Outdoor Recreation

Luther College is located in the outdoor aficionado’s ideal location.

Carved out by the Upper Iowa River, Northeast Iowa provides a phenomenal spectrum of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Whether you are a fan of a lazy float down the river, fishing or mountain biking, Luther College and Decorah is the place for you!

Here you’ll find what you need to get out and enjoy all the fantastic outdoor activities this area has to offer!

Spring Events

Spend a morning out at Green’s Sugar Bush Maple Syrup Farm for homemade pancakes and exploring the farm! $10 for all you can eat pancakes.  We’ll meet in front of the Union.  Sign up for a ride here!

  • Sunday April 7th; 10:45am-12:45pm

Join the Environmental Concerns Organization on a hunt for fossils around Decorah! No sign up required, meet outside Union.

  • Saturday April 13th; 11:00am

Sign up now for a kayaking trip on the Upper Iowa River as spots are limited! Please note that if weather or river conditions are not ideal we will alter this event into a hiking or biking trip.

  • Saturday April 27th; 10:45am-12:30pm

Discover how easy it is to walk to the Decorah Farmers Market and take home some local goodies! The outdoor market will be open May-October on Wednesday and Saturdays. No sign up required, meet outside Union.

  • Saturday May 4; 9:00am

Winter Outdoor Programs

Check out snowshoes for free by making a reservation online or stopping by the Rec Services Office (Union 104).


Join our snowshoe hike on Saturday January 20th @1pm by signing up here!


Feel free to reach out (recreation@luther.edu) for suggested snowshoeing locations!

January date to be announced soon! Stay tuned for a sign up

Fall Outdoor Programs

Join Elsa and Conor from Wilders Way in learning all about edible plants that grow in Luther’s natural areas. Classes will entail walking through forests and prairies, identifying plants, and possibly preparing a tea or snack with your edible treasures!

Register for classes HERE!

  • Saturday October 21st, 10am-12pm

Explore Decorah through a new lenses by paddling on the Upper Iowa River! Both canoes and kayaks are available.

  • Sunday September 17th @ 2:00pm
  • Sunday October 8th @1:00pm
  • First Weekend in November

Sign Up Here

Want to schedule your own river trip with us? Email recreation@luther.edu or stop by Union 104.


Get out an explore more of Decorah’s natural areas! No sign up needed, we will meet outside the Union before each outing.

  • Sunday September 10th @3:00pm: Van Peenan
  • Saturday October 14th @10:00am: Malanaphy Springs

The Niagara Cave, just 30 minutes out of Decorah is a great way to explore The Driftless Region- just underground! This is a mile long walking tour that will last around an hour. There is a small fee of $10/person.

  • Saturday September 30th @10:00am

Sign up Now! Registration will fill fast as we only have 22 spots!

Learn more about the Niagara Cave


Get out of Decorah and join fellow students studying in Rochester, Minnesota for a day of hiking and exploring. This is an all day excursion as we will leave campus at 9am and return around 4pm. Students should bring money for lunch.

  • Sunday October 1st, 9:00am-4:00pm

Sign Up Here!

Looking for something fun and outdoors during Fall Break?! Join us for a backpacking trip to Yellow River State Forest and day trips to surrounding trails near the Mississippi River. There is a $25-$40 fee for this trip.

  • Sunday October 15th-Tuesday October 17th

Sign up now as we are limited to the number of participants!

Going on your own trip during Fall Break? Reserve gear for free here or stop into Union 104!

Did you know Luther had it’s very own high ropes course!?

  • Saturday October 28th, 1:00pm-3:30pm

Sign up HERE to get out there!


Visit Pinters Gardens & Pumpkins for an afternoon of fun in corn mazes, pumpkin patches, apple orchards and more!

  • Sunday October 22nd, 1:00pm-3:00pm

Sign Up HERE!


Join us for a spooky night on the indoor climbing wall in Regents for a headlamp climb. No sign up necessary just bring yourself and others who may be interested!

