Standard (Tent/RV)
Tent Cabin
RV Sites
Tent Sites
Drinking Water
Fires Allowed
Pets Allowed
About Yellow River State Forest
Drive In
Walk In
Hike In
ADA Accessible
Alcohol Allowed
Drinking Water
Fires Allowed
Firewood Available
No Market
Pets Allowed
No Phone Service
Picnic Table
No Showers
Trash Available
No WiFi
+ More
RVs and Trailers
No Sanitary Dump
No Sewer Hookups
No Water Hookups
No 30 amp Hookups
No 50 amp Hookups
Max Length: 90 ft.
Yellow River State Forest is located in Iowa
43.1815 N
-91.2339 W
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17 Reviews of Yellow River State Forest
Best Wildplace Camping in Iowa

Trout streams well fed, campsites spread out well, amenities good for primitive use area. Horses welcome, firewood and ice available. Historical Fire Tower hike/visit is a must. Primitive pack-in sites, 1 cabin available. Modern Cabin is well maintained, electricity, microwave, a full sized refrigerator, and two porches, where one of them is screened in. Sleeps 6.

Backpacker's Training Ground

My friend and I were eager to test out some new backpacking gear for the first time in advance of a larger trip this summer.

We have stayed several times at the Big Paint Campground which is a wonderful drive-up campground that seems to have mostly tent campers. Only two sites at that campground have direct creek access, 55 and 53.

For our most recent trip, we hiked from Paint Creek area headquarters along Brown's Hollow Trail to Brown's Hollow Campground. It's a low spot in the area, and became a bit soft as we were met with a brief downpour just as we arrived. But what can you expect being down in a 'hollar'?

This park is LUSH. Tons of wildlife and we thoroughly enjoyed hunting for wild oyster mushrooms which we gave a quick sautee before including in our rehydrated meals.

This was a quick trip, only one night. However we took it slow the next morning and we're greeted by HUNDREDS of butterflies! They were everywhere! Using the Koffman's Field Guide to the Midwest I identified them as Hackberry Emperors. Magical morning indeed.

The park has several backcountry camping spots and I will likely use them all as I continue to train for a larger trip later this summer. The park has a great feeling of isolation and wilderness that can be absent from other places.

Backpacking the paint creek loop

Been coming to yellow river for years but have always wanted to go backpacking. Finally, convinced one of my friends to come with, we ended up getting scared around midnight from the noises. Took our hammocks down and ran all the way back ūüėā still a fun time beautiful hike and nice area to set up camp, also had service!

Great gem

Well spaced out camp sites ,very primitive. Great spot to view the stars. Awesome for kids.

Great backpacking camps along trails

Yellow River has great backpacking sites. Park near ranger station and hike in or grab a map and find a smaller parking location near the trail you want to explore. Great scenery.

Great place

No showers or dump station. But it was great.

Small campground has nearby hiking and fishing

This review is for Yellow River State Forest's Big Paint Campground which consists of sites 35 through 61. Big Paint is a couple miles from Little Paint, a larger campground with 70+ sites. There are two equestrian campgrounds (Creekside and Little Frontier with sites numbered 1 through 34) as well as hike in campgrounds for backpackers. A photo of an area map is included.

Why did we choose Big Paint instead of Little Paint?

It's smaller and that's just our personal preference. There were only 4 sites occupied early Friday afternoon and a few more were reserved. We liked site 35, the first site on the left as you enter. This site is like being in a garden with trees and flowers surrounding the site. It had rained and more rain was coming, so the gravel parking pad on #35 was appealing. Most of the sites are completely on the grass.


Stocked trout streams are an attraction for fishermen; see photo of stocking calendar. We enjoyed hiking despite the mosquitoes and humidity in August and were able to make a 5+ mile loop leaving from the campground. You can also hike from Little Paint, and there are equestrian trails. This would also be a good area for X-country skiing and snowmobiling. A photo of the trail map is included. Caution: hunting is allowed in the non-campground area of the state forest.


Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. Other than that, you can dispose of your trash and use a vault toilet. There's water at the information center (and a camp host site) outside the campground about 100 yards to the left.


You're not getting much (and that's not a bad thing) so the $9 fee seems fair. Pay up front at the entrance station, or make a reservation online at last 2 days ahead of time (and pay a reservation fee). There are 7 non-reservable sites at Big Paint. I doubt that Big Paint fills up; just check the reservation site to see if they get crowded.

Come a trout fish!

Awesome campground, if you require electric bring a generator. Water is available but needs to be carried in. we loved the lack of cell phone reception!

great park for backpacking

great park with a few longer trails for backpacking. have used these trails/this park to prepare for longer trips. wonderful spots to camp and the creeks are very clean and pretty! I've backpacked here multiple times and have only run into other people once or twice. hidden gem.

Yellow River is awesome for weekend Backpacking! Gear Review: Bonk Breaker is a little pricey and Mountain House strikes gold with the Breakfast Skillet

I am a real fan of Yellow River State Forest. It really caters to Backpackers and horseback riders. There are trails made for just backpacking and then other trails open to both backpackers and equestrian campers. I am a backpacker and the main caution I would give someone backpacking is try and avoid some of the equestrian trails, they may be a little too adventurous if you are not accustomed to dodging horse poop on the trail.

The other advice I would give a backpacker is make sure you find the marked campgrounds. There are several unsanctioned campsites along the trail. This may sound cool, but I promise you, the sanctioned campsites are beautiful and you will feel like you missed out if you skip them.

Yellow River State Forest is beautiful. ALSO DON'T MISS THE FIRE TOWER. It is very cool, but it is closed off to climbing it.

GEAR REVIEW: While backpacking at Yellow River State Forest I tried the BONK BREAKER Almond and Honey and Almond and Cherry protein bars. They were descent, but I thought at a price of $3.00 a bar, at REI, was a little steep for what you got. I would give it 3 out of 5 stars for taste and 2 out of 5 stars for price.

I also tested the MOUNTAIN HOUSE BREAKFAST SKILLET: 5 out of 5 stars!!! The taste is awesome, it is light weight, and I would call it major comfort food, especially on a backpacking trip.

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