If you enjoy the smell of campfire, or sleep best in a tent, then the state of Iowa won’t let you down in its wide selection of great camping spots. Stretching from the wavy prairie remnants in the west to the sandstone bluffs of the east, Iowa has all sorts of scenery and landscapes to admire amongst, and to help you find the next great spot to pitch a tent. Here are the 10 best camping spots in the state.
Mill Creek State Park is a gem of natural wonder found just a short distance from the town of Paullina in O’Brien County, and while this water-accessible state park offers recreational opportunities year-round, the campground itself is only open May through September. During those prime activity months, visitors to Mill Creek State Park can pitch a tent in one of 48 campsites available in the scenic park, or can reserve one of the four camping cabins that make your stay a little more weather-insured.
With over a dozen cave structures to explore, including the walk-in and lighted Dance Hall Cave, Maquoketa Caves State Park offers some of the most unique landscapes found in any of Iowa’s State Parks. The campgrounds at Maquoketa offers access to it all with just a short hike from where you pitch your tent. Family-friendly and very accommodating, there are 29 different campsites to choose from, all of which can fill up quickly over summer holiday weekends.
Right smack dab in middle of the Loess Hills of Western Iowa, the scenic Stone State Park not only has miles and miles of prairie-grass lined trails to explore, but also excellent campsites to spend the night, not to mention their collection of heated/air-conditioned cabins for rent as well. Whether you zip up the tent or stay indoors, there’s plenty to explore away from the sleeping arrangements at Stone State Park Campground and Cabins.
The Dolliver Memorial State Park Campground has some of the best overlooking views of the Des Moines River found in any other part of the park, and can serve as a breathtaking place to catch a sunset before climbing into your tent. Outside of the campgrounds, Dolliver Memorial State Park also has two basic family cabins to rent, and an array of unique views including sandstone cliffs covered in mineral deposits and petrified wood.
While all three campgrounds and total 68 campsites at Nine Eagles State Park won’t disappoint your camping needs, it’s the loosely titled Campground #2 that has the most camping appeal. It’s not a “modern campsite” but does include access to water and restrooms, plus it has the closest access to the 64-acre lake that defines many of the experiences at Nine Eagle State Park. A single family-cabin is also available to rent through the entire year if you’re looking for an indoor camping experience to go along with your fun.
Located near the town of Missouri Valley, Iowa, Wilson Island State Recreation Area is popular spot to pitch a tent and thrive in the solidarity of nature. The campsites at Wilson Island State Recreation Area, which there are 125 of, all include room to spread out your things and plenty of shade to beat the summer sun. This unique State Recreation Area was once host to the Lewis and Clark expedition, and still stands today as a great place to camp the night away in Iowa.
With all that Lake Macbride has to offer, including boating, fishing, biking and frisbee golf, it’s worth the while to stay a few nights in the non-modern campground located nearby all the fun. Lake Macbride also has modern campsites to choose from, but for the real spacious and solitude camping experience, the southern non-modernized campground is the quietest and has the closest access to the lake.
Ledges State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Iowa, and to avoid some of the crowds this park can draw, going for the hike-in campsites can be your best bet. Besides beating the crowds, the hike-in campsites are a perfect place to begin exploring all the natural features and trails that makes Ledges State Park such a popular place to visit.
Founded as a Mormon Settlement, the once-town of Preparation is now a state park with many fine ridged trails for you to explore. To see all of Preparation Canyon and the rolling hills that make up its boundaries, it’s best to utilize one of the ten hike-in campsites all complete with a picnic table and fire ring. A great way to explore Western Iowa and the Loess Hills, Preparation Canyon State Park is the perfect getaway for overnight travelers.
The 140 different campsites available within the Yellow River State Forest are split up into four sections—two reserved for equestrian users and the other two, Little Paint and Big Paint, reserved for non-equestrian use. No matter the site you choose, all campsites in the Yellow River State Forest offers great access to the unlimited natural resources the forest provides, and views to match.