  • Sunday October 29th, 8:00pm

Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

Pulpit Rock Campground
Located just over a mile from campus, Pulpit Rock is a very convenient campground. Read more information about Pulpit Rock Campground.

Chimney Rock Canoe Rental and Campground
Deb Keefe
3312 Chimney Rock Road
Cresco, IA 52136
Phone: 563-735-5786
Toll Free: 877-787-CAMP (2267)

Full-service campground and canoe livery service along the scenic Upper Iowa River which features 100-200 ft. limestone bluffs. Located only a short distance from Cold Water Creek Trout Stream, anglers will catch trout and small mouth bass, while nature lovers can discover caves, hike, or bike. For the hunter, there is an abundance of white tail deer, wild turkeys, and pheasants. Facilities include: shelter house, picnic tables, fire rings, shower house, rec room, dump station, swimming area, volleyball court, and playground equipment. Ice, Firewood, and bait are also sold on the premises. Rentals include canoes, kayaks, tubes, cabins, tents, and electrical sites.

Highland General Store and Campground and Bear Creek Cabins
Bev & Gary Stortz
3497 Highlandville Road
Highlandville, IA 52149
Phone: 563-546-7722

The General Store & Campground have lots to offer for everyone! The campground features 10 campsites with electricity and approximately 10 primitive sites. They are located right along South Bear Creek, the #1 trout fishing stream in Iowa. Highland General Store is equipped with a post office, large variety of groceries, gifts, movies, and a full fishing/tackle area. The trout streams do not freeze over in the winter months and are stocked weekly April through October. The store, campground, and cabins are open year round.

Hruska’s Canoe & Kayak Livery & Bluffton Campground
Duane Hruska
3233 347th Street
Kendallville, IA 52101
Phone: Kendallville 563-547-4566 or Bluffton 563-735-5633

Hruska’s Canoe Livery, in Kendallville and Bluffton, was established in 1970 and remains under its original ownership. They maintain the Bluffton Campgrounds which features electrical hookups, access to fresh water, fire rings, ice, playground equipment, and solar showers.

Yellow River State Forest, IA
Located 30 miles from Decorah. Read more information about the Yellow River State Forest.

Canoe and Kayak Checkouts

Luther students can check out any of the four canoes and ten kayaks owned by Luther for free! We even have a trailer that you can use to transport them if you have a vehicle with a 2-inch ball hitch and are checking out all kayaks or trailers. Luther students have priority usage of the equipment. Reservations for the equipment can be made by emailing recreation@luther.edu or coming to the Rec Services Office (Union 104). The Recreational Services office does not offer transportation and boats are not available any Sunday afternoons as we offer our own trips down the river.

We will contact you regarding availability and pick up at the time of your reservation.

For canoe, kayak, and tube rental providers in Decorah, see the Rentals page.

Northeast Iowa contains some of the best trout fishing in the Midwest. Likewise, the hunting opportunities for a vast array of game animals are at the fingertips of students.

The bucks people dream of are abound in northeast Iowa for those who spend the time to notice them. Pheasant hunting has grown as well but please follow the DNR guidelines.

Public Hunting Areas

Areas in Winneshiek County as listed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Gun Storage is available at Chase the Adventure gun and hunt club, located at 1838 Middle Calmar Road. They have many other amenities so check out their web site for more information. Telephone Number is: 563-532-9821


Decorah is well-known for the excellent trout fishing opportunities that exist on the outskirts of the town. Almost all of the streams contain reproducing trout, and most are stocked with trout every few weeks. Find out more about the 11 trout streams that exist around Winneshiek County along with other specific information about the stream or river by visiting the Iowa DNR Trout Stream website.

There are over 50 different parks located all over Winneshiek County with 20 of them located in the Decorah area alone. View a map for directions. Here are a few of our favorite parks.

Decorah Area Featured Parks

Van Peenan

Found on 120 acres just north of Ice Cave Road. The park contains a freshwater spring, 8 acres of tall prairie grass, and in combination with the adjacent parks, over 15 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and cross-county skiing. The park is a Natural Wildlife area and therefore not developed for picnicking or camping.

