Iowa is what is typically referred to as a “flyover state.” Known for agriculture and meat packing plants, Iowa is not exactly a popular tourist destination. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great hidden gems here.
Where to Camp in the Hawkeye State
Iowa’s topography of plains and gentle, rolling hills makes it perfect for stargazing or watching a stunning sunset. Combine that with the great fishing in its 13 natural lakes, and it’s not hard to see why Iowa can be a great camping destination both for locals and for fellow Midwesterners seeking a quick getaway.
Here are our picks for the best campgrounds in Iowa.
1. Maquoketa Caves State Park – Makoqueta
Ledges offers 95 campsites; 40 with electrical hookups (1 of which is fully accessible), 42 non-electric (1 of which is fully accessible), and 12 hike-in. Modern rest rooms, showers, a trailer dump station and a playground are located in the campground. Advance campsite reservations can be made online through the park reservation system. Half of the campsites are still available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Learn more.
2. Pikes Peak State Park – McGrogor
Pikes Peak State Park is one of the most photographed places in Iowa. Pikes Peak is rich in natural, cultural and historical resources, and famed for its majestic views of the Mississippi River. Stand atop the 500 foot bluff (1,130 foot elevation) for a breathtaking view and see the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. Learn more.
3. Backbone State Park – Strawberry Point
Backbone State Park was dedicated in 1920. It was Iowa’s first state park and remains one of the most geographically unique. Backbone is named for the steep and narrow ridge of bedrock cut by a loop of the Maquoketa River and forming the highest point in northeast Iowa – the Devil’s Backbone. If you enjoy bicycling, boating, camping, climbing, fishing, hiking, picknicking or if you want to take a walk back in time to the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps, this is the place for you. Learn more.
4. Little Wall State Park – Jewell
Little Wall Lake is termed a “natural lake” by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The lake was formed as a result of glacial movements across the area thousands of years ago. Because of the small watershed which feeds the lake, it was more of a marsh than an open body of water. Only with artificial efforts, such as dredging, has the area become a lake and not become an eventual marsh. Learn more.
5. Lake Red Rock Recreation Area – Madrid County
Whether you’re pitching a tent or parking a luxury camper, the Red Rock area has a variety of campsites perfect for your needs. There are federal-, state- and county-operated campgrounds in addition to private campgrounds. Find the campground that best fits your needs for conveniences and recreational activities. Enjoy your stay under the starry nights of an Iowa sky with family or friends. Learn more.
6. Riverview Ridge Campgrounds – Cascade
Riverview Ridge is a full service campground equipped with RV and tent sites. We are located along the North Fork of the Maquoketa River in eastern Iowa, the heartland of America. You’ll find us among the limestone bluffs and lush riverbanks near the cozy town of Cascade, Iowa. We offer tube & kayak rentals, hiking/walking through our additional 80 acre terrain, and more. Learn more.
7. Saylorville Lake – Des Moines
8. Coralville Lake – Iowa City
Coralville Lake has three campgrounds with 500 campsites available. A wide variety of recreational activities are available including fishing, picnic areas with group shelters, boat ramps, accessible fishing pier, river and lake fishing, hunting, mountain bike trails, hiking trails, lake swimming, sand volleyball and boating activities. Learn more.
9. Mill Creek State Park – O’Brien County
Mill Creek Park is one of the highlights of O’Brien County. The park offers a variety of activities for the whole family throughout the year! Learn more.
10. Ledges State Park – Boone
With its distinctive geological and archeological features, breathtaking views and vibrant history, Ledges State Park is a nature lover’s paradise. One of the very first state parks in Iowa, Ledges has been a must-see Iowa attraction for decades. In addition to natural beauty, several structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps are a must see- from an arch stone bridge to a shelter in Oak Woods, stone trail steps and a shelter in Lower Ledges. Learn more.
Do you have a favorite camping spot in Iowa that wasn’t included on this list? Let us know in the comments!
And be sure to check out the rest of our Best Campgrounds in the US series.