Ranger Review: Rom Pack at Langwood Education Center

Campground Review:

Surrounded by hardwood forests and native prairie, Langwood Education Center, located in rural Wapello, Iowa is the perfect spot for nature retreats, family gatherings, outdoor education classes, and more.

With rates starting as low as $99 per day/$194 per overnight for up to 100 people, Langwood provides a quiet and serene setting for camping, hiking, canoeing, and reconnecting with nature.

There is plenty of space for individual tents, as well as 5 electrical hookups for RVs for $10 per night per RV. An A-frame bunkhouse is also available. The bunkhouse is a split level with a total of 21 single beds on the first and second level. Campers will need to bring their own bedding. While Langwood is open through the winter months, water is shut off, so campers will need to bring their own water supply. Check in time is after 1:00pm and check out time is 11:00am.

Campfire rings and outdoor picnic tables are available. Langwood’s 92 acres houses a lodge with a full kitchen, and ample seating including tables and chairs. There is a separate, modern restroom within short walking distance of the bunkhouse and lodge.

For an additional fee, campers can use the ropes course located by a large pond on the property. Six canoes are also on site for use. There is no additional fee for the canoes, but a waiver must be signed in order to use them.

For the women's outdoor retreat weekend I attended, I chose to bring my tent and camp out rather than utilize the bunk house. The area for tent camping is quite large with a variety of shade trees, and offers a fair amount of privacy.

With hiking trails throughout the property, the woods offer prime area to see migratory birds such as kingfishers, herons, and a multitude of warblers. At night, great horned and barred owls can be heard calling back and forth.

Langwood provides quiet walks through Iowa prairies and clear, star-gazing nights. This spot is perfect for larger gatherings, offering privacy and a quiet space away from the busyness of everyday life.

Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. This time around I had the opportunity to test out the three-in-one RōM Pack from RōM Outdoors. https://romoutdoors.com/product/rom-pack/

I’m always up for giving a new backpack a try. I was really interested to see how the RoM Pack compared to my other daypacks and backpack. The RoM Pack is unique as it offers a twist on the traditional pack; a three-in-one pack, blanket, rain poncho combo.

I took the RoM pack with me on the recent women’s outdoor retreat at Langwood Education Center. It seemed like the perfect weekend to test out the versatility of this pack. From prairie seed collection, to orienteering, to night hikes, the pack offered something useful throughout the retreat. The pack includes two detachable, smaller saddlebags; great for throwing a water bottle and snacks in for the prairie seed collection hike.

Between sessions, we had the opportunity to wander the grounds and take time to relax. This presented the perfect opportunity to break the pack down and try out the blanket. It was a cool autumn day, and lounging in the sun was a nice reprieve from the busy morning activities.

While it didn’t rain during my stay, I did decide to try on the poncho to see how it fit. It was a little bulky, but would definitely help repel rain. It was easy enough to take off and flip back over to blanket mode.The outer material is meant to resist water, so whether you’re wearing it at as a poncho or using it as a blanket, you’ll stay dry. Another plus is the removable stuff sack located inside the pack. I used it specifically to store my dirty clothes from the first day of the retreat.

The pack itself is made of a durable, water resistant material, and includes two mesh side pockets good for stowing water bottles, and bug spray. While the pack is slightly heavier than my other daypacks, 4.6 lbs, I would consider using it for shorter day hikes, but will get the most use out of it to store and carry clothes and gear on camping and fishing trips. I’m also a shorter individual, so the pack was a little big on me. I was able to adjust the straps enough to get a fairly secure fit.

The RoM Pack also comes with a small booklet with step by step directions on how to put the pack back together after breaking it down. The booklet also includes information on identifying poison ivy, oak, and sumac as well as different ways to build a campfire; a nice addition to the pack itself.

Hynds Lodge at Curt Gowdy State Park

Hynds Lodge at Curt Gowdy State Park

Ranger Review: OOFOS Women's Recovery Gear 3/4 Zip- Charcoal at Curt Gowdy State Park

Campground Review:

Located within Curt Gowdy State Park between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming, Hynds Lodge includes a great hall, kitchen, modern restroom facilities, and an upstairs sleeping area. I spent a retreat weekend here with fellow hikers and ambassadors from the organization, Hike Like a Woman. It was the perfect spot for a quiet retreat with hiking trails nearby.

