Free Camping Via Iowa Department Of Natural Resources
Most of the free RV camping you’ll find in the state comes via public lands managed by Iowa’s DNR. Eagle Lake State Game Management Areaone of the more popular of these destinations and located near Mason City, Iowaisn’t much more than an open patch of field with a couple of trees and a stream running through it. The fact that it comes with no price tag, is easy to access and even has good cell service, makes it one of the most visited of Iowa’s free camping areas.
On the polar opposite end of the state, Eldon Wildlife Management Area is little more than a few wide spots in the road with pull-offs that can accommodate medium-sized RVs but serves as another prime example of what free camping in Iowa is all abouta spot to call home with decent views and, in Eldon WMA’s case, access to a river.
Lewis And Clark State Park
Address: 21914 Park Loop, Onawa, IA 51040
Lewis and Clark State Park was named after American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who passed through this area in 1804.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were two of the most famous American explorers. They went on an expedition to explore the western part of America.
This expedition happened from 1804 to 1806. The journey was very successful. They were able to map out the area for future settlers and traders. Lewis and Clark also discovered new animal species and plant life during their trip.
Today, a 176-hectare park in Iowa is named after these two explorers. Lewis and Clark State Park is located in Onawa, Iowa, and is administered by the states Natural Resources Department.
The park contains 125 hectares of blue lake, which offers numerous land and sea activities for visitors to enjoy. These activities include trekking, picnicking, camping, swimming, boat riding, and fishing.
Overnight visitors can also stay in one of the parks new electric camping sites and view replicas of the Keelboats that Lewis and Clark used during their expedition.
See related:24 Best Things to do in Iowa & Places to Visit
List Of Iowa State Parks & Recreation Areas
- Ambrose A Call State Park
- Backbone State Park
- Emerson Bay State Recreation Area
- Fairport State Recreation Area
- Lewis And Clark State Park
- Lower Gar State Recreation Area
- Loess Hills State Forest
- McIntosh Woods State Park
- Mines of Spain State Recreation Area
- Mini-Wakan State Park
- Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area
- Prairie Rose State Park
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Visit An Iowa State Park
Unique scenery and enjoyable adventures await. Explore the caves at Maquoketa Caves, savor the views at Pikes Peak, windsurf at Clear Lake, and more!
The good news is there are over 60 state parks, forests, and recreation areas. And theres probably one near you! So whether youre looking for a day trip, weekend getaway, or a more extended road trip, plan a visit to Iowa State Parks.
Read on for more information on Iowas State Parks, and be sure to check out our map. And if its on your bucket list to see all the Iowa State Parks, use our free printable as your guide.
Most Iowa State Parks are open year-round. Hours are from 4:00 am to 10:30 pm for visitors.
Most Iowa State Parks are FREE!*
*Lake Manawa and Waubonsie State Parks have an entrance fee for non-residents.
Camping and Cabin reservations
Overnight stays at Iowa State Parks are an excellent way to experience everything at each park. Plus, campgrounds and cabins make a fun and affordable getaway.
Iowa State Parks and Recreation Areas have over 4000 campsites! There are options for every camper, from full hookups to primitive hike-in tent sites.
There are close to 100 cabins for rent in state parks across Iowa! From yurts to modern cabins, the options are as varied as the parks themselves. And some of them are open year-round.
Many state park campsites and cabins are reservable through Reserve America. The window for reserving campsites is three months to two days in advance.
Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge
Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge can be found in northeastern Iowa and is an IUCN category IV habitat and species management area. The refuge was established in 1989 as a way of preserving numerous species of flora and fauna, specifically the Northern Wild Monkshood plant and the Iowa Pleistocene Snail. In addition to snails and flowers, you will be able to see a number of other rare and endangered plants and animals. Popular activities include wildlife observation and photography, fishing in the Fern Ridge Unit, and seasonal hunting for white-tailed deer, turkeys, and other upland game.
