Best known for its rich farming history, Iowa is also rich and diverse in nature, with a multitude of destinations to camp and hike. If you’re planning on camping in Iowa, you’re in luck.
Effigy Mounds National Monument is situated on the bank of the Mississippi River at the eastern border of Iowa. Part of the “driftless” region of Iowa that was left untouched by the passing glaciers thousands of years ago, the area’s bluffs, forests, and other habitats host diverse ecosystems to explore and admire.
More than that, Effigy Mounds is notable for its historic settlement by the Native American Effigy Moundbuilders, who build massive sets of mounds that, from a bird’s eye view, form the shape of animals such as bears, cats, and birds. These nature-inspired monuments blend well with the natural scenery, making it an ideal site for camping.
Another excellent site for camping in Iowa is Maquoketa Caves State Park. Located next to the eastern Iowa town of Maquoketa, the 370-acre park contains amazing caves weaving throughout the limestone bedrock of the bluffs. Spelunkers and nature-enthusiasts alike will enjoy exploring the caverns, such as the 800-foot long Dancehall Cave.
Even if you’re not up for venturing into the caverns, there are plenty of other things to do at Maquoketa Caves. Hikers can walk along six miles of trails throughout the park, passing by habitats ranging from bluffs to woodlands to prairies. Unfortunately, the campgrounds are closed until October 2018 for renovations to the camping facilities, but when it is open again you should definitely consider a visit.
Camping in Iowa is diverse and plentiful, there are countless campsites and trails that you may wish to consider. Once you start exploring Iowa’s natural ecosystems, you’ll begin to see the true beauty of the vibrant state.
As a family we go to Hitchcock a few times a year for the hiking and the archery range they have on-site. Both are excellent and a nice escape from the city! This spring/summer I am planning to take our boys for a nice hike in camp!
Offers cabins, fishing pond, lots of weekend activities. Amenities include store, snack bar, indoor and outdoor pool, laundry, catch-and-release fishing pond, mini golf, and more.
Surrounded by hardwood forests and native prairie, Langwood Education Center, located in rural Wapello, Iowa is the perfect spot for nature retreats, family gatherings, outdoor education classes, and more.
With rates starting as low as $99 per day/$194 per overnight for up to 100 people, Langwood provides a quiet and serene setting for camping, hiking, canoeing, and reconnecting with nature.
There is plenty of space for individual tents, as well as 5 electrical hookups for RVs for $10 per night per RV. An A-frame bunkhouse is also available. The bunkhouse is a split level with a total of 21 single beds on the first and second level. Campers will need to bring their own bedding. While Langwood is open through the winter months, water is shut off, so campers will need to bring their own water supply. Check in time is after 1:00pm and check out time is 11:00am.
Campfire rings and outdoor picnic tables are available. Langwood’s 92 acres houses a lodge with a full kitchen, and ample seating including tables and chairs. There is a separate, modern restroom within short walking distance of the bunkhouse and lodge.
For an additional fee, campers can use the ropes course located by a large pond on the property. Six canoes are also on site for use. There is no additional fee for the canoes, but a waiver must be signed in order to use them.
For the women's outdoor retreat weekend I attended, I chose to bring my tent and camp out rather than utilize the bunk house. The area for tent camping is quite large with a variety of shade trees, and offers a fair amount of privacy.
With hiking trails throughout the property, the woods offer prime area to see migratory birds such as kingfishers, herons, and a multitude of warblers. At night, great horned and barred owls can be heard calling back and forth.
Langwood provides quiet walks through Iowa prairies and clear, star-gazing nights. This spot is perfect for larger gatherings, offering privacy and a quiet space away from the busyness of everyday life.
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. This time around I had the opportunity to test out the three-in-one RōM Pack from RōM Outdoors. https://romoutdoors.com/product/rom-pack/
I’m always up for giving a new backpack a try. I was really interested to see how the RoM Pack compared to my other daypacks and backpack. The RoM Pack is unique as it offers a twist on the traditional pack; a three-in-one pack, blanket, rain poncho combo.
I took the RoM pack with me on the recent women’s outdoor retreat at Langwood Education Center. It seemed like the perfect weekend to test out the versatility of this pack. From prairie seed collection, to orienteering, to night hikes, the pack offered something useful throughout the retreat. The pack includes two detachable, smaller saddlebags; great for throwing a water bottle and snacks in for the prairie seed collection hike.
Between sessions, we had the opportunity to wander the grounds and take time to relax. This presented the perfect opportunity to break the pack down and try out the blanket. It was a cool autumn day, and lounging in the sun was a nice reprieve from the busy morning activities.
