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About Yellow River State Forest
Drive In
ADA Accessible
Alcohol Allowed
Drinking Water
Fires Allowed
Pets Allowed
Picnic Table
No Showers
Trash Available
Yellow River State Forest is located in Iowa
43.176 N
-91.228 W
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11 Reviews of Yellow River State Forest
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.

Beautiful lush forest with serious trails

Amazing place to explore for all ages. Who knew that Iowa has hills like this?! We did the backcountry camping (less than 0.5 miles walking), but did get to see the regular campgrounds. There are other parks and waterways to visit nearby and a town nearby.

Yay: the dense forest and water is really special. Campsites are clean and everything is very well tended. There are a few campgrounds especially for horses. Backcountry sites are free but no reservations are taken.

Nay: honestly can’t remember any issues at all!

Surprise: there is hunting open to the public so enjoy and/or be careful!

Cheap getaway!

Very secluded with good fishing opportunities and great fishing in the area!

Awesome campground, surprising gem not far from Chicago

We stumbled across this campground when looking for a weekend getaway from Chicago, and wow, what a great find. Hilly, much hillier than you'd expect in the midwest, with beautiful river views. The campground was nice with private sites and clean bathrooms. Great trails, and interesting cultural sites nearby (indian mounds, Field of Dreams, etc.) Awesome weekend destination.

Great weeknight/off-season spot

Great weeknight/off-season spot

Little paint

The campground runs next to a trout stream and can be busy on weekends but with fishing, hiking, horse trails, the only setback is its primitive but being in the valley and near effigy mounds it's a winner at 9$ a night.

Yellow river

This site fills up really fast becaue of the cheap price of only 9 dollars. This is the cheapest but one of the best campsites ive been to. The entire place is opened to hunting and there is hikes you can do. There is snow in the winter.