Freehiking in Iowa

Iowa has a larger proportion of its land under cultivation than any other state, so there are no real wilderness areas suitable for extensive freehiking. But with a little ingenuity, there are still a couple of ways you can stretch your legs while unclad. I enjoyed both of them one fine weekday last July while staying at a primitive campsite on the Skunk River.

One way is to wade along the river. There are stretches where it curves away from the trail, and I’ve never seen anglers in this section.

I trudged slowly against the current, wearing a cap and carrying my shorts. I put them on briefly when passing a spot where a trailer on a hill overlooks the river through a gap in the trees. The bottom was sandy, so it was great for going barefoot. Where there was a sandy bank, I walked alongside the river, but otherwise I moved slowly through the knee-deep water, pausing often to observe the wonders of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. In 70 minutes I must have gone less than a mile.

The return trip was a little quicker, only 50 minutes. I forgot about the trailer with a view of the river and so stayed uncovered the whole way.

So that was a pleasant two hours solitary walk in sun and shade, with nothing but my skin between me and nature.

The other way to hike naked in Iowa is to walk a familiar trail at night. If you do encounter someone else, you will see each other’s lights long before anything else, and there will be plenty of time to slip something on.

I left my tent around 11:00 PM. It had been a hot day, and the temperature must have still been in the upper 70s, so a bare body felt entirely right. This time I wore water shoes, because I wouldn’t always be able to see where I was stepping.

It was nearly a full moon, and the trail is well maintained, so I didn’t turn on my flashlight most of the time, not even when trees towered over both sides of the trail, only when negotiating some rough patches.

I walked the trail from one access road to the next, a bit over a mile. I ventured out on the county road and began crossing the bridge. Car headlights appeared in the distance so I slipped on my shorts. But before they were all the way on, the car turned down a side road. I quickly got naked again.

The only sign of habitation was a light over a distant farmyard. It was too far away for the farm dogs to sense my presence. I wandered all over the canoe launch day use area.

The return trip was uneventful. This outing was about an hour. After such exercise I slept soundly atop the open sleeping bag. I was awakened all too early by sunlight and bird calls streaming through the open tent flap around 5:30 AM.

I hiked at night the next time I camped as well. I didn’t roam as far this time, but after going out to where my car was parked and seeing that no one else was in the area, I circled around the trails without carrying any cover-up.

Again, I slept well, until the thunder rolled in around 5:00 AM. I sprung out of the tent and quickly broke camp with morning wood bouncing about. Everything was taken down and rolled up just as the rain arrived. I hauled all my gear a quarter mile back to the car in the downpour—naked, of course. Normally I’d be cautious about nudity on the trail in daylight, but anyone out there at 5 in the morning in the rain would have to be as crazy as I am.

So there you have naked hiking in Iowa. If anyone has a place where you can do it farther than one mile, I’d be grateful if you could let me know about it.