City Prairie

34 acres along the Upper Iowa river south of Ohio Street (near Aase Haugen Home). The park consists of mowed trails for walking, running, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Also has a beautiful butterfly garden and benches to sit and enjoy the scenery.

Dunning’s Spring and Ice Cave Hill

115 acres in the northern part of Decorah. This park presents a scenic 200 ft natural waterfall and stream, ice cave, trails for hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing as well as being a historical marker. It also provides picnic tables and grills for cooking out and bonfires.

Malanaphy Springs

Located northwest of Decorah, the park provides a canoe and inner-tube landing, hiking and cross-country skiing trails, as well as a spring feed waterfall.


Found on 105 acres between Decorah and Freeport. Palisades Park has a scenic overlook, trails for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. Also provides picnic tables, benches, and grills for cooking out.


56 acres located on the southwest part of Decorah at the intersections of Highway 52 and Highway 9 (Upper Broadway). It features several picnic tables and benches, electrical outlets, grills for cooking out and bonfires, drinking fountains as well as restrooms. There are also three playground areas, a playground diamond, a sand volleyball court and excellent hiking trails. Other interesting features are its bandshell, scenic overlooks, Whalen Cabin, and Schulze Brick Kiln.

Trout Hatchery

Found south of Decorah off of Highway 9 on Trout Run Rd. The station upholds all sizes of trout tanks where trout are reared before release to streams. Fish food is available; open daily. Also contains picnic tables and playground equipment. For more information, call 563-382-8324.

Twin Springs

48 acres west of Decorah on Twin Springs Road. The park contains a stocked trout stream with a children’s fishing pond, as well as trails for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. Also has picnic tables and grills for cooking out and bonfires.

Will Baker and Pulpit Rock

Will Baker Park is 11 acres just east of Highway 52 and adjacent to Decorah Municipal Campground. It provides a canoe and inner-tube landing along the Upper Iowa River, a lookout over the river valley, playground equipment, a picnic shelter, and opportunities for hiking.

Regional Parks in Winneshiek County

Cardinal Marsh

1200 acres located northwest of Ridgeway off of Highway 9 on Madison Road along the Turkey River. Considered to be one of the best places for bird watching in all of Winneshiek County especially when enjoying the migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall. Contains four wetland ponds with hiking trails that surround them and go through the woods. The wildlife area also provides a good place for duck hunting. No facilities are located in area.

Lake Meyer

Located 3 miles southwest of Calmar, this 120-acre piece of land contains primitive camping as well as electrical hookup. Also provides picnic areas, a bathroom, shower, fire pits, grills, and firewood. The park also presents a lake with boat landing and doc, fishing, trails for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, playground equipment, bird watching, nature learning center, and a conservation prairie. For more information call 563-534-7145.

Regional Parks Outside of Winneshiek County

Backbone State Park

Iowa’s first and notably best state park located 3 miles south of Strawberry Point. The park offers a variety of things including numerous camping areas, trails for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing, a scenic waterfall, playground equipment, and cliffs for climbing. The Backbone Lake provides area for swimming, boating, and fishing. Also available are picnic shelters and tables, electrical hookups, and shower houses. For further information, visit the State Parks website!

Effigy Mounds

A vast 2,526 acres located 4 miles north of Marquette off of Highway 76. The acreage is split by the Yellow River into north and south units. Located within the park are 206 known prehistoric American Indian mounds. Walking trails are provided to view the different mounds. Guided tours are available year round. For more information call (563) 873-3491 or visit the Effigy Mounds website.

Goeken County Park

Located 5 miles north of West Union along Highway 150 near Eldorado. A roadside park stretching 6.5 acres. Provides a remarkable view of the Turkey River Valley and the village of Eldorado. Also has four electrical hookups, camping areas, two shelters, picnic tables, pit toilets, water, and a playground.

