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

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
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
Coralville, IA


Nov 22, 2023

"Easy Access And Great Location"

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Easy access from the highway and large level lot. Clean environment and safe surroundings. Lots of restaurants and shopping within walking distance. Well stocked Walmart grocery store and warm dinner options. We had a quiet night and a warm dinner from Walmart. We would stay again.

13 reviews
Council Bluffs, IA


Oct 30, 2023

"Close to Freeways"

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I confirmed with management in October 2023 that overnight parking is permissible. Management asks us to park at the end of the parking lot away from the store entrances so as to not block customer parking.

Bob K
121 reviews
Moorhead, IA

Jones Creek Pond

Oct 18, 2023

"Decent quiet place"

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Only issue we has is game warden came out with a attitude asking how long we been there after 2 days then told us there was a 14 day limit, we told him we knew. Other than that beautiful place nice wide trails to walk. The stars at night are beautiful and if your lucky like we were and get to experience the full moon there is is amazing. Def...
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8 reviews