Nestled in between large boulders and evergreens, this spot is ideal for receptions, retreats, weddings, family reunions, and more. The lodge can hold up to 90 people and sleep 20. The great hall has a built-in stone fireplace along with three couches. The kitchen includes a gas stove, refrigerator/freezer, microwave, sink, cupboards and counter space. You will need to bring your own utensils and cookware, bedding and linens, as well as your own firewood. Additional chairs and tables are included for set-up in the great hall. The upstairs sleeping area contains 20 twin sized beds with mattresses. An attached covered porch with large picnic tables creates even more space for visitors, and a beautiful view of the surrounding rock formations and forest. A couple of things to consider here are there are no showers within the lodge, so if you're staying for an extended period of time you'll have to access showers in a different part of the park. And, cell phone reception is spotty at best. The lodge can be rented for $150 per day, starting at 10:00 am till 10:00 am the following morning. Guests are responsible for clean up.

Just a short walk from the lodge is The Amphitheater; a great spot for weddings, talent shows or musical entertainment. It can be rented for an additional $50 per day. Curt Gowdy also offers tent and RV camping sites along with lots of hiking trails, and SUP, canoe, and kayak rentals. Hunting and fishing are also permitted in designated areas. All vehicles must obtain a daily use permit; $4 per day for residents, $6 per day for non-residents. Reservations can be made through wyomingstateparks.reserveamerica.com.

While in the area, I highly recommend visiting Vedauwoo Recreation Area, located inside of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Famous for its amazing granite rock formations, it's approximately a 30 minute drive from the Lodge. Vedauwoo offers a variety of trails; some surfaced, some primitive, and climbing is allowed. It’s important to note that the road leading into Vedauwoo coming from Hynds Lodge is dirt and can be bumpy.

Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. This time around I had the opportunity to test out the Women's Recovery Gear 3/4 Zip- Charcoal pullover from OOFOS.https://www.oofos.com/collections/apparel/products/official-apparel-half-zip-charcoal?variant=36083325641

1. While OOFOS is a company that offers a variety of shoes for outdoor/sports recovery, they also offer accessories which include shirts and pullovers. The 3/4 zip seemed like the perfect option for morning hikes and evening fires at the lodge.

2. The pullover is made from moisture wicking material and is quick drying; a good thing on this trip as we ran into light rain more than once while outside.

3. The pullover also has thumb holes, which I like. My hands get cold easily, so it's nice this garment has this option. I would have liked it if there had been a zippered pocket of some sort to stash keys or my phone. I did like that while it was form-fitting, it wasn't snug, and fit true to size.

4. The pullover fit nicely into my backpack and didn't take up much space. With cooler weather fast approaching, the OOFOS pullover will be be stowed in my pack for autumn hikes and nights around the campfire.

Flatiron Reservoir Campground

Ranger Review: Humangear at Flatiron Reservoir Campground

Campground Review:

Flatiron Reservoir Campground is located just outside the city of Loveland, Colorado. Situated on 47 acres of water and 200 acres of land, Flatiron offers electrical sites for $25/night and three tipis at $35/night. Reservations must be made in advance through the Larimer County Camping Reservations website. Entrance permits are also required and the cost is $7 per day per vehicle. Permits can be obtained through the admin office located just a few minutes from the campground at 1800 South County Rd 31 in Loveland. There is self-serve kiosk across the road from the admin office where permits can also be purchased.

All campsites have a view of the reservoir and Flatiron Mountain. Swimming and boating are not allowed on the reservoir, but you can bank fish or utilize the handicap accessible fishing dock. The campground also provides potable water, vault toilets, and day use areas. While Flatiron does not have a dumpsite for campers/RVs, there is one located at Carter Lake South Entrance just up the road on 31. There are also modern restroom facilities at Eagle Campground including pay showers. You can use these restrooms as long as you have an entrance permit.

