Pinicon Ridge County Park

Pinicon Ridge County Park

One of Linn County Conservation Department’s most developed and popular recreation areas is Pinicon Ridge CountyPark located near Central City. Pinicon Ridge Park is a multi-use park that offers many recreational activities.  The park has a unique history and as the park has grown, there are many hidden gems that residents and visitors may be surprised to learn about.  Let’s start with a little history about the park.


Plans began in the late 1950’s to create a park near the Central City area. The first 182 acres were purchased in 1960 at a cost of $21,000.00.   The park was originally known as the “Upper Central City Park”.  In 1961, there was a local naming contest for the park.  The name, “Pinicon Ridge Park” (submitted by Mrs. (Eula) Virgil Boynton of Cedar Rapids) came in first place with “Pinicon Park” and “Ridgewood Park” second and third, respectfully.  The winner received a $50.00 savings bond. 

Another area of the park gained its name because of a local resident. The first backwaters you see as you enter the park are still known to Central City locals and the conservation staff as “Webb’s Basin”.  Prior to the Conservation Department purchasing land for the creation of the park, several cottages dotted the river bluffs.  Once of these cottages was owned by Webb Pipes.  Webb was born (at the cottage) in the late 1800s and lived there by himself since he was 24 years of age.  Webb was known as “mentor of nimrods and fisherman up Central City way”.  He mostly fished and hunted the Wapsi but did work at the old mill for 14 years and the light plant for three.  He had seen a lot of changes on the river during his lifetime including the introduction of carp and he remembers seeing “oodles” of prairie chickens, which are now extirpated from most of the state.   

Most of the park property was purchased throughout the 1960’s.  Many of the purchases were made with the help of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and through the Federal Open Spaces Program.  Other purchases have been possible with help from local organizations such as Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited and the North Linn Fish & Game Club.

The early 1960’s found a bridle trail being established in the park (which was later phased out) as the park was developed more for picnic facilities, restroom construction and major expansion of the road systems were beginning. 

The low-head dam on theWapsipiniconin Central City is actually part of the park property and was constructed in 1967, impounding approximately 90 acres of water.  The original dam in Central City was built in 1856, which succumbed to flooding.  Between 1857 and 1858, a large gristmill and sawmill were built on the river and that dam finally gave way by 1950, leading to the current low-head dam that is nearing one-half century old.

The park has now grown to 965 acres that the Conservation Department manages today with the last purchase of 40 acres occurring in 2009.  There are 5 full-time staff that work out of the park as it is the office and maintenance shop headquarters for what is known as the Wapsipinicon District for the Conservation Department.  In addition to the full-time staff, the park hires 8 seasonal employees for the warm recreation season.  The Wapsipinicon District take’s care ofPiniconRidgeParkas well as several other parks and natural areas along theWapsipiniconRiverand the Buffalo Creek.

PiniconRidgeParkdoes have many modern amenities including lodges, camping cabins and campgrounds.  The park is divided by theWapsipiniconRiver.  The park area to the south of the river is known as the “day-use” area and the area to the north of the river is known as the Flying Squirrel area or campground side of the park.  There is another area of the park that is located north ofValley Farm Road.  This area is divided by two parcels which are known as the Flying Squirrel Trail and Masterhand Addition areas.  These two areas are even open to public hunting.  The rest of the park is designated as refuge. 

Geology & Geography

The name Pinicon Ridge is a great fit for the park due to the geology of the area.  The Devonian age bedrock that lies underneath the park is from the Wapsipinicon Group and has been identified as the Pinicon Ridge Formation.  The rock consists of unfossiliferous carbonate rocks, evaporates, shales and breccias.  Some of this Pinicon Ridge formation can be seen in its natural state below a flowing creek in one of the secluded areas of the park off of the Woodpecker Hill Trail. 

This area is known as “Horseshoe Falls”, which consists of a small series of waterfalls that flows down one of the valley floors.  The trail has a footbridge that crosses the creek above the falls and is a nice location for taking pictures or just finding some serenity.  The falls were known to have been a sacred area for local Native Americans of the area as well.

Camping Facilities

Two lodges, Horseshoe Falls Lodge (built in 1995) and Woodpecker Hill Lodge (built in 1967) are available for rent and are popular facilities for holding weddings, graduations, family reunions or other events.  The park has three open-air pavilions available with a new fourth one currently under construction.  Two of these pavilions are available for rent while the other two are first come-first served.  Woodpecker Hill Lodge also offers a winter recreation hill that is popular for sledding. 

There are three campground areas available at the park.  Group Camps located on the “day-use” south side of the park, are the only campsites that are reservable.  Flying Squirrel and Plain’s Campground, located on the north side of the park, have modern and primitive camping opportunities.  The modern camp sites include 50-amp electric with water hook-ups. Flying Squirrel and Plain’s campground sites are all first come-first served self registration.  Construction is scheduled to begin this fall to upgrade the area that is known as “Loop-B” in Flying Squirrel Campground.  This loop will be upgraded from 30-amp to 50-amp electric service and the majority of the sites are being moved to higher ground to alleviate flooding problems.  The park offers over 120 electric sites with many more non-electric sites available.  Flying Squirrel was even voted as one of the top ten camping destinations in Iowaby the Iowa Sportsman magazine.

