Iowa’s Geode State Park: A good place for a trail run

24 Jul

Like the Blues Brothers in the clip at the top of this post, I’m on a mission from God. However, I’m not getting the band back together. I’m on a quest to conquer the Bighorn 50-mile trail run next spring.

And if you’re going to run trail races, you need to do your training runs on trails, which has proved difficult in my corner of southeast Iowa.

That’s why I nearly jumped for joy when we discovered Geode State Park over the Fourth of July holiday.

The credit for the discovery goes to my daughter, Laura. She’s got a bit of tree-hugger streak in her — that’s a good thing. She enjoys the simple things, like hiking and biking and spending time with family and friends. So during her visit over the holiday weekend, she wanted to take a trail hike with her mother and I, and Laura’s internet search for nearby trails turned up Lake Geode, which is about a 40-minute drive from Keokuk. What a neat place.

This bobcat was recently spotted at Lake Geode State Park.

This bobcat was recently spotted at Lake Geode State Park. Click on the photo to read more about the sighting.

The park features a 7-mile trail around the lake. It’s mostly single-track dirt and rock, has some decent hills and easy creek crossings. At times, the trail is just inches from the lake. At times, it’s a few hundred feet away. Most of the trail is tree covered, which makes it runnable even on sunny, hot, humid days.

The elevation gain/loss won’t compare to the trail in the Bighorns, but for Iowa, it’s a pretty good substitute.

Before this discovery, I had run some trails at Shimek State Forest. But there really aren’t any maintained trails, outside of the equestrian trails. You can run the paths in the winter, but in the summer, they are overgrown with tall grass and twigs. It’s less than ideal.

And we’ve run some trails near Peoria, Ill., where we’ve done a couple of trail races. But that’s a 2-hour drive from home, and really isn’t practical for routine, weekly runs.

Since discovering Lake Geode, a friend also recommended nearby Argyle Lake State Park in Illinois. We’ll give that a try some weekend, too. And we need to check out Lacey Keosauqua State Park

I am so lucky to be able to head out my front door and be on some beautiful, low-traffic roads along the Mississippi River. I have a 20-mile route between Keokuk and Fort Madison that stays off of heavily trafficked roads for all but 4 miles, and much of it is along the river. It has both long, steep hills and some flat stretches. It’s a great road to run.

But running on the trails in Wyoming has driven home the point that I really need to get in more training miles on trails. And with that in mind, it appears now I’ve found some viable options.


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7 Responses to “Iowa’s Geode State Park: A good place for a trail run”

  1. @chasing42 July 28, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    I’ve been meaning to check out Lake Geode for some time now! Hitting the trails and elevation is Iowa is definitely a challenge, so we have to get creative, but there’s plenty of beauty to be discovered 🙂


    • Mark Smidt July 28, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      We went to Lacey Keosauqua State Park on Sunday. It has potential, but as far as “get out of the car and run a long trail run,” Geode seems much better. I think I’ll have a more difficult time stringing together longer miles at Lacey Keosauqua.


      • @chasing42 July 28, 2014 at 10:55 am #

        Good to know…stringing together longer runs is certainly part of the challenge- even the best trails just aren’t that long!


  2. Jason August 21, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    Looks like a great place to run!


  3. Guy Comer August 30, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Hello Mark,
    It’s great that you have found a good park close by with hills. I do the same thing in relatively flat Madison at a place called Indian Lake State Park. As I said earlier in the summer, I know you are going to finish in 2014 and my bet’s on you. If I may be so bold as to offer a couple of suggestions for you to consider or disregard as you deem best with the clear understanding that I am really just a neophyte ultrarunner who finishes (that is when I don’t bonk and DNF on a given day) in the back of the pack that makes no claim to being an expert on anything, but has nonetheless found the following helpful:
    1) Don’t worry about total miles on your long technical trail, hill runs. Just go for total time and elevation. 20 miles on trails like these is probably easily the equivalent of 30 miles on level pavement.
    2) Power walk the uphills. This is an important and different skill from running that takes some practice.
    3) By the same token run the downhills hard to condition your quads and take advantage of the free speed provided by gravity. I’ve always thought you stand to do more damage by trying to slow your natural momentum than going with it. Of course if the terrain is super technical and dangerous, you’ve got to slow it down enough to prevent a fall as best you can, but within reason, I say go for it.
    4) Try a treadmill workout of 2 hours with fifteen minutes of power walking at 4.0 mph and 12 degrees up incline, alternating with running at best pace you can maintain for that time period at one degree up.
    Anyhow, I don’t know if that’s worth anything, but it’s my best guess. I wish you the best next year.
    Best Wishes, Guy


    • Mark Smidt September 3, 2014 at 8:49 am #

      Thanks for the well-thought-out advice, Guy. I really appreciate it.
      I’ve been working on all the things you suggest, except the treadmill. I’ll have to figure out how to do a similar workout without a treadmill.
      I managed 62 miles on the trail in August by doing all my long runs on trails. In the past, I would have had 0 trail miles. I think this is really going to help next year,
      Hope to see you in the Bighorns again!
      — Mark



  1. A trail runner in Oregon striving to be an Oregon trail runner | in the deed - February 1, 2016

    […] countless hours running the hills along the Mississippi River, and recently, I added the trails at Geode State Park, which offer some fun single-track around a scenic lake. From this training, I was able to run […]


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