One Of The Most Picturesque State Parks In The Midwest Is Also A Fossil-Buffs Paradise

If you love scenic views and fascinating geology, then Palisades-Kepler State Park in Iowa is the place for you. It is an underrated tourist spot with tree-filled valleys overlooking the Cedar River, which meanders through rocky formations hiding an exciting secret: fossils. It is located in Linn County, near Mount Vernon, and is just over a 15-minute drive from the city of Cedar Rapids. If you visit during the fall, it is a great time to see the leaves changing color, which attracts photographers keen to capture their beauty.

This park's prehistoric beginnings became known to the world after a mammoth's molar tooth was discovered here. Mounds built by Native Americans also demonstrate the rich history of this park. The place to go fossil hunting in Palisades-Kepler is the sandbar close to the Cool Hollow Trail parking lot. Make sure to bring a magnifying glass to help you spot tiny creatures in the rock, as well as a small paintbrush to carefully remove the sand from any finds.

How to find fossils at Palisades-Kepler State Park

Before attempting to look for any more historic tooth fossils, do a bit of research to help you understand the signs of what to search for, as well as the different types of fossils that can be found. Elsewhere in Iowa, another mammoth tooth was found on a construction site in 2022, so a number of these creatures must have once traversed this state. You never know what you'll find at Palisades-Kepler park. 

Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock, which can be eroded by water to reveal the ancient creatures beneath. To find potential fossil areas, look for unusual patterns, colors, or textures in the rocks. According to the American Museum of Natural History, the best place to fossil hunt is in outcrops where the stone has been worn away by wind and water. They also recommend bringing toilet paper to wrap your fossils in, and a plastic bag to keep them safe.

Respect the park by making sure not to damage any of the prehistoric stones during your search. If you do find any fossils, make sure to record the location they came from by taking some pictures of the area. Even if you have no luck finding anything on your first day, you can stay for the night and try again in the morning.

Know before you go to Palisades-Kepler State Park

If you want to spend more time looking for fossils, there are a few options for staying overnight in the park, from basic campsites to ones with electricity hookups. There are also four family cabins available, all of which can be booked through the Iowa State Parks website. Facilities include restrooms, showers, picnic areas, and fire grills. For those who want to get involved in activities, there is fishing, rock climbing, and boating on-site too. Though swimming in the Cedar River is permitted, the parks department warns against it because the strong currents can make it dangerous.

Palisades-Kepler State Park features six miles of trails, if you want to get a feel for the park and spot wildlife while you're here. As you hike, look out for the old stone gazebos that were built here during World War II. Whether or not you find a fossil, Palisades-Kepler State Park is a gorgeous place to try your luck.