Viking Lake State Park | Stanton and Red Oak, Iowa | November 2020
Our new home is not exactly what most would consider mountainous, which is unfortunate. But what it lacks in elevation in makes up for in water sports. Rivers, streams, lakes; there are so many things to do on the water. But as of yet we do not have a kayak (although that will change by next spring), so we must enjoy the water from the shore. Fortunately, most all the lakes near us have some form of trail circumnavigating it.
For this weekend adventure we decided to drive an hour East into Iowa to visit Viking Lake State Park, as well as knock out another courthouse.
We drove East on US-34 over the Missouri and into Iowa, past the now familiar Glenwood and on into Montgomery county. Viking Lake State Park is just South of the highway. With it being the beginning of the off season, the park was extremely empty. We saw only one other car in any of the parking lots. We parked at our starting trailhead and began our hike.
The first thing that caught our eye was a tree with very large green fruit, starkly contrasted against the bare branches. We’ve seen the Osage Orange on rare occasion but never had gotten a picture. Little did we know we would see tons on this hike. With a native habitat much more to the south (almost exclusively in Texas), the tree was introduced into the plains states as a natural hedge before the invention of barbed wire. This led to its other common name — the hedge apple. I remember in grade school, my 3rd grade teacher having one of the fruits by the window as they allegedly repulsed insects, although that has been debunked nowadays.
The trail around the lake wound around through prairie and forest and down by the lake shore. Unlike other reservoirs we’ve seen, Viking Lake also had dozens of side dams along the feeder creeks and streams creating small ponds. This supposedly minimizes sedimentation of the main lake while providing more riparian ecosystems.
Overall, the trail around the lake was just over 6 miles, most of which was on trail-like surface, but with some road walking through and around the campground. You can see our trail recording here.
Finished with our hike, we started our drive back home on US-34, but not before a couple of stops. The first was because we saw a road side advert for Stanton, IA for ‘The World’s Largest Swedish Teapot’. We’re not ones to stop for every ‘world’s largest’ attraction, but when you’ve got time… Stanton was founded by Swedish immigrants in 1870, which might explain why the lake is called ‘Viking’ Lake. The teapot in question is a water tower tastefully decorated. Every town has got to have something to brag about.
Our second stop was in Red Oak, this time to see the Montgomery Courthouse. Easily one of the nicest courthouses in Iowa. Once we’ve finished with all 99, we think we’ll have to do a top 5 or 10 favorites.