While it didn’t rain during my stay, I did decide to try on the poncho to see how it fit. It was a little bulky, but would definitely help repel rain. It was easy enough to take off and flip back over to blanket mode.The outer material is meant to resist water, so whether you’re wearing it at as a poncho or using it as a blanket, you’ll stay dry. Another plus is the removable stuff sack located inside the pack. I used it specifically to store my dirty clothes from the first day of the retreat.
The pack itself is made of a durable, water resistant material, and includes two mesh side pockets good for stowing water bottles, and bug spray. While the pack is slightly heavier than my other daypacks, 4.6 lbs, I would consider using it for shorter day hikes, but will get the most use out of it to store and carry clothes and gear on camping and fishing trips. I’m also a shorter individual, so the pack was a little big on me. I was able to adjust the straps enough to get a fairly secure fit.
The RoM Pack also comes with a small booklet with step by step directions on how to put the pack back together after breaking it down. The booklet also includes information on identifying poison ivy, oak, and sumac as well as different ways to build a campfire; a nice addition to the pack itself.
quiet setting, fishing and shopping close by
Ledges State Park is one of the most visited parks in Iowa. I loved coming to this park as a kid and I can't wait for it to re-open. It has been closed since January 2018, but it scheduled to re-open in January of 2019. Here is a link to a local story explaining the closure and flooding and the schedule to re-open the park.
This is an update from my previous post now with pics and a little snow. This campground is a little off of the beaten path but it is quiet and has great hiking trails. It is also known locally for its effigy mounds where native american artifact were buried.
This is a great place if you like peace and quiet and local hiking trails.
This is a great State Park and a great campground. There are a lot of great trees to hang a hammock and if you have a camper or an RV there are great places to pull into. Most people think of the lake and they think of the canoeing and the swimming. Don't forget the great trails for hiking and some practice for backpacking around the lake. It is a good five mile loop and a ton of fun.
I also had a nice meal of Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef, Fresh Strawberries and Yogurt and some hot cocoa to top things off.
Well over a year ago a major storm ripped through Windmill and uprooted trees, destroyed campers and the park was looking pretty bad. BUT things are changing… for the better
The playground equipment is being replaced and all the trash and damaged trees are gone.
Windmill is lacking in modern amenities but it makes up for it with beautiful views. There are electric hook ups at all sites and the sites are easy to get into. However there is is not a direct water hook up at every site. The rest rooms are also very lacking… it is pretty much a hole in the ground. There are no showers either.
There are some shelter houses away from the campgrounds as well. The playground equipment is being replaced so I am hopeful it will be nice for the kids. It is close enough to the campgrounds to feel safe letting kids play there and honestly if you have the right spot you can see them the entire time.
The lake is the main feature here- there is a boat ramp and some pretty good fishing. You see small boats and kayaks out on the lake often. The lake isn't made for swimming but I have seen some kids who "fell in" and i don't think it was an accident.
The closest town with a grocery store is Bedford- about 10 -15 minutes away.
To be perfectly honest we camp at Nodaway often- but that because of its location - close to work and such. However there are limited activities at Nodaway.
The camp sites are nice and large- easy to get into and each one had its own water and electric. There are 11 on what we call the upper circle and 4 on the lower circle. The bath house is located at the far end so if you are on the lower circle or at the end it can be a walk. It isn't fancy by any means- a single sink, toilet, and shower in the same room- one for each sex. It gets the job done- but it is no frills. There is a dump station centrally located that you can easily pull up to on your way out.
The park is big- lots of trails for hiking and horses. They are usually very well maintained- they keep them mowed in nice wide paths and the trails range from nice and flat to a bit more steep.
There is a little pond but there are no fish in it and it could use some work- lots of moss and such.
There are several different picnic areas and a second bathroom away from the campgrounds. The playground is outdated but there is a large area where kids can play soccer or tag and while the equipment is old it is not in bad shape.
There is a beautiful look out area (away from the camprounds) that looks over Clarinda and is very nice to watch the annual 4th of July fireworks from the Clarinda A's baseball team.
We love Nodaway not because of the amenities but because we can all get together and be close to work/school/home. Camping here does require some yard games and activities for entertainment- but you are just a couple minutes from the store if you forget something!
