Macbride Nature Recreation Area (MNRA) is a 485-acre natural area with landscape dominated by native woodland made up from remnant ecosystems in various stages of restoration and recovery of the historic open woodland that once covered the land called “The Big Grove”. Historical accounts from early visitors to the state noted Big Grove as the “largest and best representation of a grove in Iowa”.  Much of MNRA woodlands are still representative of an Old Growth Woodland ecotype community with many of the relic vegetative species populations and long-lived individuals from the historic woodland persisting.  Flood plain ecotypes and two reconstructed and one remnant prairie are also onsite.

Numerous rare and notable species of plants and animals have been identified at MNRA making the habitat ecologically significant and of high quality.

Location Information:


2095 Mehaffey Bride Road NE, Solon, IA 52333


From April 1 - October 31, the area is open from 6 am - 9 pm. 

From November 1 - March 31, the area is open from 9 am - 6 pm.


Seasonal toilets are available throughout the park.


Parking is available in designated parking lots.

Parking outside of designated lots is not permitted.

MNRA Road is not maintained after closing hours. Roads may be closed during severe weather.

Please see our Facebook page for notices and closures.

Please be aware that some areas may be closed to the general public at times for research and educational purposes.


MNRA Trail


14 trails popular for running, hiking, snowshoeing, wildlife viewing, and cross-country skiing runs throughout MNRA.

Trails surfaces and types vary throughout MNRA and range from being gravel or mowed to being primitive bare ground. 

Bicycles and motor vehicles are not allowed on trails. Dogs must stay on leash.


Archery Range

Archery Range structures and trails are provided and maintained in partnership with the Johnson County Archers.

Learn More
Lake Macbride State Park

Coralville Lake

In 1959 the Iowa River was flooded creating the Coralville Lake Reservoir. The reservoir (bordering one side) and Lake Macbride (bordering the other side) forms MNRA land into a peninsula. Devonian bedrock rock outcrops run along much of the shoreline to create wonderful views of its natural beauty. Many of the lower areas are floodplain which fluctuates frequently with the management of the dam down river.

Learn More

Bird Blind

Built in 2020 and operated by the Iowa Raptor Project volunteers. The bird blind is open year-round within MNRA hours for up-close viewing of wildlife in their native habitat.

Lake Macbride State Park

Lake Macbride State Park

Lake Macbride is named after the University of Iowa’s Thomas Macbride, who was known as the “father” of Iowa Conservation. Several of MNRA’s trails link up to the Lake Macbride State Parks “Field Campus Trail,” offering a wonderful primitive trail hike through their portion of historic “Big Grove” woodland remnants

Learn More

Shelter and facility reservations

Shelters and/or the Social Center may be reserved by University of Iowa classes, departments, and official student organizations, as well as by other insured organizations. The UI WILD program manages the facility rentals and reservations.

To inquire about reserving these spaces, please contact the UI WILD office via phone (319.467.3287) or by email (COE-WILD@uiowa.edu). 


  • No alcohol.
  • All pets must be on a leash.
  • Leave all shelters ready for the next user - anything you carry in, you must carry out.  Do not leave trash behind.
  • Tables and other shelter-related items are restricted to the shelter area.
  • All non-registered visitors must be out of the park by closing time.
  • All cancelations must be done 48 hours in advance. 
  • For questions on shelter reservations, please contact coe-wild@uiowa.edu

Falcon Shelter $30
Hawk Shelter $20
Archery Pavilion Shelter $35
Social Center $75



The Macbride Nature Recreation Area’s Vascular Plant Inventory Project aims to catalog the diverse plant species within the area. This project is crucial for understanding the local ecosystem and contributes to the land stewardship goals, as well as conservation efforts by monitoring and preserving plant biodiversity of the important area.

This initiative offers a large number of students hands-on experience in plant identification and ecological research, contributing to the conservation and understanding of local biodiversity.

Students in all University of Iowa Colleges and experience level are welcome to volunteer and participate in this project. Hours are flexible to work within your academic hours and available time.

Interested students should email Macbride Nature Recreation Area Land Manager Tamra Elliott.

The Macbride Nature Recreation Area's MNRA Expert Series are advanced educational curriculum programs designed to engage the community with the rich natural environment of the area.

Through this series, participants have the opportunity to learn from experts about the diverse ecosystems and wildlife that call the MNRA home.

Whether you're a student, a nature enthusiast, or just curious about the outdoors, the MNRA Expert Series offers a unique chance to expand your knowledge and connect with nature all while casually exploring MNRA.

For upcoming MNRA Expert Series Events please see the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability calendar.

Iowa Wildlife Camps is a conservation education and outdoor recreation program provided through the University of Iowa’s College of Education. Based at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, Iowa Wildlife Camps have been providing environmental learning opportunities for local youth since 1991. The program hosts over 1,200 youth registrants in pre-K through 12th grades every year.

