Trails: Meadow and Quarry Trails
Hike Location: Bellevue State ParkGeographic Location: south side of Bellevue, IA (42.24565, -90.42339)Length: 2.1 milesDifficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)Last Hiked: May 2019Overview: A lollipop loop exploring old quarry and meadow areas.Park Information: https://www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Parks/Iowa-State-Parks/ParkDetails/parkid/610146Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=748421
Directions to the trailhead: From Bellevue, take US 52 south 0.7 miles to the entrance for the Nelson Unit of Bellevue State Park on the right. Turn right to enter the park, then drive the main park road uphill to the park’s Nature Center on the right. Park in the parking lot in front of the Nature Center.
The hike: Located just south of its namesake town, Bellevue State Park protects 770 acres of high bluffs along the west bank of the Mississippi River. The park is divided into two units: the more developed Nelson Unit located directly south of town and the more remote Dyer Unit located a few miles further south. The Dyer Unit offers a campground, a picnic shelter, a playground, and 3.5 miles of multiuse trails. This hike takes place in the Nelson Unit, which is the focus of the rest of this blog entry.

Bellevue overlook

The park’s most visited and famous attraction is its north-facing viewpoint overlooking the town of Bellevue. This overlook is located at the end of the main park road you drove in on, and it offers a fantastic view of the town and the Mississippi River, which was very high on my visit. In addition to the overlook, the Nelson Unit offers a boat ramp, some picnic shelters, a playground, a nature center (closed on my visit), and 4 short trails totaling about 2.5 miles. Combining longest two of these four trails, the Meadow and Quarry Trails, forms the hike described here.

Trailhead at Nature Center

From the Nature Center parking lot, head southwest on the concrete entrance trail that leads to the park’s butterfly garden. At 0.15 miles, you reach the butterfly garden. The butterfly garden features plants known to attract butterflies, but it also has some interesting metal sculptures. I did not see any butterflies on the seasonally cool afternoon that I hiked here, but some redbuds in bloom brightened my path. I also saw a decent number of woodland songbirds here.

Butterfly garden

Past the butterfly garden, the concrete trail becomes a gravel two-track path as it curves right and passes a wildlife management area on the left. This trail is called the Meadow Trail, and at 0.3 miles the Meadow Trail forks to form its loop at a signed intersection. This description turns right to begin a mowed-grass trail and uses the gravel trail continuing straight as its return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.

Hiking through an old meadow

The mowed-grass trail curves right to begin heading north through what the park map shows as a meadow, but ash trees are quickly filling in the meadow and keeping this area rather shady. At 0.6 miles, the Quarry Trail exits to the right at a signed intersection. Turn right to leave the Meadow Trail and begin the Quarry Trail. A single-track dirt trail, the Quarry Trail descends into its namesake quarry. The descent starts gradual, but it soon becomes moderate, and the last bit is rather steep. An old route going left uses switchbacks to ease the grade, but that route is no longer maintained. Overall, the elevation gain/loss on this hike is only about 200 vertical feet.

Hiking through the old quarry

At 0.9 miles, you reach the base of the hill and a trail intersection with options going left and right. Turn left to continue the Quarry Trail. For the next few hundred feet the trail traces the base of the hill with the steep hillside rising to the left and Mill Creek flowing through the trees on the right. Along the way you pass the old quarry site on the left, which is most easily identified by exposed rock and small boulders along the forest floor. 1.1 miles into the hike, the Quarry Trail intersects a cinder bike path. The bike path going right leads into the City of Bellevue, so you need to turn left to continue the Quarry Trail and begin the moderate climb out of the quarry. At 1.2 miles, you reach the ruins of the lime kiln that was the destination of this quarry’s product. The old kiln looks like a pile of rocks, and its location across the creek from the trail means you will have to hike a short distance off trail if you want to get a good look at the ruins. As an aside, this creek also has some nice small waterfalls, but they are hard to see from the trail.

Near the lime kiln ruins

At 1.4 miles, you reach the top of the hill and the Quarry Trail’s end at an intersection with the Meadow Trail. Turn right to continue the Meadow Trail. Minor undulations are encountered as the trail curves left to close the loop at 1.8 miles. Retrace your steps along the gravel and concrete trail to the Nature Center parking lot to complete the hike. Remember that the Bellevue city overlook located at the end of the main park road is worth a short visit either before or after your hike.