Address: Elkader, IA 52043, Phone: 608-326-0515
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Your Guide To Iowa State Parks Camping
If youre looking to go camping in Iowa, remember that spring, summer, and fall present the best camping weather. Summers can be humid and snow can show up in the shoulder seasons, so May through July or September through early-October are probably your best bet for a weekend Iowa State Parks camping getaway. With cliffs and caves, scenic Mississippi River overlooks and beautiful lakes, its a state with stunning gems just waiting to be discovered. Heres your guide to camping and relaxing in some of the states best parks.
State Parks In Iowa: Rock Creek State Park
Within Rock Creek State Park, youll find numerous picnic grounds, boat launches and docks, camping grounds, and trails for hiking and horseback riding. The 1,697-acre park was established in 1952 and has been providing a safe haven for people to enjoy the outdoors since then. Anglers come from far and wide to go fishing at Rock Creek, which is thriving with various species of fish such as green sunfish, walleye, black bullhead, largemouth bass, and golden shiners. During the winter, the lake freezes over and is converted into a spot for ice fishing. Theres a concession store alongside the lake which rents out pedal boats, fishing boats, pontoons, canoes, and kayaks. If youd prefer being on land, sunbathe on the lakeside beach or go bird watching for different species of residential and migratory birds.
Address: 5627 Rock Creek E St, Kellogg, IA 50135, Phone: 641-236-3722
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Pikes Peak State Park
Address: 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157, United States
Pikes Peak State Park is a state park in Iowa featuring a 500-foot bluff overlooking the Upper Mississippi River opposite the confluence of the Wisconsin River. The park is operated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
It is nearly a thousand acres in extent. The nearest city is McGregor, Iowa. Iowa Highway 76 approximately defines its northern boundary.
Pikes Peak State Park gets its name from the Iowa incarnation of Pikes Peak, a particularly high point overlooking the gorge of the Upper Mississippi, and like Pikes Peak in Colorado, is named for Zebulon Pike.
There are hiking trails, campgrounds, and RV facilities at Pikes Peak State Park. Mountain bikes are permitted in certain portions of the park. Aside from recreational development, the land in the park was never cleared and to a large extent remains as it was before the settlers.
Pikes Peak State Park is part of a larger complex of parks, reserves, and refuges which include Effigy Mounds National Monument.
The various components of the Yellow River State Forest, the enormous Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and much smaller, much less well-known Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge.
The Northeast Iowa Legacy Trail System is undergoing development and will connect elements of these sites.
Address: 3525 Hwy 382 NE, Solon, IA 52333, United States
Clear Lake State Park
Address: 6490 S Shore Dr, Clear Lake, IA 50428, United States
Clear Lake State Park is a great place to visit if youre looking for some peace and quiet. The park is located on the shores of Clear Lake, which makes it a great spot for fishing, swimming, and kayaking.
There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore, and the park is home to a variety of animals and plants.
If youre looking for a place to stay near Clear Lake State Park, the Hampton Inn & Suites Clear Lake is a great option.
The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, breakfast, and parking, and its within walking distance of the park. Another great option is the AmericInn Lodge & Suites Clear Lake. This hotel also offers free Wi-Fi and breakfast, and its located just a short drive from the state park.
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Beeds Lake State Park
Recognized as a U.S. Historic District and listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Beeds Lake State Park was established in 1934. The 319-acre park has several amenities such as a 99-acre reservoir which allows for boating, fishing, and swimming. Other recreational activities you can explore include hiking its many trails, picnicking in the designated areas, visiting the concessions stands, renting out lodging, or camping in their many semi-primitive campsites. Unique features which made it worthy of being listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places include a footbridge which was built in 1937 and a bathhouse which was built in 1936.
Address: 1422 165th St, Hampton, IA 50441, Phone: 641-456-2047
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Maquoketa Caves State Park
Address: 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060, United States
Maquoketa Caves State Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts due to its unique geological features and abundance of recreational opportunities. The parks caves, bluffs, and forests provide a variety of scenery and activities for visitors to enjoy.
Hiking, camping, fishing, and bird watching are some of the most popular activities at the park. Maquoketa Caves State Park is also a popular destination for rock climbers due to its unique geological features.
