Explore lakes, rivers, wide-open expanses, and hilly countryside in the heart of the American Midwest.
Sandwiched between the Mississippi, Missouri, and Big Sioux Rivers, Iowa is characterized by a mix of plains and hilly countryside, farmlands, lakes, and rivers. This Midwestern state is full of spots to get out and adventure, with about 83 state parks and nearly 6,000 campsites spread among them. The state also has an extensive river system—with numerous lakes and reservoirs—and boating and angling are among the most popular summer activities here. Like elsewhere in the Midwest, the winter months often bring with them plenty of snow, ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Northwest Iowa has lots of parks and camping opportunities along the Des Moines River, including the massive Brushy Creek State Recreation Area and Dolliver Memorial State Park. The Lakes Region—home to West and East Okoboji Lakes and Big Spirit Lake—is particularly popular among boaters, anglers, and birders, with a number of state parks and wildlife preserves across the region. Camping is available at Gull Point State Park.
Southwest Iowa is characterized by wide-open farmland and pretty woodlands. Cyclists can take a tour of this region on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, which stretches for 63 miles from the Missouri border up to Council Bluffs near the Nebraska border. The region's Loess Hills State Forest is one of the more popular areas for outdoor recreation, offering a fishing lake and more than 60 miles of trails.
Iowa's Northeast is ideal for getting outside, with miles of recreation opportunities, from trout fishing to canoeing, on the Mississippi River and its Upper Iowa River tributary. Popular spots in the region include Backbone State Park, which offers camping, fishing, and cycling and hiking trails. The Effigy Mounds National Monument, which preserves hundreds of ancient effigy mounds built by Indigenous people during the first millennium, is also worth a visit.
There's no shortage of lakes in Iowa's southeastern region, including Lake Keomah, Indian Lake, and Lake Bonnefield, in the charming town of Fairfield. This region is home to Lake Red Rock—the largest lake in the state—and the lakefront Elk Rock State Park offers camping, boat ramps, and 13 miles of trails. Other lake areas worth checking out include Geode State Park on the banks of Lake Geode and Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, which has camping, cabin rentals, and easy access to Lake Seguma.
In Iowa, you can find free camping at several locations, including some county parks and wildlife management areas. Keep in mind that amenities may be limited, and you should always follow the Leave No Trace principles. Some popular free camping spots in Iowa include the following:
For more camping options in Iowa, you can explore Hipcamp.
Permits are not generally required for camping in Iowa's state parks, but you will need to pay fees and make reservations for campsites. To reserve a campsite, you can use the Iowa State Parks reservation system. Fees vary depending on the type of campsite and amenities provided, such as electricity and water hookups. Some campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's a good idea to arrive early during peak camping season. You can explore various camping options in Iowa, including forest, river, and fishing camping, on Hipcamp. Be sure to follow the rules and regulations of the specific park or campground you choose to camp in.
Camping fees at Iowa State Parks can vary depending on the type of site and amenities provided. Generally, prices range from around $11 to $24 per night for a standard non-electric tent site. Electric sites can cost between $16 and $26 per night. Full hookup sites with electric, water, and sewer can range from $19 to $32 per night. You can find more information on Iowa State Parks camping options by visiting Hipcamp.
To reserve a camping spot in Iowa, you can use the Iowa State Parks Reservation System for public parks and campgrounds. This system allows you to search for available camping spots, view campsite details, and make reservations online. Keep in mind that for public parks and campgrounds, you cannot make reservations on Hipcamp, but you can learn about them.
If you are looking for private campgrounds, you can use Hipcamp to find and book unique camping experiences on private land, including tent camping, RV camping, and cabin rentals. Simply search for your desired location in Iowa, browse the available listings, and make a reservation through the Hipcamp platform.