There are four modern camping cabins available for rent at the park.  The cabins were constructed in 2001 and all have modern amenities.  If you want to camp but don’t want to purchase a lot of gear, then this is a great option.  The cabins are very popular and are booked early in the season. .  For more information on campgrounds or to reserve cabins and other facilities you can visit the department’s website at 

Park Amenities

How would you like to get a view of all of these areas at once?  Then you should climb to the top of the park’s observation tower located at the top of Woodpecker Hill.  This 72’ tower was originally a crane that was destined for the east coast.  However, the crane was donated from a local company inCedar Rapidsand was custom built and installed as an observation tower in 1966.  It is a popular stop for many park visitors and offers a magnificent view of theWapsipiniconValleyand the Central City area.

What else can visitors do at the park?  The park has a watercraft concession area and provides in-park hourly rentals for canoes, kayaks and paddleboats.  The park also offers up-river canoe shuttles including 2, 4 and 6 hour canoe float trips.  Conservation staff will do a short safety and training orientation at the park, shuttle patrons up to the drop off point and get the canoes launched on the river.  Visitors leisurely float theWapsipiniconback into the park where their vehicle or campsite awaits.  The park can handle large groups and has a fleet of 60 canoes available.  The watercraft concession is typically open from mid-May through the end of September.  There is also a public canoe/kayak launch site located next to the concession area.

The watercraft concession area is a very popular place for campers and visitors.  That’s not the only reason it is popular. The backwaters of the Wapsi offer some fantastic fishing at times.  The Conservation Department recently completed some fish habitat work in the back waters and installed two fishing jetties giving the public easier accesses to do some fishing.  While there, don’t forget to take a look at the eagle’s nest located west of the concessions parking lot.  The eagles have been nesting there for several years and are very tolerant of people.  They are currently setting on the nest again now, incubating eggs. 

The park has a wildlife pen known as the “Alexander Wildlife Area” that includes several elk and “Jack-O”, the white-tailed buck.  The whitetail has an extremely large non-typical rack and has been a huge attraction for deer and wildlife enthusiasts. 

Other items of interest in the park include a 9-hole disc golf course, a concrete boat ramp, playgrounds, horseshoe courts, sand volleyball courts.  There are geocaches hidden throughout the park that visitors try to find using their handheld GPS or smart phone.

Winter Recreation

There are recreation activities available all year long.  The park has a state designated snowmobile trail through the day-use side during the winter season.  There are also wonderful cross-country skiing opportunities and winter gives the park a whole new perspective during the winter months.   Prior to this unusually mild winter, we have had excellent cross country ski grooming conditions.  The skiing trail can be found on the Whippoorwill Trail located at the campground entrance off ofValley Farm Rd.  Often times, you may be the only one using the trails during the winter.  The park can be very quiet taking on a whole different type of beauty in the winter.  Also, don’t forget about the excellent ice-fishing opportunities in the backwaters near the watercraft concession!


So what about trails you ask?  The park offers over 12 miles of trails and the latest addition to the trail system is a foot bridge across theWapsipiniconRiver.  This bridge is called theMaryLundbyMemorialBridge, named after the late Senator, Mary Lundby.  TheIowalegislature dedicated $500,000 in 2010 to construct the bridge. The bridge will connect the campground side of the park to the day-use side of the park and will allow park visitors to access the trail from the park.  Construction of the bridge was completed this past fall and will open this coming spring once some additional groundwork and landscaping are completed. 

The park’s trail system will connect to the new trail system in Central City.  There will be a new trail underpass that will be constructed under theWapsipiniconRiverbridge at Highway 13; allowing campers to bike or walk from their campsite and access areas in Central City without having to cross Highway 13.  Construction is scheduled to begin this spring on the underpass.  Trail work in the park will also begin this spring, creating a comprehensive trail plan that will link all park trails.

As you can see, there are all kinds of things to see and do in this park.  It’s full of history and is a true treasure to LinnCounty.  There have been many memories made at the park in the past and many more are sure to come!  If you have any questions, you can reach the park office at (319)438-6616 or e-mail park staff at

Aaron Batchelder
Linn County Conservation Department

4 responses to “Pinicon Ridge County Park

  1. Robert Kuefler

    Our son & family live in Marion so we have camped at Flying Squirrel several times. We agree that this is very nice campground and park. The campsites are easy to get into and out of and are spacious. The shower house is always kept very clean. The new bridge will be a nice addition and likely encourage us to use the day area.

  2. I am from Central City, originally, and have brought my son and husband back to camp the past two years. At first my husband was skeptical, and my memories of flying squirrel were from the 70’s, but we were very pleased with the campground. We are especially impressed with the shower facilities as they are always clean, have warm water, and we aren’t charged for taking a shower. My husband has been telling everyone that it’s the nicest campground we’ve visited, and it always feels good to come “home” for a weekend.

  3. Pingback: Building Bridges: A Tribute to Mark Patterson and Mary Lundby » Thirty One Miles

  4. Nice post. I used to bee checking continuously thijs weblog and I’m inspired!
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