I chose one of the three tipis on this trip. Each tipi has an electrical box inside with two, 120v outlets which were perfect for charging cell phones.The tipi also includes a string of LED lights that can be turned on at night. The floor is covered by an oiled canvas cloth, but I opted to bring a tarp to put down as well. These are walk-in sites, but it's only a short distance, 30-40 feet from the parking area. Each tipi has two parking spots and an additional tent can be placed in the campsite. The tipi can accommodate up to six people. Dogs are not allowed inside the tipi, and building fires inside is prohibited. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. There is also a campground host on duty.

Flatiron is less than an hour drive from Rocky Mountain National Park, and 15-20 minutes from Devil's Backbone Open Space. Carter Lake, located on County Road 31 is also a short drive from the reservoir and offers boating, swimming, and fishing. There is also The Windjammer Roadhouse Bar and Grill located along 31 and the Carter Lake Marina where fishing licenses, snacks, and fishing supplies can be purchased.

I've camped the last three years at Flatiron when I've traveled out West. The campground is fairly well-maintained and the campground host has always been helpful. The reservoir does offer beautiful sunrises and sunsets and has the feel of being out in the country while still being relatively close to town. It's good to note that bears do come through the campground from time to time, so it's important not to leave food/coolers/water sitting outside or in your tent or tipi. I've heard coyotes howling at night and saw a pair of bobcats crossing the road on my way back from Carter Lake Marina. It's one of my favorite spots to camp in northern Colorado.

Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. This time around I had the opportunity to test out a sample pack from Humangear including their GoToobs, FlexiBowl, GoTubbs, GoBites, and GoCup. http://www.humangear.com/

1. First off, these products are made from silicone and they're BPA and PC-Free, and they come with a lifetime warranty. Humangear also gives back to the community by volunteering their time, and donating their products. All pluses in my book.

2. Because the cup, bowl, and GoToobs are made of silicone, they're easy to pack, flexible and light weight. Perfect to toss in a bag or camping tote without having to worry about whether or not they might break or crack. The GoCup with the press fit lid would also be a great way to carry snacks on a day hike. Just toss in your favorite granola or trail mix, pop on the lid and toss in your pack. And, the snap together Uno GoBite utensil has found a permanent home in my backpack; a spoon on one end, a fork on the other, I'll never need to use disposable, plastic utensils again.

3. The GoToobs were perfect for storing shampoo, conditioner and lotion while camping. The lids fit snugly and I had no issues with leaks. They even have a pop up handle on the lid.

4. EASY clean-up! One of my least favorite parts of camping is cleaning my gear. And, while I wash my plates, cups, bowls, utensils, etc. as well as possible while camping, I still feel the need to give them the once over when I get home. This wasn't the case with the Humangear items. Camp clean up was easy and they dried quickly after being washed.

I'll be taking my Humangear on my next camping trip this fall!

Ranger Review: VivoBarefoot Primus Trail SG Womens at Saulsbury Bridge

Campground Review:

Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area is 675 acres, nestled between rolling fields of corn, dairy farms, native prairie, and the Cedar River. Located in Muscatine County in southeast Iowa, this rec area offers well-maintained campgrounds, hiking trails, fishing, kayaking/canoeing and seasonal hunting.

There are three separate campgrounds. The main campground has electrical hookups, picnic benches, fire rings, modern restroom facilities including showers, a dump station, playground, and firewood for purchase. There are 24 sites, and they run $20 per night.

The primitive campground area sits along Chicken Creek and offers four, tent-only sites, and is just off the main campground. The sites are well spaced and surrounded by large trees. These are walk in sites with parking in the main campground. It’s a short hike in from the parking area, and within walking distance of the restrooms and firewood. Primitive sites are $10 per night.

Across the road from these two campgrounds is the main boat access and fishing dock for Chicken Creek. Only non-motorized boats are allowed here. If you don’t have your own, you can rent kayaks and canoes through the Muscatine County Conservation office. There is also a large shelter, which is reservable along with day use picnic areas, playgrounds, a sand volleyball court, and vault toilets. There’s large, open expanses of grassy fields and oak shade trees; perfect for relaxing on a hot summer day.

