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Upper Iowa River in Iowa

Trip Overview

Wow - Bring your camera - A great day trip down the upper Iowa with some class I water. We kayaked this section of the Upper Iowa in mid July 2016 and had fantastic day trip. This section of the upper Iowa river is a must paddle for people in the Midwest. We started our trip about 4 miles downstream of Kendalville IA and paddled for about 5 hrs. to Bluffton. This is a shallow gravel and sandy bottom river with the average depth of about 2 ft. We did not see a lot of fish but there were many eagles, heron, birds, deer and a few cows.

There are awesome limestone bluffs in several areas on one side of the of the river. I was surprised that the river is not deeper near the limestone bluffs since they rise so quickly from the water. The limestone bluffs are named the "Bluffton Palisades" and "Chimney Rock." Some of the bluffs rise 330 feet from the water. This is without a doubt the most scenic part of the 136 mile upper Iowa River from LeRoy Minnesota that flows to the Mississippi river in New Albin IA.

There are several island and small beaches with sandy and gravel shores where you can pull in to relax, eat or perhaps cool down for a few minutes. This would be a great paddle in late Fall after the leaves fall to expose the full view of all the limestone bluffs.

We checked with several local outfitters/kayak rental companies and no one rented Sit-On-Top Kayaks which would have been great for a warm summer day when you might want to get in and out of your kayak often. Canoes and Sit in Kayaks are available. Due to the shallowness of the river, Kayaks would seem to be preferred.


We rented Kayaks from Hruska's campground in Bluffton IA. Basic camping, no showers, Shuttle/Livery/Camping location.




Hruska's shuttled us to to the public access on 303rd. Ave. just north of where Cold Water Creek Rd. crosses the Upper Iowa River. Paddled about 5 hrs to Hruska's campground on the river in Bluffton where we parked for the day.


Map on Hruska's Website is useful. Also Upper Iowa River Canoe Guide from NE Iowa RC&D Phone 563-864-7112. We picked up the map at the Pulpit Rock Campground office in Decorah IA.

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip