A part of the state's 4th largest drainage basin, the South Skunk travels 193 miles from Northeast Hamilton County to the confluence with the North Skunk in Southeast Keokuk County. From the confluence, the Skunk River flows another 70 miles to the Mississippi River South of Burlington.
The scenic 18 mile section between Story City and Ames, designated by the state as a "High Quality Water Resource" and known as "Story County's Upper Skunk River Canoe Trail", has long been popular with local canoeists, fisherman, and other outdoor recreationalists. A federal Recreational Trails Program grant has provided for the development of another 10 miles of water trail, from Ames to the Askew Bridge area near Cambridge.
* UNDER CONSTRUCTION (Please send your comments, suggestions, and helpful criticisms to rick(~at~)skunkriverpaddlers.org)
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7/8/07 - PLEASE leave the Skunk for others to enjoy! That is, leave it BETTER than you found it! A month ago Todd Burras wrote in "State's anglers urged to clean up their act" about a DNR Press Release scolding fisherman for their habit of leaving behind beverage and bait containers, fishing line, tackle, and the assorted packaging from such items. The DNR Fisheries Bureau Chief had described these anglers (not all anglers) as "lazy" and "disrespectful lawbreakers", accusing them of being "the worst of the worst" of outdoor groups in cleaning up after themselves. He'll have no argument from those of us that routinely pick up after such people, but there's another outdoor group which by comparison makes fisherman look GOOD! Those folks who are out for a relaxing day of sunshine on the river, often floating on children's beach toys while enjoying adult beverages, who somehow find it acceptable to leave said beach toys, cans, bottles, and other trash behind - along the river and at the various access points. We're happy to see people out enjoying the river but we also hope that they will be responsible users, and that some of them at least will learn to appreciate the resource and help protect it. Please be responsible adults. Carry out all waste.
Story City to E18 Access (130th Street/Hwy 221) - 3.7 miles (map)
- The Skunk River Water Trail begins at South Park, off Broad Street (Co Rd E15) in Story City. Put in below the
swinging bridge and dam.
- In this first section the river winds through wooded floodplain with numerous small riffles of glacial rocks, a few towering cut banks, and only a few glimpses of civilization. You'll pass Story City's waste treatment plant after 0.6 miles, and after meandering north will pass
Sowers Pioneer Cemetery river-left on a high bank, at approximately 1 mile. Another mile downstream a concrete ford sometimes produces a surfable wave. At approximately 3.5 miles, just above E18, Long Dick Creek enters river-left. The E18 Access is river-right just below the bridge.
E18 to Anderson Canoe Access (150th Street) - 3.2 miles (map)
- The switchback path at the E18 (Lekwa) Access was constructed in 2002, and it was this project which led to the Recreational Trails Grant. Replacement of the E18 bridge had resulted in a difficult carry down a steep and eroding hillside, and volunteers worked with Story County Conservation to construct a new path and armor the hillside against further erosion.
- This section is much like the first. The river straightens only slightly, and other than occasional traffic noise from I35 still feels quite remote. The streambed is often gravelly and glacial rocks are still abundant. It was this stretch of river, and in particular an old claw-foot bathtub, which inspired the formation of the Skunk River Navy. After about 1 mile, beyond a private camp area on river-right, a couple of toppled concrete piers are sometimes visible near the left bank. After another 0.3 miles you'll pass a small home atop a large cut bank on river-right.
- A Greenbelt Trail begins at a parking lot a few hundred feet east of the E18 Access and continues south to the Anderson Canoe Access (Greenbelt Map).
Anderson Canoe Access to Soper's Mill (south of 170th Street) - 3.6 miles (map)
- Canoe Access is river-left just above the 150th Street steel high-truss bridge. The steps at this access were constructed in 2005 over the course of several volunteer workdays, part of the Recreational Trails Grant.
- The Anderson Canoe Access was once known as the "H-tree Access", for a pair of elm trees which had grafted together. The H-tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the mid 1970's.
- Below the 150th Street bridge on river-right is the Forty & Eight Cabin, and the county owns land south from the 40 & 8 property to the end of 565th Avenue. Just beyond this area, roughly 1/2 mile beyond the bridge, you'll come to a massive log jam that must be portaged. You could take out river-right at the upstream end of the broken concrete riprap, or if you can do so safely, beyond the riprap at the entrance to a creek-sized flood channel. Exiting river-left at the sandbar requires an even longer portage.
- Appoximately 2.5 miles below the bridge you'll come to the Bear Creek area. Note that as of early 2008 camping is no longer allowed here. Trails connect with Pleasant Valley Road, the I35 southbound rest area and Sopers Mill. A National Riparian Buffer Demonstration Site is several miles upstream on Bear Creek. And in a controversial 1970's proposal, this area would have become part of the "Ames Lake".
