Peak Camping Season Begins May 1
Posted: 04/29/2014

Preparation has been underway for a few weeks now. Campers anxious to get a jump on the camping season after a long winter dealing with one polar vortex after another are going through their equipment, checking supplies so they are ready when the time comes.

The time has come. The 2014 camping season is finally here.

Iowa state parks are going through the final stages of prep work before hosting more than 700,000 campers and 14 million visitor days this year. And like most years, there will be some new things for them to see.

Visitors to Wilson Island, the beach area at Big Creek and Lake Darling state parks will see significant changes this summer.

Wilson Island, north of Council Bluffs, has been closed since the spring of 2011 due to damage from the Missouri River flooding. Visitors should expect the park to look much different than the one before the river left its banks.

The extensive cleanup included removing about one-third of its towering cottonwood trees killed by the floodwaters. The park has received a complete makeover: a new campground, park office and shower building. The DNR installed a new entrance on the north end of the park to provide access to the campground designed to remain open during flood events.

“Our neighbors demonstrated their resiliency when they cleaned up and rebuilt their homes and their patience and support for this project has been important each step of the way,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of state parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Wilson Island is expected to reopen in early summer. It will be rededicated in July.

Big Creek, north of Des Moines, will showcase a completely new beach area with three large shelters, 10 beachside cabanas and new rest rooms. Big Creek State Park will be rededicated in June.

Lake Darling, southwest of Washington, is expected to open midsummer and will be rededicated in September.

Lake Darling will be a new park at an old address. The entire park – and lake – has been renovated and will feature a new campground, shower building, universally accessible fishing trail, roads, lake, dam and more.

“We are counting down the days when Lake Darling will reopen. This park will be a magnet drawing visitors from across southeast Iowa and beyond,” Coffelt said.  “We had such excellent support from the park friends group who was willing to take on fundraising and any other tasks we needed help with.”

Other parks will be receiving facility improvements this summer in the form of new latrines and trail bridges, but most of the construction is scheduled for after Labor Day, to minimize the impact during the recreation season.

New playgrounds will be going in at Waubonsie, Wilson Island and AA Call and expanded at Lake Anita in early summer.

Look for interpretive programs at Lake Ahquabi, Ledges, George Wyth, Pikes Peak, Bellevue, Mines of Spain, Lewis and Clark and in parts around the Iowa Great Lakes. The visitors’ center is now open at Lewis and Clark. Check the DNR’s events calendar at for more information.

Honey Creek Resort State Park also offers interpretive programs. New for 2014, the resort will offer paddle boards to its long list of outdoor items available to rent. Its RV park, cottages and hotel offer comfortable accommodations along the north shore of Lake Rathbun.

Ten parks will have concessions. Backbone, Beeds Lake, Big Creek, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Macbride, Rock Creek, Viking Lake, Lake Manawa, Springbrook and Pikes Peak will have snacks, firewood and other concession items. Backbone, Beeds Lake, Big Creek, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Macbride, Rock Creek and Viking Lake will have boats available to rent.


Before heading to the campground, campers should spend some time going through their equipment to make sure it’s in working order.

Check tents for holes, make sure tent poles are not cracked, the lantern still works and new batteries are packed. RV owners should check their breakers, make sure the tires are properly inflated, roof seams are sealed and their propane tanks are filled.

Check the first aid kit, the toolbox and cookware.

It’s better to find problems at home rather than after arriving at the campsite. After all, last fall was a long time ago.


Options are few for Memorial Day Weekend: Marble Beach and Honey Creek. The rest of the reservable campsites in state parks are either spoken for or only have one or two remaining.

Campsite options for July 4 are much better, but don’t wait too much longer before selecting one.  Parks that filled for July 4 are Backbone, Clear Lake, Elinor Bedell, Emerson Bay, George Wyth, Gull Point, Lewis and Clark, Maquoketa Caves, Stone and Viking Lake. Campers wanting to spend the holiday at those parks will need to arrive days early to secure a non-reservable site.

Parks close to filling are Bellevue, Green Valley, Ledges, Lake Anita, Lake of Three Fires and McIntosh Woods with only a reservable handicap accessible site remaining. Walnut Woods, Lake Macbride, Lake Manawa and Pleasant Creek each have one electric site; Nine Eagles has two electric and one handicap site. Lake Wapello has three and Black Hawk has four and one handicap site. Wapsipinicon has five electric sites remaining.

Parks with higher numbers of available reservable electric sites are Honey Creek, Pine Lake, Brushy Creek, Pikes Peak, Beeds Lake, Marble Beach, Pilot Knob, Lake Keomah, Volga River and Springbrook.

Not every campsite is available on the reservation system. Parks maintain between 25 and 50 percent of the electric and non electric sites as non-reservation sites, available for walk up camping.
Information on Iowa’s state parks is available online at  including links to the reservations page.


• Be a good neighbor. Observe quiet hours and pick up after yourself
• Don’t burn trash – only firewood
• Keep pets on a leash and don’t leave them unattended
• Get firewood locally to avoid transporting pests. 
• Don’t bring fireworks


• Keep track of the weather and have a plan in case of severe weather
• Plan to arrive as early in the day to set up the site, look for potential problems and avoid those areas
• Prepare ingredients for meals before leaving home for less time cooking and more time playing
• Bug spray, sun screen and a basic first-aid kit are must haves
• Check the registration kiosk for activities in the area


The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship requires all firewood sold or acquired in Iowa to have the county and state of harvest location on the label of packages and the delivery ticket for bulk firewood. The rules were added to prevent the spread of invasive species.

The rules only apply to firewood sold and acquired in Iowa.

The rule also requires the Iowa DNR to collect firewood from campers that does not have a label.

For more information contact Todd Coffelt, Chief, State Parks Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-281-8674.