There are many wild areas in Johnson County!
Most are maintained by the Johnson County Conservation Board, the State of Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Johnson County Conservation Board (JCCB) properties
The largest and most developed JCCB property is 1052-acre F.W. Kent Park, located on Highway 6 three miles west of the town of Tiffin. Its features include a campground with 86 sites, facilities for picnicking, and many trails open for hiking year-round and cross country skiing as snow cover permits. Fishing, kayaking/canoeing, and swimming are allowed in the lake. The Conservation Education Center provides opportunities to learn about Iowa’s native ecosystems as well as hands-on learning for kids and the chance to meet some animal ambassadors including turtles and snakes. There is also a bird blind, open year-round.
One ecologically noteworthy JCCB property is Ciha Fen, located approximately 1.5 miles southeast of the small town of Sutliff. It is a sand prairie/savanna complex, approximately 81 acres in size, and it is one of only two low-nutrient fens remaining in Iowa. The site also contains a number of rare plants.
Other large JCCB properties with ongoing development and ecological restoration include Cangleska Wakan (132 acres), Cedar River Crossing (407 acres), and Pechman Creek Delta (380 acres). Each of these properties highlights one or more of Johnson County’s native habitats. Learn more about these and other JCCB areas by following Nature Notes, the blog written by Johnson County Conservation’s naturalists.
Bur Oak Land Trust properties
Bur Oak Land Trust preserves a wide variety of natural areas varying in size from 1 acre to over 100 acres. Nine properties are scattered around Johnson County with a tenth property located near Grinnell. One of their properties, Big Grove Preserve, is directly adjacent to JCCB’s Cangleska Wakan.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) properties
The largest DNR property is Lake MacBride State Park, located a few miles west of the town of Solon. It has several campgrounds, a large lake for boating, fishing, and swimming, facilities for picnicking, and many trails. Canoes and other boats can be rented.
Other DNR properties include 13,708-acre Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area and 30-acre Swan Lake Wildlife Management Area, located northwest of North Liberty. Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area is associated with the Coralville Reservoir and stretches along the Iowa River nearly to the border of Iowa County to the west. Swan Lake is a good location to observe migrating waterfowl. The DNR page for Swan Lake can be found here.
Redbird Farms Wildlife Management Area (464 acres) is located southwest of Iowa City on Black Diamond Rd (County Rd F52), a few miles to the west of the intersection of Highway 1.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) properties
The Corps owns a number of properties in Johnson County mainly along the Iowa River, the principal being Coralville Lake, aka the Coralville Reservoir. This is a multi-use area for boating, fishing, camping, a beach area, and other attractions and features a visitor center. A large flock of pelicans are resident on the reservoir and nearby Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area during a large portion of the year. Favorite hiking trails near Coralville Lake include those at Sugar Bottom Recreation Area and the Squire Point/Woodpecker Trail system. A major attraction near the Coralville Dam is the Devonian Fossil Gorge, exposed by the massive flood of 1993. A guide is available to explain the various features formed in Devonian times (around 350 million years ago).
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa administers the MacBride Field Campus, renting the property from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The field campus is home to the Iowa Raptor Project, facilities for the University of Iowa sailing club, and features many hiking trails which double as excellent cross-country skiing trails during the winter.
Other lesser known places in the county include:
Atherton Wetland – This is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land leased by Kirkwood Community College and contains a hiking trail. Kirkwood uses nearly 600 acres of the wetland as an outdoor laboratory for its students the college’s Parks and Natural Resources program. It is located on the Ely road, just to the south of the cutoff to Shueyville and Swisher.
Buttermilk Falls – This is an oxbow cut off from the historically meandering Iowa River and Prairie Creek. It is located in Johnson County’s boot heel (the far southeast corner), accessible from Tri County Bridge Rd. It is adjacent to both Washington and Louisa Counties on the Iowa River Water Trail. There are sometimes large flocks of waterfowl located here.