The river campground sits right along the Cedar River and allows easy access to fishing along with a boat ramp. This campground is a short hike to the old Saulsbury Bridge and Lodge. The bridge has a small gazebo-like structure and bench which provides a nice view of the river. There are vault toilets in this campground, but the modern restrooms are within walking distance as well. There are 10 sites in this campground and run $17 per night.

All campsites are self-registration and are on a first come, first served basis. There is a campground host on duty in the main campground and the park officer lives on site. Dogs are allowed, but must be on leash in the campgrounds and on trails. However, they are allowed to run in the designated hunting areas. These areas are marked with signs. If you plan to hike during hunting season, it’s a good idea to wear bright colors/blaze orange so you are visible to hunters and not mistaken for a deer or other wildlife.

This park also has prairie/natural habitat restoration areas that, in spring and summer, attract Monarch butterflies, and an abundance of birds including indigo bunting, red headed woodpecker, and goldfinch. In the colder months you can spot bald eagles flying along the river. There are also deer, wild turkey, and pheasants. While there, we walked around the campground areas that were open and over to the day use area along Chicken Creek to roast marshmallows. We hiked the short distance out to the Saulsbury Bridge to watch the Cedar River flow by and caught a beautiful sunset.

The one downfall to this park is the possibility for flooding. When the Cedar River is high, it pushes Chicken Creek out of its banks which can mean potential closure of campgrounds.

A call ahead to the conservation office to check on closures is a good idea. We had hoped to camp at a primitive site, but learned the trail leading into the campground was under water, which also meant the river campground was closed as well. Though there was some water over the road in the main campground, it was minimal and we were able to choose an electrical site. We opted to car camp as we were only staying one night. Only about a third of the campground was filled and we had no one on either side of us which meant for a more quiet camping experience.

This is one of my favorite local areas to hike and camp that’s close to home. It offers a full picture of Iowa’s varied landscapes and outdoor activity opportunities.

Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. On this camping trip, I tried out VivoBarefoot Primus Trail SG Womens sneakers. VivoBarefoot’s goal is to provide an environment that allows the feet to remain in their natural state while providing a protective shoe. https://www.vivobarefoot.com/us/womens/off-road/primus-trail-sg-womens?colour=Olive

  1. Anytime I purchase a new pair of shoes, whether for daily use or outdoor recreation, I make sure to break them in as much as possible as I’m prone to blisters. I did wear the Primus around the house a few times and on my daily walks before taking them camping. Though they have a snug fit, they’re not uncomfortable. They also include a pair of removable inserts and extra laces. The laces are adjustable which allowed me to either loosen or tighten the shoe. Bonus; no socks needed. As someone who would opt to wear sandals year round if possible, I liked the fact I didn’t have to put an extra layer on my feet.
  2. The timing couldn’t have been better for testing out these sneakers; Saulsbury was experiencing minor flooding while we were there. Not only do they have rugged soles for gripping in wet and rocky terrain, the mesh material allows for quick drying if they do get wet, and provided easy clean up of mud and other debris.
  3. Honestly, I was really pleased with the fact that many of the women’s shoes came in neutral and earth tone colors (I absolutely checked out other shoe options on their website). While I don’t mind the brighter colors that seem to be the trend for women’s trail runners, I really prefer something a little more low key.
  4. One of the best things about these shoes was the ease of slipping them on and off, say in the middle of the night when nature called.
  5. All in all, I feel this shoe is a good match for the outdoor activities I enjoy; camping, hiking, bicycling, and kayaking. I’m looking forward to seeing how they hold up while hiking in the mountains out West this summer.
First to Review
South Bear Creek Entrance

The South Bear Creek entrance is located near Highlandville, IA off of Quandahl Road. This is Iowa Department of Natural Resources land and offers primitive camping only. There are no shower or restroom facilities and we brought our own water. There was a makeshift fire ring made out of rocks and so we used this to build our campfire. Be sure to bring a camp shovel for bathroom breaks. There was no fee at the time to camp here. It might be a good idea to call ahead to the Iowa DNR to see if that has changed.