Pikes Peak State Park

Located 1.5 miles south of McGregor just east of Highway 340. The park is considered to comprise the highest bluff along the Mississippi and be located in the “Paleozoic Plateau” region of Iowa. The park contains several overlook structures, shelters and picnic tables, playground equipment, and a concession location. There are also camping areas, shower buildings, restrooms, electrical hookups and trails throughout for hiking and mountain biking.

Volga River State Recreation Area

5420 acre park located north of Fayette just east off of Highway 150 on Ivy Rd. Offers a variety of things including 49 non-modern camping areas, water, hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and equestrian trails. Provides an excellent habitat for a variety of different species animals. Hunting and fishing opportunities are available. For more information: Contact Scot Michelson at 563-425-4161 or visit the Volga River website.

Yellow River State Forest

8,500 acres located near Waterville on 729 State Forest Road, forest entrance via Harpers Ferry or State Highway 76. Exhibits unique terrain and a variety of plant and animal life. Offers year round camping, trails for hiking, equestrians, and cross-country skiing. Hunting and fishing are also available (free admission). For more information, contact the Area Forester at (563) 586-2254.

Snow on the ground? No problem! Many of the trails in the area become great places to cross country ski in the winter. On a Saturday afternoon, you might like to rent some skates and head down to the local ice skating rink. For those into downhill skiing or snowboarding, the closest hill is just over an hour away. When the weather starts to change it doesn’t mean that you outdoor recreation has to end!

Cross Country Skiing


Decorah Bicycles
101 College Drive
(563) 382-8209
Please check the Decorah Bicycles website for current store hours.
Located near the Whippy Dip

Suggested Places

City Prairie
Distance: 2 miles
Level: beginners
Characteristics: flat, groomed trail
Comments: This route is convenient if you are renting from the bike shop
Access: From Ohio Street to near to Aase Haugen Nursing Home.

Luther’s Cross Country Course
Distance: 2 miles
Level: beginners
Characteristics: double-track and skating lane, mostly flat
Access: Across from Regents Center

Van Peenan Park
Distance: 4 miles
Level: beginners to intermediate
Characteristics: double-track through both native prairie and pine trees
Access: From Skyline Road

Upper Ice Cave
Distance: 1.25 miles
Level: intermediate to advanced
Characteristics: ungroomed
Comments: Offers a beautiful view of the Upper Iowa River Valley below
Access: from Ice Cave Rd

Lower Ice Cave
Distance: 1 mile
Characteristics: flat trail 3/4 mile ungroomed
Access: from either Ice Cave Road near Dunnings Springs or at the corner of Quarry Hill road and Ice Cave near Palisades

Distance: 2 miles
Level: intermediate to advanced
Characteristics: double-track and skating trails
Comments: A beautiful park with a nice view of Decorah, but very hilly
Access: available from Park Drive at the end of Ice Cave Road

Dug Road/Lower Phelps/Oneota Drive
Distance: 2.5 miles
Level: Beginners
Characteristics: groomed double track with skating lane. 3/4-mile of this trail is lighted until 11 p.m. and relatively flat
Comments: Located between a limestone bluff and the Upper Iowa River, this is a very beautiful trail. If you continue away from campus towards Palisades (instead of towards the campground) it continues to follow the river, however the trail is much less sheltered.
Access: from the west end off US Highway 52 on Oneota Drive, or at the west end of Main St. Very convenient if renting from the bike shop.

Twin Springs Park
Distance: 3/4-mile
Level: Intermediate to advanced
Characteristics: un-groomed
Comments: Overlooks Twin Springs trout stream.
Access: from Twin Springs Park off of US Hwy 52

Ice Skating

Place to Skate

Each winter the basketball courts at Wayside Park on the corner of Fifth Avenue and College Dr. are flooded to make a skate rink.

Skate Rentals

Decorah Bicycles
101 College Drive
(563) 382-8209
Check the Decorah Bicycles website for current store hours.
Located near the Whippy Dip.

