Since we moved to Iowa, we have been doing a lot of exploring outside of Des Moines, not only to see the beauty that Iowa has to offer, but to also distract us from how much we miss the California coast.

And I have to say, aside from lacking an ocean, Iowa has not disappointed.

The first weekend in October we drove 45 minutes north of Des Moines to spend an afternoon at Ledges State Park near Madrid. It was the perfect Iowa day trip. My husband visited Ledges frequently as a kid growing up in Des Moines. I had only been there once, about four years ago when the kids and I were visiting from California, and I couldn’t wait to return.

girl in stocking cap standing on rock in creek at Ledges State Park Iowa
kids in stocking caps crossing log in creek at Ledges State Park Iowa
portrait of girl in stocking cap at Ledges State Park Iowa

We packed water, snacks, jackets, beanies and the hiking sticks we got for the kids in Bryce Canyon this summer on our drive across the country. It was the first weekend that really felt like Fall and we were eager to breathe in the fresh, crisp air and stomp through the fallen leaves.

The kids’ favorite spot by far was the stream that runs along the sandstone cliffs. We knew enough from our first visit here to wear boots as the water is shallow enough to walk across if you have the right waterproof footwear. If not, there are a few stepping stones strategically placed, as well as an unstable branch or two that are fun to traverse – and the risk of falling in makes it even more of an adventure!

boy with hiking stick crossing creek at Ledges State Park Iowa
girl with hiking stick walking in creek at Ledges State Park Iowa
portrait of boy resting chin on hiking stick at Ledges State Park Iowa

After the creek, we hiked up the ridge above it, which I had never done. There were a lot of rustic stone and wood steps under a tunnel of trees all the way to the top. It was so beautiful and the kids never complained about the number of steps. (I was happy to be getting in my exercise for the day!) When we got to the top, we went a little “off trail” and came down a back way that was rather steep in places. There were multiple times we had to pause and determine which way the “trail” was leading us. Luckily we have a decent sense of direction, and great sense of adventure, and found our way down to a dry creek bed which lead us back to the field near our parking spot. (Of course Iowa is currently in a drought so that dry creek may not always be empty…just sayin’ for the sake of a disclaimer.)

kids hiking up stairs on trails at Ledges State Park Iowa
portrait of girl in woods at Ledges State Park Iowa in Fall
boy rock climbing at Ledges State Park Iowa in Fall

Once we reached the bottom, the kids wanted to play in the creek again and I was stoked because I was really there to scout locations for family photo sessions anyway. This place is now high on my list.

What do you think? Would you drive 45 minutes for a family photography session at Ledges? It’s so beautiful, so peaceful, such a wonderful place to unplug and let the kids explore.

And for the win, my kids didn’t ask to leave and go home to play video games even once. Ledges State Park rules!

boy throwing stick in air in grassy field at Ledges State Park Iowa
portrait of man surrounded by trees and rock face at Ledges State Park Iowa
child with hiking stick crossing the creek at Ledges State Park Iowa

Session + Styling Details:

All photos shot with my Nikon D750 and edited in Lightroom.

This was an “adventure session” in which I documented my kids as they explored. (I gave them some general direction of where to stand/play a couple of times.)

The styling for this session was very last minute as we were heading out the door. I just grabbed clothes from their closets that they could comfortably explore in while also coordinating with each other and the location. 

Luca’s pom beanie was a very intentional accessory as I knew the texture and shape would add interest to otherwise “plain” outfits and the color would pop against the background. So glad I brought it!

On Luca: Rylee & Cru pom beanie, Cotton On zip hoodie, Zara top, Cat & Jack joggers, Hunter boots

On Jude: Vans beanie, Uniqlo puffer jacket, Zara long sleeve tee, H&M joggers, Dr. Martens boots

On Luke, who I didn't plan to photograph: denim jeans and a Def Leppard hoodie (no idea where it's from, though he'd be stoked if someone actually asks)

Available to borrow from my client closet: Rylee & Cru pom beanie (unisex style; best fit for ages 5-12)

girl in stocking cap walking in creek by huge rock face at Ledges State Park Iowa
kids at Ledges State Park Iowa running in grassy field with trees