Bear Creek is known for trout fishing and is stocked by the DNR. Bear Creek runs for a little over 5 miles at this entrance. Highlandville does have a general store, so you can stock up on items such as snacks, firewood, and angling supplies if you plan to fish the creek.

Note: There is also a Bear Creek Campground which offers electrical sites along with restrooms, showers and a playground as well as Bear Creek Cabin rentals if you're looking for something with more amenities.

We camped the last weekend in October and had the entire area to ourselves. We walked along the creek and Quandahl Road. It was a quiet area and we enjoyed camping in a more primitive setting.

First to Review
Snively Campground Wapello, IA

Snively Access Campground is located off of County Road X61 in Wapello, IA. The access road is a steep, well-maintained, gravel drive that takes you directly to Lake Odessa and the campsites. Note: the entrance sign to the campground is a little difficult to see from the road, and the campground does sometimes close due to high water. Gates will be shut with a High Water sign on them if that's the case. It's best to call ahead to Louisa County Conservation if you're planning to camp in the spring/summer when flood season tends to be most prevalent in this area.

There are two separate campgrounds, all are electrical sites, (no dump station) except for one tent-only site which is situated up on a hill by itself with a round about road off to the right as you drive down the main access road. The second campground is to the left, with no bathrooms, and also butts up to a community of seasonal/year round cabins. This means it may be a bit more noisy during the warmer months. We chose the second campground and only one other site was in use. All was quiet by 10:00pm. We did wake up once or twice to the sound of barred owls calling back and forth in the night which only added to the ambiance of tent camping. This area is known as a hub for migratory birds, so if you're a bird person, it's a prime location. We saw red-headed woodpecker, yellow warblers, and a handful of other birds. About 5 minutes north of the campground is Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge which offers an interpretive center, modern restroom facilities, hiking trails and bird watching.

Each campsite has a graveled drive, picnic bench, fire ring and garbage can with lid. There is a public parking area and dock to put in boats on the lake and fish. All campsites have a lake view, and several are in shaded spots along the timber line. This is a dog-friendly campground and dogs must be leashed at all times. These sites are first-come-first serve and are $12/night. You are required to self-register within 30 minutes of your arrival time. There is a registration kiosk to the right, at the bottom of the main access road.

This was a nice, smaller campground with a water front view that felt secluded and slightly more primitive.

East Bearskin Lake Campground Camper Cabins

The camper cabins at East Bearskin Lake Campground in Superior National Forest are the ideal way to take advantage of northern Minnesota's wilderness. The camper cabins include a picnic style table inside along with bunk bed sleeping areas. Foam sleeping pads are provided, but you're responsible for bringing your own linens. There is no heat or electricity in the cabins, but the structures are sturdy and provide shelter from wind, rain and snow. Each campsite has an outdoor picnic table and fire ring. There are four camper cabins and they can be reserved through the recreation.gov website. They are just under $70/night. There is plenty of space between cabins as well as other campsites to give you the feel of truly being in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by pine trees and had a trail located in our campsite that led to East Bearskin Lake. Keep in mind, it's Minnesota and there was still some snow on the ground and ice on the lakes at the end of May. Pit toilets were just a short walk down the road as was access to potable water.

We saw a moose and had a fox visit our campsite while we were there. We fell asleep to the sound of loons every night. This is also black bear country, so it's important to be bear aware; make sure you store food and water properly and bring bear spray while out hiking. We tried our hand at trout fishing with little luck, but it was still fairly cold, and so not much was biting.

We hiked the Caribou Rock Trail and hikers are required to fill out a hiking log slip before heading out. The 2 mile trail was moderate with a decent incline. Once at the top of the overlook, you can see East Bearskin Lake. There are several lodges throughout Superior National Forest where you can obtain fishing licenses and rent boats.

