State Parks Series: Palisades Kepler
Nestled between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, a stunning 840-acre state park rests on the banks of the Cedar River. Come along with Notes on Iowa, as we explore Palisades-Kepler State Park.
High-rising river bluffs, ecological diversity, and hardwoods forest abound in the Linn County Park originally established in 1922. For over 100 years, visitors have flocked to awe at the natural stone formations, scramble up well-established trails, and soak in nature at one of Iowa’s oldest State Parks.
Founded with 160 acres lands initially purchased by James Sherman Minott near the end of the 19th century, and the early American settler of the area occupied a small, 8-foot circular cave featuring a five-foot tall ceiling. Minott opened an inn during 1869 at Lower Palisdades, across from the park, and sold parcels to locals interested in building cabins along the river.
Noted American poet Carl Sandburg visited the area then known only as Palisades yearly after engagements at Cornell College during the 1920s and 30s. Following the early 1920s founding, the park doubled in size with a donation of adjoining lands from the estate of local lawyer Louis H. Kepler.
Charley Meyer, innkeeper of the Rock View Tavern Hotel, started serving as the first Palisades Park Custodian in 1924. Serving until 1954, Meyer oversaw extensive development of the park during his tenure.
Like many other Iowa State Parks, the Civilian Conservation Corps significantly contributed to the development of Palisades-Kepler starting in July 1934. Laying steps on many of the steep sections of hiking trails, constructing roads, laying the low-head dam on the Cedar, and building several stone structures out of locally mined materials kept the CCC busy throughout the park. Over 200 men worked on the projects until the close of the three barracks camp in 1941.
Upon Meyer’s retirement, Jerry Kann took over as steward Palisades-Kepler. Overseeing tight budgets, Kann’s tenure saw many difficulties in park maintenance over the middle part of the 20th century. Dr. Gordan Rahn of Mount Vernon also played a critical role in the park, serving as concessionaire and operater of a full-service Ski-Pal lodge on the Palisade’s slopes during the 1960s until a fire destroyed the facility in 1968.
Featuring over six miles of rugged hiking trails woven along the river through steep ravines and hardwood forests, astounding views greet adventurous hikers. Fishing enthusiasts find success angling for catfish, bass, bluegill, and other Iowa river fish. Boat ramps provide easy access to the Cedar for fishing boats, kayaks, and canoes. Additionally, picnic shelters, including a the large 1930s lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, pair with 44 camping sites and four rental cabins to offer the opportunity to escape into nature for an afternoon, weekend, or even longer.
Next time you find yourself looking to get out and enjoy Iowa’s public lands, consider a stop at Palisades Kepler. A truly stunning representation of Iowa’s natural beauty and a testament to the necessity of maintaining opportunities to get outdoors for all Iowans, Palisades-Kepler shines as a must visit for all people hoping to see Iowa Slowly.
Thanks for coming along with notes on Iowa to explore Palisades-Kepler State Park.