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.

portable computer displaying map of camping locations
mobile device showing map of camping locations


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Recent Iowa Free Campsite Reviews

Sep 16, 2021

"A good place to stop. Google has a hard time figuring out where it was."

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As the title says, its a good, safe place to stay. It really is in the middle of no where, and the land is so flat you can see for miles. It's back on a gravel road, and its literally in a wetland. So be prepared for mosquitoes, and flies. Over all though its safe, it's clean, and it's private. There's not much more you can ask for!

Kady Wilson
4 reviews
Central City, IA

Wakpicada Natural Area

Sep 10, 2021

"Very simple and clean campground "

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This campground has about 5 sites. At the campground bulletin board: To the right is two large sites. One is right by small pond To the left is about 3 sites. All have picnic table and fire rings. Very clean and quiet. About 13 min away from small town with fuel stations and fast food.

Allison Kelly
6 reviews
Sep 05, 2021

"A fine free spot"

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There's a lot to do nearby if you're looking for attractions. The parking lot was free, we didn't check in with security, just went to the most northern end and parked. It was a Saturday night and it was mostly empty, just one other RV and a few semi trucks. There was some grass where we walked the dogs and the parking lot was so empty that the...
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Katie Fox
27 reviews
Sep 04, 2021

"Nice little park"

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Spent 5 nights here the people that had the upper spot left the next day so I stole there spot so I would have more shade but that had left quite the mess to clean up trash and dog mess. I had plans to stay the hole 7 days aloud but 3 more campers showed up and just let there dogs run and where coming up to my camp and my dog don’t like other...
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6 reviews
Sep 04, 2021

"Good place to camp"

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The camp sites are very nice. Private and spaced a nice distance apart. Because it's a first come first serve I made a point of arriving early in the afternoon on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. I got one of the last two sites. Many people came afterward looking for an available site. It was a little noisy with children at the two...
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Gail Shaff
1 review