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Fort Defiance State Park, IA

Status: Open through Thu Oct 15 2015   Season Dates
Max reservation window: Wed Oct 28 2015   Later Dates
2 site(s) found


Fort Defiance State Park is named for the fort that once stood in the nearby community of Estherville. In the mid-19th century there was considerable concern among the settlers about the possibility of attacks by hostiles. In March of 1857, forty men, women and children were massacred near Spirit Lake and Okoboji. In 1862, a wounded 15-year old boy stumbled into town with the story of an Indian massacre in Jackson, Minnesota. This brought terror into the community and Captain W.H. Ingham and Company A of the Northern Border Brigade were dispatched to Estherville to construct Fort Defiance. The townspeople eventually moved into the enclosure but the feared Indian attack never came. Over time, the fort was taken apart and the timbers used to build cabins.


Fort Defiance State Park's 221 acres of rugged woodland provide a beautiful contrast to the surrounding, gently rolling farmlands. The parks trails, picnic areas and scenic overlooks provide a great place to relax. Its lush cover of vegetation includes hawthorn, plum, locust and many species of the state tree, the oak. In the spring, the slopes are speckled with trillium, bloodroot, hepatica and violets. A small native prairie with native grasses and flowers, including the endangered prairie bush clover, thrives on a secluded knoll. Several restored prairie areas are also found within the boundaries of the park.


Several trails take you around the park and through the hills, prairies, and woodlands that make up Fort Defiance. The trail system includes 6.24 miles of multi-use trails. Equestrian use is allowed on 5.05 miles of the trails. During winter months the park is a popular place for cross country skiing with 2.13 miles of groomed trails and 0.59 miles of non-groomed trail on the newly constructed Whitetail Ridge Interpretive Trail. Fort Defiance is located just ½ mile west of the West Fork of the Des Moines River with boat ramp access to the Emmet County Water Trail.


A day-use lodge, constructed in the style of an old army outpost, is an excellent place for group gatherings such as reunions and wedding receptions. The lodge may be reserved online. An open shelter is available on a first-come, first-served basis at no cost.

Fort Defiance Statbr Park has a 16-site non-modern campground. No showers or flush toilets are present. However, electrical hookups are available at eight sites. All camping permits are obtained through self-registration at the campground. Reservations are not accepted for this campground.

Nearby Attractions:

Estherville is one mile northeast on Hwy 9. Spirit Lake is thirteen miles northwest. Milford is nineteen miles southwest and Okoboji is eighteen miles west.

Alerts and Important Information
Attention Equestrian Riders: State regulations require horses, mules and donkeys being transported interstate (from one state to another) must have a current Certification of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) and a negative Coggin's test (EIA). This paperwork must accompany the animal into the State of Iowa. Please refer to www.iowaagriculture.gov/animalindustry/horseadmissionregs.asp for more information. This law applies to equestrian camping, day-use and trail riding in any State owned Park or Forest.

Getting There:

GPS Info. (Latitude, Longitude):
43.39167, -94.86556
43°23'30"N, 94°51'56"W

Highway 9 west of Estherville, turn south on 360th Ave. Go 1 ½ miles to the west entrance of the park.

Contact Information:

Mailing Address:

Fort Defiance State Park
3661 174th St
Estherville  IA  51334

Phone Number:

Project Office: (712) 337-3211