There is a legend about how the Lake of 3 Fires got its name. The legend says that the “Fire Nation”, which was a local Pottawatomi tribe, lived in the area around Southwest Iowa. Later 2 other tribes decided to join the “Fire Nation” and the 3 became known as “Three Fires”. The Tribes burned 3 fires atop hills to signify that as long as the 3 fires were burning the tribes were together. Now on the spot where the fires burned, is said to be the Iowa State Park “Lake of 3 Fires”
Located in Southwest Iowa just north of the county seat of Bedford Iowa, is a little hidden treasure for outdoor enthusiasts and campers. When looking for a campground everyone has an opinion on what amenities and activities they want- fishing, hiking, boating, and horseback riding are some of the more popular choices and the Lake of Three Fires has all these and more. The actual lake is only 85 acres but has excellent fishing and is surrounded by 691 acres of beautiful trees with hiking and equestrian trails, fishing jetties and a sandy beach.
For those who are planning more than a day trip to the Lake of 3 Fires there are several options available. Located only a very short walk from the Lake are two modern campgrounds nestled in trees. There are over 100 site options for campers. For the RV or trailer enthusiasts there are 24 standard electric sites and 63 non-electric sites, plus 3 buddy sites. In addition, there are 23 equestrian sites (some electrical) and 1 equestrian buddy site along with plenty of holding stalls and tie outs for horses. They are located just east of the main camping grounds but still close enough to walk down to the lake. There are nice clean restroom and shower facilities, children’s play areas and a trailer dump station. Some of the campsites have also been made handicap accessible.
For those families who don’t have a camper or RV but want to experience camping at the Lake of 3 fires there are 6 family cabins which can accommodate 4- 6 people. They are heated and cooled with the basic essentials- stove, microwave and refrigerator. There are also open shelters and a youth group area that offer a place to rent for large group gatherings. There are picnic areas available that are first come first serve. There are plenty of tables and grills if you are just making a day trip but camping is the way to go at the Lake of 3 Fires so you have time to experience everything.
Many of the camp sites, cabins and shelters are available to reserve online at the Department of Natural Resources website- however there are some that are first come first serve. It is very convenient and easy to reserve your spot online. Highly recommended if you plan on traveling any distance- a guaranteed spot of your choice is worth the few minutes it takes to go online and reserve. You can even look at a map of the campsites and pick where you want your site to be. You can see not only where your site will be but it tells you the electrical voltage, the length and other important information about the site you are choosing.
The camp sites are kept clean, well maintained and are big enough you don’t feel like you are right on top of your neighbor. The bathhouses are centrally located in the campground and offer clean bathroom and shower facilities for campers.
Once you have your camper set and are ready to enjoy your weekend it will be hard to decide where to start. The Lake itself offers many activities. There are 2 boat ramps if you want to go out on the ‘no wake” lake. There are plenty of fish to be caught including bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish. If you don’t have a license to fish you can run into town and pick one up at the courthouse or the Bedford Country Store located right on Hwy 2, very easy to find! There is a dock where you can fish and it also has a cleaning station also available. There are several fishing jetties where you can take a chair and set up to find the perfect spot. From your spot on the lake you might catch a glimpse of some people enjoying a beautiful day on the lake on their canoes or kayaks.
For the hunters, there is a 220 acre public hunting ground to the north and 160 acres to the south. You would of course want to check with the DNR for hunting and gaming regulations.
Not into hunting and fishing? Prefer something a bit more relaxing? Well head down to the beach area which is just a short walk from the camp grounds. There you find a small but very nice beach area for swimming. Not in the mood to swim? Then grab some friends for a game of sand volleyball or perhaps pitch horseshoes. The beach area is perfect place to relax with a good book or play some games with friends. The best part is to get there from the campgrounds you take a beautiful short scenic walk.
Perhaps one of the best parts about the Lake of 3 Fires is the 10 miles of trails the intertwine around the entire Lake. There are some specific trails for hiking but some others that offer horseback riders an amazing view of the lake. The great thing about the trails is how they snake around each other- you could discover a new path every time you go. The trials are nicely marked with “you are here “maps so you don’t get lost. There are beautiful views of the Lake from the far side where you can see clear across to the campgrounds. In the winter after a good snow, they say snow mobiles can also use the trails.
Bedford is only a few miles away so you can run into the local Hy-Vee for Groceries or stop by Dollar General if you forgot something. There are 2 gas stations in town as well that both have pizza, drinks and snacks if you need to stock up.
