Camping Kickoff

Magazine Cover

Join us for Iowa State Park's annual Camping Kick-Off and reserve your camping spot the first weekend in May.

Many state parks will be hosting programs and activities for the entire family! Take part in kayaking clinics, demonstrations, volunteer projects, special hikes and much more to celebrate the start of the camping season. Plus campers will receive a free issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.

A full schedule of programs is below, so find a park, make a reservation and join us May 4-6. We’ll see you there!

Kickoff Programs

Big Creek State Park
Join us for two events at Big Creek:

May 5, 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM   What's in your water? Learn about lawn care best management practices with live demonstrations by local professionals on fertilizer application, soil quality restoration, pollinator plantings, and landscaping with native prairie plants. Meet at the beach shelter.

May 6, 1:00 - 3:00 PM   Kid's tree planting. Volunteer event for families and kids (ages 5-15) to plant hardwood trees around Big Creek State Park. We will plant about 200 trees, and you can help make a difference to the park's future! Meet at the disc golf parking lot.


Black Hawk State Park
Looking for a volunteer opportunity? Help us with a little spring cleaning and litter pick up of our campground area. We appreciate the extra hands.
May 5, 1:00 -- 2:30 PM    Meet at the 30 Acres campground area.

Brushy Creek State Recreation Area
Brushy Creek and Fisheries. Learn about the history of Brushy Creek Lake and the fish studies currently being conducted by the DNR and Iowa State University.           
May 5, 3:30-4:30 PM   Meet at the Lake View Shelter by the beach. 

Clear Lake State Park
Bringing back the Trumpeters. Learn more about trumpeter swans and Iowa's restoration efforts to increase populations of this majestic native bird.
May 5, 3:30 PM    Meet at the playground at Clear Lake State Park.


Fort Defiance State Park
Fun Run and Obstacle Course. Take part in the Ft. Defiance Extreme 5K Trail Run and 1 mile fun run, sponsored by the Ft. Defiance Friends Group. For all ages and abilities. Register online.
May 5, 10:00 AM    Meet near the lodge.

Ledges State Park
Join park staff for several activities during the weekend!
May 5, 10:00 AM     Geocaching. All ages welcome to learn an introduction, including a short hike to discover a cache in the park. Bring water and bug spray. Meet at the Lost Lake Nature Trail. 

May 5, 1:00 PM    Tree Detectives. Join this family-friendly program to learn basic tree identification skills and create a leaf identification booklet to take home. Meet at the Oak Woods picnic area (near the restroom building).

May 5, 3:00 PM    Guided Hike. Join park staff to climb the hills, visit scenic overlooks and marvel at the sandstone walls of Ledges Canyon. Learn geology, ecology and history along the way. All ages welcome for this moderately challenging hike. Bring bug spray and water. Meet at the Flood Pole parking lot near canyon exit.

May 6, 11:00 AM   Behind the Scenes. Learn more about the park's campground renovation project. All ages welcome for this short hike. Meet at the campground entrance.

McIntosh Woods State Park
Nature's bloomers. Learn about this park's natural resources with staff and enjoy a trail hike to look for blooming wildflowers.
May 5, 2:00 PM     Meet at the Smokey the Bear statue at the camp area entrance.

Pilot Knob State Park
Join park staff and the friends group for two fun events.
May 5, 9:00 AM   Fun Run. Registration begins at 9:00 AM for a 10:00 AM 4K run/walk/salute hosted by the Family Alliance for Veterans of America (FAVA). Pre-register for $10 or on the day of the event for $15. All proceeds go to FAVA. Meet at Loop Shelter near the amphitheater.

May 5, 10:00 AM   Volunteer Event. Join the Friends of Pilot Knob for their annual volunteer day to spruce up the park, followed by a free lunch. Meet at the campground.

May 5, 3:00 PM   Emerald Ash Borer Discussion. The DNR district forester will join park staff on a presentation about Emerald Ash Borer, potential impacts to area trees, and how Pilot Knob State Park is taking action steps to address the disease. Meet at the campground.


Prairie Rose State Park
Join staff for two fun aquatic events.
May 5, Time TBD   Kayaking. Learn kayaking skills with a naturalist on the lake. Kayaks and life jackets will be provided. Meet at the east side of County Road M47.

May 6, 1:30 PM   Aquatic Netting. Bring your family and catch aquatic species in the lake. Meet by the lake in front of campsites 12-15.

Springbrook State Park
Join our campground hosts and DNR educator Anne Riordan for ongoing programs:
May 5, 9:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.   Kayaking. Basic instruction followed by a paddling adventure on the lake. Kayaks provided or bring your own. Meet at the beach.
May 5, 1:00 p.m.   Music in the Campground. Enjoy a live, acoustic music jam in the afternoon and into the evening at the campground gazebo. Bring lawn chairs and blankets.                           


Backbone State Park
Fun Run. Join park staff and Backbone Lake Friends Group to celebrate the beauty and fun of the park with the Backbone Trail Run. Approximately four miles long, you will experience a small portion of the Backbone Trail system.
May 5, 9:00 AM     Meet at the lodge at the beach.

Beed's Lake State Park
Kayaking Primer. Stop by and learn canoeing and kayaking basics park staff. Canoes and kayaks provided.
May 5, 10:00 AM -- 2:00 PM   Meet at the campground.

Bellevue State Park
Join park staff for two events:

May 5, 9:00 AM   Fun Run. For all ages, enjoy this run or walk on a trail loop. Meet at the Dyas Unit shower building.

May 5, 10:00 AM   Volunteer Event. Help us paint picnic tables and fire rings to get ready for summer! Supplies provided. Wear old clothes. Meet at the Dyas Unit check-in station. 