- Shortly after Bear Creek, between a quick right and left turn, you'll come to the first of several small riffles and drops. The limestone rubble that forms this riffle is outwash from "Pleasant Creek" that enters river-left. Stop to explore limestone outcropppings along the creek and the view from the hilltop just to the north. Downstream & just above the 170th Street bridge you'll see the abutments of the historic Rainbow Arch Bridge, which after standing 120 years was washed out in June 1996.
- Soper's Mill stood on the east bank in the area of today's bridge (built in 1939). At low water remants of the crib dam are visible on the streambed above the bridge, and the barn on river-left is thought to have been constructed with materials from the original mill structure. The mill dam washed out in 1909. River access is another 1/4 mile beyond the bridge on river-right, just above a large rock riffle (map). This area was originally aquired by the state in the 1970's, and the riffle established as fish habitat enhancement. A state fish habitat grant funded reconstruction of the riffle in 2006.
- The Greenbelt trail heads east on 150th from Anderson's, then south on Pleasant Valley Road past Crooked Bend Access to a network of trails at the Bear Creek area. (River access is difficult at Crooked Bend and is not recommended). The trail splits after crossing Bear Creek, one branch heading to the I35 southbound rest stop, and the other along the river to Soper's Mill. (Greenbelt Map)
Soper's Mill to West Peterson Park (south of 180th Street) - 2.1 miles (map)
- Access at Soper's Mill is approximately 1/4 mile below the bridge at a constructed rock riffle. Just downstream and at the end of the Soper's area a steel pipe lies across the river and creates a surfable wave at flows near 250 cfs. (This pipe once capped a small wooden dam and some verticle 2x6" boards are still visible near each bank. There may also have been a ford crossing here in pioneer days - see History). A half-mile below the Soper's area, Keigley Branch enters river-right, just as the Skunk turns south. Shortly after the turn you'll be entering public land again and on river-right there are a series of spoil piles from a 1930's rock quarry. The primitive camp sites below Keigley Creek near McFarland Park were closed early in 2011.
- Above the 180th Street bridge a sharp right turn marks the start of a series of riffles and runs to 180th Street and Peterson Park. The channel divides around two small gravel islands and the preferred route generally is river-left. At 180th an old set of steps once provided acccess river-left, but an improved access is 1/2 mile further in West Peterson Park, above a bank of limestone rip rap and opposite the opening to the east lake.
- The Greenbelt Trail takes to the road again, east on 170th past Pleasant Grove Church and then south on 560th to trails which connect with McFarland Park near the old Bauge Cabin. McFarland Park trails also extend west to the primitive campsites, then north almost to Keigley Creek and south to 180th Street. From McFarland one must go west on 190th Street and cross the river to trails in West Peterson Park. (Greenbelt Map)
Peterson Park to Sleepy Hollow Access (West Riverside Road) - 2.7 miles (map 1, 2)
- The West Peterson Park access, established in 2005 as part of the Recreational Trails Grant, is straight east of the swimming beach parking lot and opposite the east lake. The bank that once separated the river from the east lake (a former sand and gravel quarry) washed out in the flood of 1996, and rather than repair the east bank, the Conservation Board chose to protect the west lakes from further flooding.
- Beyond the lake and rock riffle and near the south end of Peterson Park you'll pass under an electric transmission line, and between a sweeping right turn and sharp bend south, you'll have an opportunity to portage back across to the west lake. This is the south end of West Peterson Park and also the limit of the Altamont glacial advance (see Geology). The Ames Lake dam would have been constructed in this area.
- A sweeping left turn and sharp right brings you alongside the Martin Marietta Ames Mine. Far off to the west, not visible from the river, are terraces of an older floodplain.
- The river now follows a southeasterly course with numerous small riffles, passing near the Skycrest subdivision and flowing over a sheet of limestone bedrock. Nearing West Riverside Road the river pools above the US Filter dam, former site of the Hannum, or Franklin Mill. Large timbers, "cribbing" from the original rock crib dam, project downstream from beneath a concrete cap. And a limestone bridge abutment, part of the old Marietta Road, still stands river-left near an old USGS stream gauge house. Portage river-right and be wary of strong eddy currents below the dam.
- Another couple riffles brings you to West Riverside Road and Sleepy Hollow Access, river-right below the bridge. Across Highway 69 is Ada Hayden Heritage Park, a former sand & gravel quarry acquired by the City of Ames in 2002.