To learn more about Wildlife Camps please visit their website at: https://wild.education.uiowa.edu/iowa-wildlife-camps

University of Iowa College of Education’s School of the Wild was started and developed at Macbride Nature Recreation Area in 1999, becoming the first NCA accredited special purpose school and the first accredited environmental school soon after. Now, the program has over 1,200 students participating in the weeklong experience every year.

To learn more about School of the Wild please visit their website at:


Please refer to their website for more information:


MNRA has been home to the University of Iowa’s Sailing Club since it was first organized in 1969. The student lead organization’s membership is open to Students, faculty and community. 

Please refer to their website for more information about open houses, learn to sail days, tournaments, membership and other questions.


University of Iowa Recreational Services Adventure Trips utilizes MNRA as a valuable resource for students, faculty, community and non-community members to learn about and participate in custom or pre planned trips geared towards learning about ways to recreate in nature or just experience an area.

For more information, please utilize their website at:


Lifetime Leisure skills utilizes MNRA to offer classes for academic credit designed to engage students in fun and healthy recreational activities that can be continued beyond college and throughout their lives.

For more information, please utilize their website at:


Macbride Nature Recreation Area serves as a unique training area for the University of Iowa’s ROTC program to utilize, offering students a unique challenge in the many training scenarios developed using the areas terrain of deep ravines with dense vegetation.

Please refer to their website for questions or more information at:


Macbride Nature Recreation Area has a long history serving as an important field campus to allow University of Iowa students, as well as other universities Earth and Environmental Sciences students, to learn and conduct research in earth processes, earth history, and environmental sustainability.

For more information visit their website at:


Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative teaches its Wildlife and Conservation Law Class as a unique hybrid class taught onsite at MNRA with hands on learning in the field with staff about the notable species and habitats found only at MNRA to better what their future careers will be about.

MNRA Historical Timeline of Natural Resources and Cultural Resources

  • 1837-Johnson County established by the legislature of the Wisconsin Territory.
  • 1838- Description of Counties Physical Features, including MNRA’s Remnant Woodland” Big Grove” from the Iowa Weather Service
  • 1839, January 21- Iowa City’s location established.
  • 1839, May 1- Description of the location chosen for the (Old) Capital with “Big Grove”
  • 1841- MNRA Land Surveyed (GLO MAP) -https://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/islandora/object/ui%3Aglo_289

  • 1846- Iowa becomes a state.

  • 1846- Big Grove Township Formed

  • 1847, February 25- University of Iowa Established.

  • 1870- Atlas of Johnson County Map Created


  • 1874-1911- University of Iowa Professor Samuel Calvin utilized the general area of MNRA for both research and instruction in geology and paleontology.

  • 2017- First Natural Resources Land Manager hired
  • 2020- Derecho Windstorm damages most of Macbride Nature Recreation Area.
  • 2022- University of Iowa Landscape Services takes over stewardship of Macbride Nature Recreation Area natural resources from Recreational Services.

University of Iowa historical affiliations

  • University of Iowa professor of Natural History and State Geologist Samuel Calvin began utilizing the general area for both research and instruction in geology and paleontology.
  • Thomas Hudson Macbride, a naturalist and botanist professor, department head of Botany, and the tenth president of the University of Iowa (and notably where Macbride Nature Recreation Area got its name from) often collaborated closely with Samuel Calvin. Through his work, passion for the outdoors and as the first president of the Iowa Park and Forestry Association, he promoted the development of state parks, including Lake Macbride and the Lake Macbride State Park. I revamped this bullet point slightly
  • Professor and well-known naturalist, conservationist and botanist, Bohumal Shimek of the University of Iowa, conducted a preliminary survey of major animal habitats of the land that is now called Macbride Nature Recreation Area in 1913-1919. The records were included in the University of Iowa Studies in Natural History, the Animal Ecology of Johnson County, Volume VIII Number 1. In addition to Professor B. Shimek, Professors Dr. Frank A. Stromstem, G.L Houser, Daniel Milton Brumfield PH.D. and Mr. H.M.Trusler were also involved in the project. These are just sooo wordy….
  • Aerial photos taken of the land in 1950-1958 by historical landscape photographer Frederick W. Kent are featured in the University of Iowa Collections and are often utilized to tell the history of the land in the area.
  • University of Iowa began a land stewardship role in 1959 managing the land under a lease from the Army Corps of Engineers which is continued to this day with the mission of restoring and preserving the natural resources of the area for education, research and recreation.
  • Over the years MNRA has been home to numerous research projects, and educational programs, some of which are listed below.

UI Department of Public Safety

As a University-managed area, the Macbride Nature Recreation Area is serviced by the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety.  If you experience issues while visiting the MNRA (locked inside the park, car issues, etc.), please contact UI Police at the non-emergency line: 319-335-5022.

Note: If there is an emergency, call 9-1-1.