Iowa campers, picnickers and outdoor enthusiasts are gearing up for the Memorial Day weekend and the official start of summer. If the weather continues as it has been, Iowa’s state parks will be busting at the seams.
“We're looking forward to another great year of visiting with fellow Iowans as they are enjoying their state parks,” says Todd Coffelt, chief of state parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “State parks provide great opportunities for outdoor recreation, relaxation, and general fun.”
Iowa’s state parks expect to host nearly 15 million day visits this year and more than 900,000 overnight stays. Iowa has more than 4,700 state park campsites and between 50 and 75 percent of them can be reserved in advance. This year, more than 300 existing campsites were added to the reservation system, making planning vacations a little easier.
So, what is the possibility of getting a campsite for the holiday weekend? Currently, statewide, there are roughly a half-dozen electric sites left to reserve for Memorial Day weekend. There are, however, a good number of non-electric sites still available online. Parks maintain between 25 and 50 percent of all site types for walk-in camping, but keep in mind that many campers will arrive early to secure those spots through the holiday weekend.
Looking ahead to the Fourth of July holiday, campsite reservation options are going quickly and are gone at the most popular parks. Like the Memorial Day weekend, nearly all standard electric sites are reserved, but a number of parks still have non-electric sites.
“We love to see our campgrounds full,” says Coffelt, “And our reservation system makes it easy for our campers to plan for these big holidays.
State park campsites can be reserved three months ahead of an arrival date. So, reservations for the Labor Day weekend will open June 1 for a Friday arrival.
To check availability of campsites and to make a reservation, go to www.iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com The website recently had a significant face-lift, making it more appealing and user friendly, with links to state park events and social media outlets.
Besides campsites, 19 Iowa state parks together have more than 90 cabins and yurts for overnight reservations. Camping cabins only require a two-night minimum reservation and are available at Green Valley, Honey Creek, Lake Darling, Prairie Rose, Stone and Waubonsie state parks, and Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area. Two yurts, circular tent-like structures on platforms, are also available for two-night stays at McIntosh Woods State Park.
Family cabins, varying in size and amenities, require a Friday-to-Friday stay Memorial Day through Labor Day. Eight parks currently have family cabins available for week-long stay beginning the Friday of Memorial Day.
Beautiful lodges and shelters offer great options for day visitors planning summer reunions, birthday parties and other gatherings. More than 90 shelters are still available to reserve for the Memorial Day weekend.
“We are open for business,” says Coffelt, “and our staff, together with our great friends groups, campground hosts and other volunteers, aims to make our visitors’ experience the best it can be.”
A Few Things to Know Before You Go
The new fireworks law does not change what state parks currently allow. Individuals have been and will continue to be allowed to use what are called novelties, which include party poppers, snappers, toy smoke devices, snakes, glow worms, wire sparklers and dipped sticks. A special event "fireworks" permit is still required to use all other fireworks in parks. For additional information on special event permits go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Camping/Rules-Regulations/Special-Events
Visitors to Lake Macbride State Park and Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area are reminded that an alcohol ban is in effect for the beaches at those areas. The ban applies to both the sand area of the beach, a 200-foot buffer of land surrounding the sand, and the designated swimming area adjacent to the beach as marked by buoys or swim lines.
Remember to be a good neighbor. Campgrounds become small communities and respecting park rules and other campers can make everyone’s experience an enjoyable one. Simple things like observing quiet hours and picking up after yourself are important. Be sure to keep pets on a leash and don’t leave them unattended. Burn firewood in designated campfire rings only; don’t burn trash.
It is strongly recommended that firewood should be obtained only within the county where it will be burned. It is important not move firewood from county to county or state to state to prevent the spread of forest pests.
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 rule was added to prevent the spread of invasive species, and applies only 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.
General Tips for Your Next Park Visit
- Check the state parks’ alerts and closures webpage www.iowadnr.gov/parkclosures for updates prior to leaving. Weather often impacts trails and other park facilities.
- Keep track of the weather and have a plan in case of severe weather.
- Plan to arrive early in the day to set up your site. Trying to pitch a tent or set up an RV is always more difficult in the dark.
- 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 and other information.
Visit www.iowadnr.gov/stateparks for more information about campsites, cabins, events, closures and to sign up to receive State Parks News electronically.