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Experience Iowa's natural beauty and all the fun our state parks offer. Make your online reservation for state park cabins, camping sites, shelters and lodges.
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If you’re just getting started or are looking for some new ideas, try some of these camping tips and tricks.
1. Reserve your campsite ahead of time. Don’t worry about packing up all the gear or hauling the camper only to arrive at a packed campground. Head to the Iowa state park reservation site or call 1-877-427-2757 to reserve your site. Keep in mind that peak season and holiday dates have minimum stays. Reservations can be made three months in advance. 2. Mix up your s’mores routine and try a banana boat. Change up your campfire cuisine by peeling a banana down one side and cutting a wedge into it. Place marshmallows and chocolate chips into the wedge, cover with the peel and wrap in aluminum foil. Then place in campfire coals for five minutes, then enjoy your banana boat! 3. Put together a DIY camping utility kit. Don’t count on the tent to rip only during daytime hours or in sunny weather. Have an emergency repair kit on hand for canvas tears, flat tires and more. Include duct tape, safety pins, batteries, matches and more – try our camping utility kit checklist. 4. Take advantage of off-season deals. Enjoy the cool weather, soak in fall colors and try camping outside of the May 1 to September 30 peak season. From October 1 to April 30, no minimum stay is required for state park campsites. Following Labor Day, modern and deluxe family cabins are available for minimum two-night stays rather than week-long reservations. Even after showerhouses are shut down for the winter, there’s a good chance that full hook-up sites (sites equipped with water and sewer connections) are still turned on. Many state parks have frost-free hydrants, but check with the park office before you go. 5. Plan meals ahead of time and pre-measure ingredients. Don’t overload the trunk or use up valuable camper storage space with extra boxes and containers you don’t need. Plan your meals ahead of time, and measure out individual ingredients beforehand into small reusable containers or storage bags. Consider pre-mixing and freezing pancake batter and scrambled eggs ahead of time, for example. 6. Don’t forget bug spray and sunscreen. Keep the campers happy by keeping the bugs and sunburn away. Make sure to reapply throughout the day, and don’t forget that it is possible to be get sunburnt on an overcast day. 7. Use duct tape as a hiking bandage. Nothing ends a hike quicker than a painful blister. Ward off the painful friction sores with duct tape. Stick a few 1-inch chunks on your water bottle so they are ready as soon as the first signs of discomfort arrive. 8. Make your own firestarters. Skip the lighter fluid and get closer to roasted hot dogs and marshmallows faster. Upcycle your own firestarters by stuffing a toilet paper roll with dryer lint, then roll it in newspaper and tuck in the ends. Or, stuff dryer lint into an empty egg carton and then melt down old candles and cover the lint with wax. When wax dries, break off into “cups” into 12 individual firestarters. Then simply place in the campfire and light with a lighter. 9. Put together a DIY firestarting kit. Create your kit with a five-gallon container to hold matches or a lighter in a waterproof container, firestarters, small sticks, a hatchet or small hand saw, heat-resistant gloves and a small fire extinguisher. Remember, it’s okay to use downed wood found in a state park for firewood, but it’s not legal to cut any live plants. Also buy firewood locally near the campground to avoid transporting forest pests. 10. Learn how to use a Dutch oven. Don’t limit yourself to hot dogs and hobo packets. With a Dutch oven, you can make everything from a breakfast casserole to pizza, from cinnamon rolls to lasagna. And it doesn’t take much time, either. Find lots of mouth-watering recipes on our Dutch oven board on Pinterest. 11. Have a packing checklist. Avoid showing up to the campsite without roasting forks, a pillow or your hiking boots again by printing off a packing checklist. Put in a plastic sleeve and use a wet-erase marker to make it reusable. 12. Have activities at the ready.If your kids are new to camping, be sure to have lots of activities at the ready to help them explore the outdoors, like a nature scavenger hunt. Try fun and new campfire recipes they can help with. Don’t forget bikes and scooters, and make sure to have a bag of rainy-day activities just in case.
For more great camping ideas, check out our Camping Tips and Recipes page, as well as our Iowa Camping, Dutch Oven Recipes and Outdoor Recipes boards on Pinterest.