- A Greenbelt trail extends from 180th Street along or near the river through West Peterson Park, looping around the west lake and back to the beach and parking lot. In June of 2005 the SCC Trails Committee extended a trail another 1/4 mile south on newly aquired public land and easements to 190th Street (190th is not visible from the river and river access is not provided). A trail from the East Peterson parking lot extends south past McMichael's Pioneer Cemetery, just southeast of the east lake. (Greenbelt Map)
Sleepy Hollow Access to North River Valley Park (East 13th Street, Ames) - 2.5 miles
- The 2.5 miles from Sleepy Hollow to River Valley Park is a pleasant run past high wooded hills on the right and wooded floodplain on the left. You'll see a few homes before passing Camp Cantawa(?), Inis Grove Park, and Homewood Golf Course. Near the start of a large sheet-pile retaining wall a long set of wooden stairs leads to Inis Grove Park, and a newly paved trail follows the river from this area south to the pedestrian bridge at Carr Pool. The paved trail is to be extended north to Grand Avenue at Bloomington Road and south to the Hunziker Youth Sports Complex at US HWY 30. A popular network of trails in McDonald, Gunder, and Nutty Woods begins across the river from Carr Pool at the pedestrian bridge. Take out river-right, around the bend from the pedestrian bridge, at the "Dam Ahead" sign just a bit further downstream.
North River Valley Park to SE 16th Street, Ames - 2.7 miles (map)
- Prior to the Recreational Trails Grant Story County's Canoe Trail ended at the dam in River Valley Park. The valley broadens below Ames and beginning in 1893 the Skunk was straightened from Ames well into Mahaska County. The channelization is not as apparent while floating as one might think, the river having reclaimed some meanders in an attempt to reestablish equilibrium (see History). The Recreational Trails Grant has extended the trail 10 miles to the Askew Bridge/Cambridge Pond area (map).
One can easily portage around the dam at River Valley Park and continue past East 13th Street and Lincoln Way to SE 16th Street or the Hunziker Youth Sports Complex. You'll experience scenes all too common along Iowa streams, all representative of the disregard we have for the health of these natural systems and for the importance of them as natural corridors. You'll pass banks of broken concrete riprap, large stormwater outlets, gravel bars littered with broken glass, concrete, and tile, an industrial area near Lincoln Way and then row-cropped agricultural land with expansive cut banks.
Interestingly, in late 2004 a pair of Bald Eagles chose to establish a nest in this area and successfully fledged two young in July '05.
- Squaw Creek enters river-right above SE 16th. Squaw Creek is the largest tributary to the South Skunk (slightly larger than Indian Creek in Jasper County) and because most of Ames lies in the Squaw Creek Watershed, flow at the Squaw Creek gauge can equal or exceed that at the Skunk River gauge above Ames when run-off is great. An enjoyable urban float can be taken from Ames' Brookside Park to SE 16th, though a portage is required around a small dam at Lincoln Way. My favorite section Of Squaw Creek is upstream in Boone County, near County Road E18 where it passes though the end moraine of the Altamont Advance (see Geology) - rd
SE 16th to 265th - 3.7 miles (map)
- A new river access and future recreational trail head has been constructed at SE 16th Street. From here you can enjoy an easy float to the Askew Bridge near Cambridge. And though the channelization isn't always obvious, the effects of Ames stormwater discharges are evident in the expansive cut banks and the numerous pools of litter. Still, it's an enjoyable float. As in the upper sections you'll be paddling through a lush green and often shaded corridor. The pace here is suitable for beginners and the flow sufficient even when the upper sections may be too low. You can expect to see abundant wildlife despite surrounding agricultural use (watch for a heron rookery South of Ken Maril Road).
- Near mile two you'll pass banks which have been re-shaped and armored in an attempt to halt further erosion (example) and will pass an historic bridge, once part of Ken Maril Road. Another mile will bring you to 265th Street where a new access was established in 2005 when the county replaced the bridge.
265th to Askew Bridge/Cambridge Pond (290th at R70) - 3.5 miles (map)
- Just below 265th you'll really begin to notice that the river has been straightened. You'll soon pass Interstate 35 and at 1.5 miles you'll reach a treeless "shaped" bank which is the Skunk River Flats. Wing dam structures have created tall sandbars which are a great place to pull off for a break. The 280th Street bridge marks the end of this area and the Cambridge Pond take out is a mile downstream, river right beyond
Walnut Creek & some distance above the Askew Bridge. The stepped landing was constructed by volunteers in 2005 as part of the Recreational Trails Grant.
- Downstream in Polk and Jasper Counties, the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt extends 10 miles along the Skunk and includes old oxbows and meanders of the original stream channel, another great area to explore by canoe.
- Best floating conditions occur in the Spring or Fall, or anytime flow is above 120 cfs at the USGS Ames gauge.   Between Bear Creek (Sopers Mill) and Riverside Road there are several rocky riffles and small drops. These are most interesting at flows near 200-250 cfs.
- More information on the South Skunk and Skunk Rivers can be found at:
- Public areas are shown on the SCC maps.   Streamside camping is allowed only at two sites near McFarland Park. (The Bear Creek sites were closed by the SCCB early in 2008) (If your car will parked overnight at an SCC area, please put a note on your dashboard indicating that you are camping).   Note that some sections of both the river and greenbelt trail lie outside the public areas, so unless you know differently, assume you are on private property.   (See "Who owns the rivers?").
- Canoe rentals are available locally at: