Iowa only looks the same if you drive straight down I-35 and never leave the beaten path.

This weekend, I checked a destination off my Iowa bucket list by climbing to the top of the Pilot Knob State Park Observation Tower located in Forest City. For I’ve seen hauntingly beautiful photos of this little stone tower perched on top of a hill and it beckoned me.

At an elevation of 1450 feet, standing at the top of an 84-year old tower means two things: You are teetering on the second highest point in Iowa in one of the oldest state parks.

A floating sphagnum bog called “Dead Man’s Lake” is also located deep within the park and is the “only one of its kind,” according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The drive from Mason City to Forest City is only 35-minutes. My GPS guided me through some of the most rolling, idyllic farmland I’ve ever seen, a far cry from what you’d see driving down the freeway. You really must take some detours.

You’ll know when you reach Forest City because of the forest. The drive through the park to the observation tower is encased in a tunnel of tree branches lined with wild flowers.

Trail Watermarked

It’s a short walk to the tower from the small gravel parking lot, up through another tunnel of trees that opens up to a grassy pasture. I was surprised to find I wasn’t alone.

Deer watermarked

When the deer ran away I continued towards the little tower.

Tower distance watermarked

I had it all to myself on this morning. All I could hear was the wind rustling around the hill and through the grass.

Tower Photo

Despite my fear of heights, I scaled the tower. I couldn’t see very far over the top of the walls, which was just as well.


The wind continued to whistle around me, and so I climbed down.

Final Collage

My favorite thing to do is to go where I’ve never been, said the late photographer Diane Arbus.