Grand Marais, MN is only about 45 minutes away from East Bearskin Lake. It's a cool, quaint little town located right along Lake Superior. There's a handful of good restaurants, specifically The Angry Trout, which serves up fresh lake trout out of Superior. The Java Moose has great coffee and Lake Superior Trading Post carries lots of outdoor gear and souvenirs.

We liked it so much, we went back 4 months later in September, and stayed again in the same camper cabin. For a true taste of the North Woods, East Bearskin is hard to beat.

First to Review
Wildcat Den State Park

Wildcat Den State Park is somewhat of an unknown gem. Surrounded by cornfields, rolling hills and the Mississippi River, this park is tucked neatly away in Southeast Iowa. We've been here in all four seasons and each one provides a different landscape.

The park offers non-electrical campsites with pit toilets located in the campground area. A portion of the sites are available on a first come first serve basis. The remaining sites have to be reserved. Each campsite has a fire pit and picnic table. There is well water available. There is also a large shelter across the road from the campground area. The bottom portion of the park, where the Pine Creek Grist Mill is located has modern restroom facilities as well as another shelter.

Hiking the Wildcat Den Trail Loop is a must. Looming sandstone cliffs, tall pines, and rock formations are all part of the park's landscape. This is also a great place to view spring wildflowers. There's several spots of interest you'll want to be sure to take in while there, including the Devil's Punch Bowl, Steamboat Rock, The Pine Creek Grist Mill built in the 1800's, the Melpine School, and most recently, a renovated log cabin. The Mill offers tours during the warmer months and it's worth the time to take the tour.

While the trails at the Den are very scenic, they're not well-marked. This is perhaps the only downside of the park. The park is dog-friendly, but they must be on leash at all times.

This is one of my favorite "hidden" parks in Iowa.

Backbone State Park

This has been one of my favorite state parks in Iowa to camp thus far. I've tent camped in April and cabin camped in October. The cabin camping was the better of the two experiences, mainly due to the unusually chilly overnight temperatures in April. During the warmer months you can rent canoes from the concession stand. Climbing/rappelling is also allowed in the park via registration at the park office.

We stayed in a family cabin that sleeps up to 4 people. You have to reserve cabins and there is a 2 night minimum stay, but the price is extremely reasonable. These cabins also offer heat and A/C. Our cabin had a common area with a kitchenette.The bathroom included a toilet and shower. The small, but cozy bedroom included a mattress - you're responsible for bringing your own linens - along with a sink. Additional amenities included stove, frig, microwave, pots and pans, and even a small coffee maker. And, the couch in the common area pulled out into a futon, providing extra sleeping space. Outdoor amenities included a fire pit and picnic bench. Bonus: The back of our cabin area looked out onto Backbone Lake.

We purchased firewood in Strawberry Point, a small town just a short drive from the park. Iowa requires that firewood be obtained within the county you're staying in due to the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic.

We fished for trout and hiked along several trails in the park. The Devil's Backbone was our favorite mainly because of the scenery along the bluff. It was the perfect way to view the changing leaves and watch the Maquoketa River flow by.

While we did have neighbors on either side of us, the noise level was minimal, and everyone was respectful of parking spaces as there is a common parking area in front of the cabins.

This is a beautiful spot to visit especially in autumn.

Devil's Lake State Park

Campsites in the Ice Age Campground were decent sized with individual fire pits and picnic tables. The sites had plenty of trees for shade, but were close together. Our site was right across the road from the restrooms on one side, and the water pump on the other side, which meant lots of foot traffic in our area. There are other sites that are a bit more secluded, and offer less noisy conditions.

Note: if you plan to camp here in the summer, reservations are a must. This is a busy park as it has lots to offer in the way of outdoor activities. We tent camped for two nights and three days. We fished on the lake and hiked a portion of the Ice Age Trail, specifically to the Devil's Doorway and Balanced Rock. Highly recommend the hike; it's worth the view at the top. We also utilized the boardwalk along the lake as a spot to stop and bank fish.

The park offers two visitors centers; one on the north shore and one on the south shore. The south shore center was well-maintained and had lots of merchandise and touristy items for sale, along with a small dining area. All in all, it was a scenic park to camp and hike in.