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Camping Season is Underway

  • 5/24/2016 1:27:00 PM
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Many Iowa campers have already taken advantage of this spring’s beautiful camping weather, and many more will join them at the end of the week.

Anxious campers are going through their equipment and checking supplies, preparing for the Memorial Day weekend and kickoff to summer. Likewise, state park staff is going through the final stages of prep work for its peak camping season. Iowa’s state parks expect to host more than 900,000 overnight stays and nearly 15 million day visits this year.

“We look forward to welcoming people to our parks each year,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of State Parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It really takes a small army to make our summer season happen, not just with our full time staff, but with seasonal workers, interpreters and concessionaires as well. And we couldn’t do it without the support of our friends groups, campground hosts and other volunteers.”

“Like most years, there will be some new things for visitors to see and enjoy at our parks this summer,” says Coffelt.

Campground renovations at Fairport and Lake Wapello in eastern Iowa are nearly complete and campers should be able to enjoy the new facilities at these parks by July 4 weekend and mid–summer, respectively. Road work that has prevented access to campgrounds at Springbrook and Lake Keomah state parks is wrapping up and both campgrounds will take reservations by mid-June.

Campers at Bellevue and Backbone state parks will find a brand new shower building at each location.

The lake at Union Grove State Park has refilled after renovation last year and campground and cabin reservations can again be made beginning June 1. There is a brand new second cabin available to rent this year as well.

The three large shelters and nine beach cabanas at Big Creek, north of Des Moines, can now be reserved online. New, similar shelters are also available at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area. Four beach cabanas at Brushy are available to reserve online in mid-June and the large Lake View shelter will be available in July. The large shelters each have an adjacent modern restroom and have capacities of 180 each at Big Creek and 140 at the Lake View. The beach cabanas each hold 10 people.

Other parks will be receiving facility, lake and trail improvements this summer, but most major construction is scheduled for after Labor Day, to minimize the impact during the recreation season.

For several years, Iowa’s state parks have been expanding interpretive programing during the summer season. This year, look for interpretive programs at Backbone, Bellevue, Big Creek, Brushy Creek, Dolliver Memorial, George Wyth, Lake Ahquabi, Ledges, Lewis and Clark, Macbride, Maquoketa Caves, Mines of Spain, Prairie Rose, Springbrook, Viking, Wildcat Den and in parks around the Iowa Great Lakes.  Check the DNR’s events calendar at for more information.

Honey Creek Resort State Park also offers interpretive programs, as well as a golf course, water park and a long list of outdoor items available to rent. The resort’s RV park, cottages and lodge offer comfortable accommodations along the north shore of Lake Rathbun. 

Several parks will have concessions. Backbone, Big Creek, George Wyth, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Macbride, Lake Manawa, Rock Creek, Springbrook and Viking Lake will have snacks, firewood and other concession items. Viking Lake’s restaurant will open for the season this Thursday. Backbone, Big Creek, George Wyth, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Darling, Lake Keomah, Lake Macbride, Lake Manawa, Lake Wapello, Rock Creek and Viking Lake will have boats available to rent. Elk Rock, Green Valley, Lacey-Keosauqua, Lake Anita, Ledges, Lewis and Clark, Pleasant Creek, Prairie Rose, Walnut Woods, Wildcat Den and Wilson Island will have firewood for sale.


Sites for Holiday Weekends going fast

There are still plenty of walk-up campsites for the Memorial Day weekend but many campers will be arriving early to secure those spots through the weekend. Parks maintain between 25 and 50 percent of the electric and non-electric sites as non-reservation sites, available for walk-up camping.

Campsite options for July 4 are going quickly and people planning to make reservations need to do so now. Very few standard electric sites are available to reserve, but a number of parks still have non-electric sites.


Special Presentation at Dolliver and Ledges Memorial Day weekend

“Dollar-a-Day Boys,” a 75-minute program with stories and songs about the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), will be presented by Bill Jamerson at both Ledges and Dolliver Memorial state parks this weekend.

Since 1992, Jamerson has research the CCC and presented his program throughout the Midwest. The CCC employed 3.5 million men during the Great Depression and Iowa's state parks are direct beneficiaries of their work. The beautiful stone and timber buildings and many other structures within the parks were built by the men of the CCC.

The Ledges program will be given on Friday, May 27 at the campground entrance amphitheater at 6:30 p.m. The Dolliver program will be Saturday, May 28 at the Center Lodge at 11 a.m. Both presentations are free and open to the public.


Check Equipment

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.


Campground Etiquette

  • 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


Camping Tips

  • 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, 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 entire State of Iowa is quarantined for emerald ash borer. Although it is not illegal to transport firewood within the state it is still 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.


Cabin Availability

Cabins are available for the Memorial Day weekend for two-night minimum stays at Lacey-Keosauqua, Lake of Three Fires, Lake Wapello and Nine Eagles state parks, but must be reserved through the park’s office.

Backbone’s eight two-bedroom cabins were recently remodeled and are now available for summer reservations. Six brand new modern family cabins are completed at Lake Darling. They, along with the park’s camping cabins, are expected to be open for reservations mid-summer, when roadwork to them is completed. And the cabin at Union Grove, along with a second brand new cabin will be available for reservations online June 1.

Together, 19 of Iowa’s state parks have a more than 90 family cabins, multifamily cabins, camping cabins and yurts providing alternatives to a traditional tent or RV overnight stay.