Settings #6 – Five Falls State Park and Neshnala

Ro Delahanty is a trail runner, which is not the same thing as being a street or bike path jogger or competitive race runner – as runners go, she is very much in the minority. Trail runners literally seek out the narrow and often obstacle strewn dirt pathways that wind their way through the woods. Trees, rather than other runners, are their favored companions.

Which is why the combined hiking and equestrian trail network in Five Falls State Park and the adjacent Great River Forest preserve are always her first choice when she wants to go for a run.

Most of the time she will map out different loops by combining various parts of trails on top of the bluff, sometimes below the bluff, that total around five miles and will take her about forty minutes to complete – it’s not anything like world record time but is very respectable.

And virtually every visit includes a stop to pay her respects to Neshnala.

Like the Bottoms, Five Falls State Park is a geological oddity. Literally nestled in Fort Armstrong County’s southwest corner, its claim to fame is twofold:

– First, the Mississippi River valley bluff in the area is a two-mile long by up to hundred-foot tall series of limestone palisades. Rock Creek, which begins in Makuakeeta County but soon crosses into Fort Armstrong County, over the centuries has cut a gap through the rocks, creating a series of waterfalls as it tumbles over the bluff, some dropping more than twenty feet, thus inspiring the park’s name: Five Falls.

– The park’s second principal attraction is Neshnala, a giant white oak believed to be one of the oldest trees in Iowa, perhaps as old as three-hundred years.

The state park is just shy of eleven-hundred acres, while the next-door forest preserve is nearly twelve-hundred acres; between them there is close to fifteen miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

The area below the bluff in the state park is more heavily developed, including several picnic areas, two campgrounds and a boat launch on the Mississippi River. Above the bluff is the meadow where Neshnala stands, some scattered picnic areas and hundreds of acres of timber, much of it old growth, that is, having escaped the woodsman’s axe.

Five Falls core area of about six-hundred acres, including the Neshnala grove, was donated to the state in 1928, becoming Iowa’s third state park. Over the years other tracts have been purchased or donated to bring it to its present size.

While the state park and adjoining forest preserve have Irregular boundaries, together they are not quite two-miles wide, east to west, by a little over two-miles deep, north to south.

The main entrances to both parks are from Iowa Route 20 below the bluff; the state park’s Neshnala grove and combined trails complex above the bluff are accessed from County Line Road.

Next: The county’s forest preserves

© 2018 Dave Lager