The parks caves are the main attraction and are open to the public for tours. The caves are all located on the east side of the park and range in size from small passages to large rooms.
The caves are formed in limestone bedrock and are decorated with a variety of stalactites, stalagmites, and other geological features.
For those looking for some outdoor fun, Maquoketa Caves State Park is the perfect destination. With its caves, bluffs, and forests, the park has something for everyone to enjoy.
So if youre looking for a great state park to visit in Iowa, be sure to add Maquoketa Caves State Park to your list.
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Iowa State Parks: Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park offers excellent opportunities for visitors to enjoy the outdoors while in Iowa. You can have a picnic while overlooking stunning views from the many viewing platforms or rent out the rustic stone open picnic shelter for a gathering with friends and family. Theres a playground for younger visitors to enjoy, camping sites with electrical and restroom facilities, and a Park Store which has souvenirs, refreshments, and more. There are trails for hiking and biking, much of which will let you enjoy the beautiful wooded bluffs and valleys in the park youll also be able to see walls of Decorah limestone and the fossil remains of cephalopods, gastropods, and brachiopods.
Address: 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157, Phone: 563-873-2341
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Free Camping At Casinos In Iowa
If you’re not specifically set on doing your overnighting in a campground, casino parking lots in the state offer a place to stay at no cost. Casino camping varies wildly based on the business in question, so it’s often a good idea to call ahead to get a better idea of the rules for your stay length, whether you can have kids in tow, and whatever other camping regulations they have set as conditions on your stay apply. Often, though, they’ll give you a few free bucks worth of play in the casino, andif it’s not obviousthey’re hoping you’ll be joining them inside.
These casinos are all located off of I-80 and on a trajectory toward Des Moines, should that help make your camping road trip easier.
Beyond casinos, businesses like Walmart and Bass Pro Shops also allow overnight stays in their parking lots. More of an RV parking than camping experience, they’re nonetheless convenient when you just need somewhere to get off the road come nightfall.
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Popular Attractions In Iowa To Visit
The highways and byways throughout Iowa are picturesque, and camping in Iowa reminds you of a simpler way of life. The Living History Farms near the Des Moines metro area connects you with the states rich agricultural heritage. There you can explore 500 acres of five different period farms that have been brought to life for visitors.
Or, if you travel about an hour outside the city, you can see the famed covered bridges of Madison County. Head west to the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway to experience the bluffs that rise along the Missouri River. From historic sites to lovely scenic views, KOA is your perfect jumping off point to see the sights of Iowa.
What National Parks Are In Iowa
There are two points of interest run by the National Parks Service in Iowa:
- Effigy Mounds National Monument
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
There are also two commemorative sites of Iowa. Both are considered National Historic Trails that recognize original trails or routes of historical significance:
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
- Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
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Free Camping In Iowa County Parks
Warren County provides three parks that offer RV camping, all within an hour of Des Moines. Expect a nice country drive into a forested camping experience, a picnic table, a fire ring and vault toilet, and not much else. The nicest of these is probably David Bates Memorial Park along the Iowa River.
Union Grove State Park
Address: 1215 220th St, Gladbrook, IA 50635, United States
If youre looking for a beautiful park to visit in Iowa, Union Grove State Park is a great option. This park is located in Gladbrook and offers stunning views of the countryside.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy at Union Grove State Park, including fishing, hiking, and camping. And, if youre looking for a place to stay, the park offers both cabins and camping sites.
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State Parks In Iowa: Union Grove State Park
Union Grove State Park was established in an attempt to conserve the natural beauty found in Iowa while also giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy it through a series of outdoor recreational facilities. Some of the amenities you will find within the park are designated picnic areas, rentable picnic shelters, a swimming beach, cabins and campsites, and trails for hiking, bicycling, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Some of the more unique activities you can partake in are bird watching, boating, fishing, and wildflower and wildlife viewing. Be sure to take your camera along because youll want to catch as much of it as possible.
Address: 1215 220th St, Gladbrook, IA 50635, Phone: 641-473-2556
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