Best Camping in Iowa

Camping in Iowa

By Alex Murphy

Iowa, the Hawkeye State, is probably best known for endless fields of corn. The state is nestled in the Midwest and is surrounded by six other states, making it a short drive to a lot of places. Plus, visitors can see the Mississippi River in the east and the Missouri River in the west. With plenty of historic small towns and State Parks to check out, Iowa may be the perfect road trip state.

Here's a look at some of the places you can stop while making your way through Iowa.

See a map of all camping in Iowa.

Iowa State Parks

There are more than 50 Iowa State Parks managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, plus another handful of parks designated as state parks that are managed by individual counties.

When it comes to camping in Iowa, these parks have plenty of campsites but also feature a number of lakes and forests and Iowa history.

One of the most popular destinations is Pikes Peak State Park which overlooks part of the Mississippi River from an impressive bluff. Lake MacBride State Park is another spot for anyone who loves water sports with campgrounds right near a massive reservoir.

Finally, visitors can stop and see a spot where expeditioners Lewis and Clark made their way across the state. Lewis and Clark State Park has numerous campgrounds, many with electric hookups.

National Parks in Iowa

Long before Lewis and Clark, Native American people living in what is now Iowa, created what's called effigy mounds. The mounds of earth are shaped like animals and were built more than a thousand years ago. The true meaning of them is unknown. About 200 of these mounds are protected inside Effigy Mounds National Monument.

While there is no camping within the park, there are a few campgrounds nearby in the Harpers Ferry area, including Yellow River State Forest and Pine Bluff Campsites.

RV Parks in Iowa

Iowa's state capital and largest city, Des Moines, is more or less smack in the middle of the state. Along with that, you'll find plenty of RV Parks in Iowa right around that area.

For anyone looking to enjoy what Des Moines has to offer or is just passing through the state, you'll find some popular stops at places like Timberline Campground and Griff's Valley View RV Park & Campground.

To the east, visitors will find an area called the Quad Cities, made up of five cities split between Iowa and Illinois and divided by the Mississippi. Travelers can stay in that region at Interstate RV Park.

Finally, for anyone looking to stay just outside Omaha, NE, there are several RV parks on the west side of the state including Bluffs Run RV Park at Horseshoe Casino.

Free Camping in Iowa

Anyone looking for free camping in Iowa is in luck! A number of county parks around the state offer free places to stay overnight. These are a far cry from rest stops found across many other states. Many of these free parks offer amenities like campfire rings, picnic tables, trails, and even fishing ponds.

Some of these Iowa campgrounds include Hickory Hills Park and Great Nature Park which are centrally located near Des Moines and are definitely a destination on their own.

For visitors looking to spend a night while passing through near a highway like I-80, there is Grinnel Rest Area, also near Des Moines.

National Forests in Iowa

The National Forest Service does not manage any land in Iowa.

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Recent Iowa Campground Reviews

Clive, IA

Cracker Barrel

Jan 11, 2024

"Free overnight stay, friendly staff, excellent food"

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Another great Cracker barrel with very welcoming and friendly staff. They had a clear sign outside for RV and camping parking but I checked in at the counter. They didn't need any ID or license number or any information. They did not say a meal was required but I purchased one anyway. $22 with tax and tip for a catfish dinner special, which was...
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3 reviews
Jan 06, 2024

"trout stream campsites"

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super spot!

1 review
Dec 29, 2023

"Nice For A Night"

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Stayed one night. Quite noisy as it is right next to the interstate and quite a few semis. Nice restroom with water fountain and a spicket for water in the restroom.

2 reviews
Onawa, IA

On-Ur-Wa RV Park

Dec 23, 2023

"Big Rig Friendly"

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Super nice owners and extremely clean and well kept. No annuals. Close to food and fuel. 100 foot long sites are great for big rigs. Great for a short stay.

Dec 17, 2023

"Poor management and conditions"

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Was a happy permanent/ seasonal camper until 2023. New owners have forced out or removed 40+ seasonal families. Quiet hours flexible up to 2:30am is owners are part of the action. Campground conditions are going down hill as well. Late mowing leaves long grass covering ground by swing set in seasonal side. Tall weeds not cut down along river...
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1 review