, you can do a shorter loop trail (called creatively, the Lake Manawa Loop Trail).

A paved bike trail at Lake Manawa State Park in Iowa

In my experience, it’s the busiest trail of the park. I recommend always sticking to the right side of the trail and announce your presence (if you’re on a bike) before passing anyone.

Mountain Bike Trails – West Sidewinder, Canal West Loop & Canal East Loop

There are about 8 miles of unpaved trails in total for mountain biking, and they’re my preferred trails in the park. The trails are located on the south side of the park, winding along riverside to the Missouri River so you occasionally get a nice view. You’ll go deeper into the wooded areas of the park than you would on the Lake Manawa Trail.

A dog on a trail at Lake Manawa State Park with a view of the Missouri River

It’s hard to find any trail names for these — they aren’t on Iowa DNR maps. The best I’ve found, thanks to the mountain bike site Trail Forks, are the West Sidewinder, Canal West Loop and Canal East Loop. As with hiking or biking a trail that’s multipurpose, be aware of your surroundings at all times. Yield to pedestrians.

Another important note: Beware of ticks.

What to bring for a hike at Lake Manawa

The trails at Lake Manawa State Park are mostly flat, and not very difficult. Even so, there are some items I highly recommend you taking along with you for any hike.

A leaf-covered trail at Lake Manawa State Park in the fall

Lake Manawa State Park hiking list:

  • Water bottle (already filled up)
  • Bug repellant — the mosquitos are fierce here
  • Sunscreen
  • Snack
  • Hat and sunglasses

Overall, Lake Manawa State Park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails suitable for all skill levels. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely hike or a more challenging trail, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at this beautiful park.

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