Getting to the Lake of 3 Fires isn’t hard at all From Bedford just go east out of town for about 1/2 mile on Hwy 2. Then turn north on Lake Road, keep going for about 3 miles and Lake of Three Fires is located on the west side. The roads are a bit windy but everything is paved including the main roads of the park. For a short weekend getaway of a weeklong camping adventure, the Lake of 3 Fires has plenty to offer everyone in your camping group.
Waubonsie State Park near Hamburg, Iowa is under construction. That is the road was when we visited. The workers were not the most helpful either. That being said the park employees were very informative, if you could find one.
We visited enroute through the area and enjoyed the trails most of all. Though my map skills are questionable I had a more then usual difficult time navigating by the map supplied. The signage was close to non-existent. I fell back on the tried and true , always go left. Which worked well enough for the ridge line we hiked. Some awesome views.
I often have the problem of comparing places I’ve been. You can’t do this state to state I’ve learned because they all run, staff and take care of their natural resources in different ways. I do my best to base my opinion on face value and impressions of my visit to that park. Waubonsie SP is my first Iowa Park , I was not impressed. BUT it was in the style I like, sparsely used, I saw few campers or employees. Of course school was in and harvest going on and I know that makes a huge difference in certain states. Mostly just blue-hairs camping right now, soon to snowbird to the south :) I aspire to that life someday.
Other then the roadwork the park looked to be somewhat maintained. The cabins I saw need some updating but were functional. The campground was basic, grill, fire ring , picnic table, electric on designated sites. Needed some clean up and graveling on the pads. The facilities were not ancient and were maintained okay. The visitors center looked brand new but was closed so no souvenirs goodies.
I would not consider this a destination campground, but the view is worth an overnight enroute somewhere else.
Close access to boating and town
Just looking for a layover spot after a long day of driving. Couldn't figure out where to register so we walked into the bar/restaurant, Bobber's Grill. The owner was at the bar. Was going to charge us $35 because he thought we needed hook ups. Explained we were self sufficient and really just needed a place to park…very willing to pay for a tent site. After confirming we needed nothing else, he said "Well if that's all you want, you can park in my lot here and buy a beer." Deal!! The tent sites were really muddy that day so we were thrilled to have a lot. Place is right on the lake. Lots of boating. Quiet at night. Really a fun place to be.
We've been camping in our van for months now. We stayed here, visiting family. Had no reservation but it was not a problem. I like places that have RV and tents separated. The RV side was to the left and looked pretty full. The tent side was on a small loop with only 10-12 sites. We initially were the only ones there. All the sites had fire pits but one site, either 51 or 52 had that pit too close to the bushes so it wasn't really useable. We were right on the river bank with a good view of the bridge. The traffic was far enough away that we didn't notice it much. Lots of birds. Hiking trail near by that led us to the Riverwalk. Hot showers.Friendly staff. The only odd thing about this place was our site. We picked what we thought was a large site at the end of the loop, site 56. Another camper came in, a local who knew the secret I guess, went in behind us to a site that was not well marked. It's a much better site further away from everyone and into the trees. Our site must have been a good fishing spot. The whole place was nearly empty but a few fisherman parked right next to us during the day. We thought it was a bit rude but rolled with it. Checked the availability before you go. We were told this place floods on occasion and has to close. (It's that close to the river!)
Went in without a reservation. No problem. Pleasantly surprised to find out it's an Army Corps of Engineers park; meaning if you have a annual National Parks pass, you get a discount. Didn't know that. We paid $11 for a tent site. Lots of RV sites around. The whole area around Saylorville Lake has camping. Lush green plots of land everywhere. I forget how pretty it is in the Midwest when I'm gone for so long. Quiet, relaxing place. Friendly staff. We took a long walk through the campground and others nearby. Boating and swimming in the lake.
Campsite was pretty packed on a Saturday night in late September. We didn't have a reservation but was able to get one of the last tent sites available. Nice spot, fire pits have nice swinging grates on them. There was a picnic table at our spot as well. Great view of the lake from here. We were in Campsite 092. Only drawback is that there must be a cow farm somewhere to the south as you will hear cows mooing all night at this campground.
Great spot by a small lake in Stephen's State Forest. Didn't have a soul around us for the night we camped here (late September). Temps were around 43 degrees at night. Fire pits have nice swinging grates on them. There was a picnic table at each spot as well. We were in Campsite 007. Would have given 5 stars but you will hear train horns blowing all night at this location.
We stayed two night at this campground. Arrived late and just filled out the registration form. They have fire pits and picnic tables. They also have two clean pit toilets. You can stay 14 days free I think. Quiet and had the place to ourselves. Maintained and they had patrol checking through at night. Highly recommend it.