Lake Macbride State Park
Volunteer Event. Help rebuild and stain picnic tables to get ready for summer! All ages welcome and supplies provided. Wear old clothes.
May 5, 10:00 AM     Meet at the beach parking lot.

Pikes Peak State Park
Tree Planting. We will be planting 500+ trees and installing tree tubes in the tornado-affected areas near Point Ann. Bring gloves and a sack lunch. Friends of Pikes Peak will provide water and soda.
May 5, 10:00 AM   Meet at the Homestead parking lot (15316 Great River Road, McGregor).

Pine Lake State Park
Volunteer Event and Dedication Ceremony. A park clean-up event will follow the dedication of a bench in memory of Lance Corporal Cody Haley. Join us for litter clean-up, invasive species removal and shrub planting. The event is organized by park staff, Friends of Pine Lake, and family and friends of Lance Corporal Cody Haley who was killed during training last fall. Cody was from Eldora and enjoyed Pine Lake State Park. The event is open and anyone is encouraged to participate. Wear long pants, gloves, and sturdy shoes. Bring water and bug spray.
May 6, 2:00 PM     Meet at the Iowa River boat ramp.

Rock Creek State Park
Join us for two events this weekend:                                  

May 5, 9:00 - 2:00 PM  Tree Planting. Help plant trees around the campground. Everyone is welcome and tools will be provided. Bring gloves. Meet near camp host site near the main shower building.

May 5, 8:30 PM    Night Sky Viewing. Park staff will lead a star viewing program with telescopes. Meet at the east shelter, south of the non-electric campground.

Volga River State Recreation Area
Morel Mushroom Hunting. Join park manager Jason Dykstra on a morel mushroom hike and learn common places to find them. Wear sturdy footwear, long pants and bring tick repellent.
May 5, 10:00 AM     Meet at the Lake Shelter.


Wapsipinicon State Park
Volunteer Event. Wapsipinicon is hosting a volunteer event the following weekend after Camping Kick-Off! Help paint picnic tables and pull garlic mustard plants. Wear appropriate clothing. Bring gloves, water and bug spray. 
May 11, Noon - 3:00 PM     Meet at the Park Office.

Green Valley State Park
Kayaking Primer. DNR Paddling Instructor Todd Robertson will lead a kayaking skills "primer" with free time to paddle after instruction. Canoes and kayaks provided. 
May 5, 10:00 AM     Meet at campground shoreline

Lake Anita State Park
Kayaking. Basic instruction followed by a paddling adventure on the lake. Kayaks provided or bring your own.
May 4, 5:30 - 8:00 PM      Meet at the boat ramp.

Lake of Three Fires State Park
Deer Hunting Tips. Join us for a discussion about deer hunting and whitetail deer. Targeted to people ages 12 and over but everyone is welcome. The talk will be followed by a nature hike on park trails.
May 5, 10:00 PM     Meet near the Beach Lodge.

Wilson Island State Recreation Area
Join us for two fun events:

May 4, 7:00 PM     Scavenger Hunt. Get ready for an evening nature scavenger hunt! If you complete the scavenger hunt by Saturday you can earn a prize.For all ages. Meet at playground.

May 5, 2:00 PM    Prairie Planting. Help us plant pollinator-attracting and other prairie plants. Bring water and gloves, tools provided. Meet at the park office.


Elk Rock State Park
Volunteer Event. Help us clean up the park by picking up litter on trails and roadways.
May 5, 10:00 AM    Meet at the equestrian shelter.

Honey Creek State Park
Fire starter! Learn several different techniques for starting a campfire with Park Manager Starla Atwell.
May 5, 10:00 AM     Meet at the north shower building.

Honey Creek Resort
Wellness Weekend! Stay for the entire weekend with a full schedule of yoga, meditation, nature programs, healthy eats and more. Learn more and book your weekend package today.
May 4-6  Arrive Friday afternoon and stay through Sunday noon.


Lake Darling State Park
Fisheries Research -- It's Shocking! Join our fisheries staff to learn how they use the shocking and survey technique in fisheries research. Program is approximately 1 hour. 
May 5, 11:00 PM     Meet at the campground boat ramp.

Red Haw State Park
Red Haw 101. Join DNR park staff for a discussion about the history of the park, upcoming activities, park improvements and future needs. Bring lawn chairs.
May 5, 5:00 PM     Meet at the campground host site.

Stephens State Forest
Meet and Greet. Meet the staff that help manage the state forest campground in an informal question-and-answer discussion.
May 5, 7:00 PM     Meet at the west equestrian campground.


Walnut Woods State Park
Join us for several events for a celebration of earth, water and sky..

May 6, 10:00 AM - Noon.   Trail Hike. Begin the day by exploring the trail on a guided hike through the woods. Bring a picnic lunch and stay for afternoon activities! Meet at the campground visitor parking area.

May 6, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM.   Purple Martin Tour. Meet the resident purple martins and learn about these amazing colonial nesters from Park Manager Tim Gedler. Meet at the Purple Martin Lake parking area.

May 6, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM.   Kayaking. Learn basic kayaking skills followed by a paddling adventure on Purple Martin Lake, adjacent to Walnut Woods. Kayaks provided or bring your own. Meet at the Purple Martin Lake parking area.



Make your online reservation for state park cabins, campsites, shelters and lodges:

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Before you head out...

Before heading to the campground, spend some time going through 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 breakers, make sure the tires are properly inflated, roof seams are sealed and 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.


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


  • Check the state parks’ alerts and closures webpage 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 as early in the day to set up the site.
  • 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.


 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 entire State of Iowa is quarantined for emerald ash borer.

All firewood sold or acquired in Iowa must have a label with the county and state of harvest. The DNR will collect firewood from campers who do not have a label.