Best Free Camping in Iowa

Free Camping in Iowa

By Nathan Swartz

With no national forests or Bureau of Land Management presence, Iowa has some of the least free camping available in the US. That said, the Hawkeye State does have a few offerings, particularly near Des Moines and Lake Red Rock.

See a map of all free camping in Iowa.

Free Camping via Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Most of the free RV camping you'll find in the state comes via public lands managed by Iowa's DNR. Eagle Lake State Game Management Area–one of the more popular of these destinations and located near Mason City, Iowa–isn't much more than an open patch of field with a couple of trees and a stream running through it. The fact that it comes with no price tag, is easy to access and even has good cell service, makes it one of the most visited of Iowa's free camping areas.

On the polar opposite end of the state, Eldon Wildlife Management Area is little more than a few wide spots in the road with pull-offs that can accommodate medium-sized RVs but serves as another prime example of what free camping in Iowa is all about–a spot to call home with decent views and, in Eldon WMA's case, access to a river.

Free Camping in Iowa State Forests

While the majority of camping in Iowa's state forests are either via paid, designated campgrounds or open to hikers only, free camping can be found in the state's newest state forest, Loess Hills has some free camping available via a small dirt lot along the banks of Jones Creek Pond.

There are even more options throughout Iowa's state forests if you're car camping or tent camping.

Free Camping in Iowa County Parks

Warren County provides three parks that offer RV camping, all within an hour of Des Moines. Expect a nice country drive into a forested camping experience, a picnic table, a fire ring and vault toilet, and not much else. The nicest of these is probably David Bates Memorial Park along the Iowa River.

Free Camping at Casinos in Iowa

If you're not specifically set on doing your overnighting in a campground, casino parking lots in the state offer a place to stay at no cost. Casino camping varies wildly based on the business in question, so it's often a good idea to call ahead to get a better idea of the rules for your stay length, whether you can have kids in tow, and whatever other camping regulations they have set as conditions on your stay apply. Often, though, they'll give you a few free bucks worth of play in the casino, and–if it's not obvious–they're hoping you'll be joining them inside.

These casinos are all located off of I-80 and on a trajectory toward Des Moines, should that help make your camping road trip easier.

Beyond casinos, businesses like Walmart and Bass Pro Shops also allow overnight stays in their parking lots. More of an RV parking than camping experience, they're nonetheless convenient when you just need somewhere to get off the road come nightfall.

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Recent Iowa Free Campsite Reviews

Dec 03, 2022

"Convenient stop with good amenities."

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This is one of the best rest areas i have ever stopped at. Clean and extremely modern facilities. It almost doubles as a museum with displays and interpretive plaques dedicated to wind turbine energy production. There were also several picnic areas with tables and charcoal bbq pits and a small grassy area for dogs. It was quite busy overnight...
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2 reviews
Oct 10, 2022

"Casino Parking Lot, Lighted, Convenient "

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The parking lot had signs for semi parking. Lots of different people parking for the night. Only real noise was from the rigs running. Our little Trend basically sits in one parking spot. We parked close to the building, only stayed one night. There are restaurants inside, and of course gambling.

5 reviews
Indianola, IA

Otter Creek Park

Sep 21, 2022

"no longer free, but only $5, and worth it"

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VERY out of the way place. Google maps took me down a MINIMUM MAINTENCE road to the east of it, but I found a better one to the west to get there. Lots of bumpy old gravel roads to get there, but very secluded and quiet. Nice spots, with big cement fire pit and wooden picnic tables at each. There are a bunch of hiking trails I didn't...
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2 reviews
Sep 12, 2022

"Quick And Easy "

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Dump station to the left as you pull in

13 reviews
Sep 11, 2022

"Big Open Lot"

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The road to get in was closed coming from the south but we called the casino and they quickly directed us around. The lot in the back was very spacious. We stayed for two nights because the weather was terrible and we didn’t want to drive in the rain. Two rvs were there and 5-6 trucks were in and out. Only 3 there at one time. It was quiet. Nice...
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13 reviews