Downhill Skiing

Mt. LaCrosse
La Crosse, WI 54602

Sundown Mountain
16991 Asbury Rd
Dubuque, IA 52002

Luther College Natural Areas Walking Trail (5 Mile Loop)

Created with much assistance from the 2010 land interns, the new natural areas loop explores almost every corner of Luther’s 800 acre campus, from the river’s edge to the ridge line.

Paved Bike Trails

Trout Run Trail

Trout Run trail is a paved 12 mile loop encircling Decorah. See the updated map for more information, as this route is under construction.

Prairie Farmer Recreational Trail

The trail runs from Calmar, in Winneshiek County, northwest to the Howard County line near Cresco. This 18 mile trail is one of Iowa’s typical railroad-conversion trails, connecting several small towns in a setting of rural scenery mixed with periodic woodlands and remnants of the natural tall-grass prairie. The smooth, well-maintained crushed-limestone trail carries hiking, biking, and skiing traffic in a more relaxed atmosphere than it did during the age of iron rails and steam power. Trail hours are from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Root River State Trail

Discover the dramatic river carved bluffs of southeastern Minnesota. The Root River State Trail is a 42 mile long multiple use trail through the picturesque rural communities of southern Minnesota. This asphalt trail was constructed upon an abandoned railroad, which is generally level and has wheelchair accessibility. Newly paved in 1999, the eastern segment between Money Creek Woods and Houston is relatively more challenging than the western segment with a rather steep, half-mile segment that may not be suitable for all users. Bicycling, in-line skating, and hiking are the main summer uses of the trail. Cross country skiing is popular in the winter. Wildlife is abundant and sightings of wild turkey, deer, hawks and turkey vultures are common. Rattlesnakes, a state threatened and protected species, are occasionally found on rock outcrops, along the river bottoms, or sunning themselves on the trail. They should be left alone.

Parking for Root River Trail

  • Fountain: From Highway 52 take County Road 8 about one mile to parking lot by city park/softball field.
  • Houston: Houston Nature Center, turn west on Plum Street off of Hwy 76, go one block.
  • Preston: Highway 52 to Fillmore St. (Co. Road 12), approximately 1/2 mile to the parking lot.
  • Lanesboro: Parking along streets, at the parking lot by the Community Center and Sylvan Park. Overflow parking is being developed by the softball field.
  • Rushford: From Highway 16, turn north on Elm Street (State Hwy. 43), go one block west. Parking lot is by old depot.
  • Peterson: From Highway 16, turn west onto Highway 25 (Mill St.) into town; turn south on Fillmore St. to city park/campground.
  • Whalen: On the streets.

The Luther College Bike Share program provides an opportunity for students and employees with on-demand transportation (available mid-March through October, weather dependent).

We have quite a bit of outdoor equipment available for check out at NO COST to students, with a complete inventory list.

We request that online reservations are made 48 hours in advance of picking equipment up. Reservations for the equipment can be made by emailing recreation@luther.edu or coming to the Rec Services Office (Union 104).

Equipment will be picked up and dropped off in the Rec Services Office. There is a $10 restocking fee for all equipment checked out and not picked up.

Luther College Recreational Services assumes responsibility for reasonable maintenance and working condition of the checkout equipment.

It is the responsibility of the renter to:

  • Return the equipment in its original checkout condition
  • Assume liability for personal injury resulting from the use of the equipment
  • Pay for repairs of equipment which result from negligent use by the renter
  • Compensate the Recreation program in case of loss/damage of the equipment.

All checked out equipment must be returned in its original rented condition: dry, neatly packed, undamaged, and complete.

Failure to return the equipment back on time and in its original condition will result in a $10/day/item charge to your student account.

Luther College and the Decorah area provide many opportunities for outdoor recreation. View maps and other information regarding outdoor activities.

Find out what’s going on with Luther’s Center for Sustainable Communities! View upcoming sustainability events!

Learn more about Endeavor Together opportunities for incoming students or current student leaders.