Matsell Bridge Natural Area
At 1,912 acres, the Matsell Bridge Natural Area is the largest Linn County area. Diverse in terrain and habitat, Matsell Bridge is home to many species of native Iowa wildlife and plants. The area contains numerous “one-of-a-kind” facilities within the Linn County Park system: a shooting range, primitive year-round cabin, equestrian camping and unique historical features.
The first acquisition of public land occurred at Matsell Bridge in 1956 by the then Iowa Conservation Commission, but this part of Linn County has a rich history dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Matsell Bridge is named after George W. Matsell, a New York City chief of police from 1845-1857. At one time, his land holdings in Iowa included over 3,000 acres. Legend has it that Matsell befriended some American Indians visiting New York City.
They appreciated his kindness and invited him to visit them in Iowa. When he arrived, Matsell fell in love with the land and eventually built a mansion near the present day equestrian campground. Matsell fashioned his home after George Washington’s Mount Vernon home that overlooks the Potomac River. Additional buildings were added to the farmstead until there were a total of 11 buildings including livestock barns, grain storage, a gate-keeper’s house and an ice house. Over time, the buildings fell into disrepair and were razed. Only the ice house and stone pillars of the entrance gate remain today – reminding us of the grand old history of Matsell Bridge.
With over 70 primitive campsites in 4 campgrounds, along with a unique regional equestrian campground the Matsell Bridge area is certainly a camping destination. All sites are primitive (NO ELECTRICITY, water is available at a centralized location), and some campsites necessitate “packing it in” as there is no vehicular access. Sites include a picnic table and ground campfire ring. Campsites are currently not reservable in this area.
With an expansive equestrian campground and over 10 miles of equestrian trails, the historic Matsell Bridge Natural Area is a destination for equine enthusiasts. The campground features hitching posts and a lot of space - situated with direct access to the equestrian trails in the park.
For specific information about camping and other equestrian activities, please contact our park staff at the Wapsipinicon District Office at (319) 438-6616.