To start off, Backbone State Park is one of the most gorgeous parks I’ve ever visited. It’s so beautiful, with plenty of challenging and scenic trails and lots of wildlife. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is the campgrounds (we stayed at Six Pines). I’ll go into more detail below.
Pros -Great trails, hikers will find much to love here -Beautiful scenery -Six Pines is all primitive campsites, which is nice for us tent campers who prefer quiet, natural environments -Six Pines sites are fairly spacious -Decent fishing -Lots of in-park attractions (the cave, old fish hatchery, etc.)
Cons -Six Pines is a big, flat loop, which means not much privacy and the sounds bounce all around. -With the playground in the middle Six Pines can get quite noisy -The sound reverberations at Six Pines means you can hear everything going on in your neighbors’ tents at night -Not much for modern bathrooms around the park -The trails are not well marked, the maps are largely inaccurate. Expect to find random, well-worn forks in trails without seeing them on the map -The trails could use some maintenance. There were plenty of downed trees blocking paths, a few that seem to have been there for quite some time. -Sites at the South Lake campground seem small, the place looked packed in like sardines with not much space between tents or campers
We stayed during the campground's last weekend in October, and loved it. It was so gorgeous with all the fall colors, and it's really a gem of a campground.
-Beautiful, huge lake with lots of pretty views
-Primitive spots are separated from electric spots, which is great if you're looking for quiet, peaceful tent camping
-Primitive spots are relatively private and generously sized, you don't feel like you're right on top of your neighbors
-Decent portapotty in close distance
-Plenty of picnic spots
-Electric spots are right along the lake, which offers beautiful views
-Full modern bathrooms are a long walk/drive away
-Not much for activities
-Water hydrants are right in the middle of people's camping spots, so it feels awkward to grab water
-The only hiking trail is EXTREMELY poorly marked and when it ends (it doesn't tell you it's ending) you either have to just turn around or walk a mile along the busy highway with very small shoulder. We mistakenly took the highway expecting the trail to continue, but it didn't and it was very scary, 0/10 don't recommend.
-Not many walk-in spots
-Lots of primitive spots are on a hill, so your tent is a little sideways
-Not many dumpsters
-No lights in the portapotty, so you'll need a headlamp at night
EDITED TO ADD: We stayed again in May, and it was a great place to spend a weekend. Quiet, friendly but not a party crowd, and a nice, relaxing environment overall. Word on the streets (from the DNR warden) is that they’re looking into creating 2 more hiking trails too.
We've tent camped twice at Springbrook, and though it's not perfect, it's a nice campground we plan to keep coming back to for a number of reasons.
-Not a far drive from Des Moines, but still quite remote
-Lots of nice hiking trails
-Easy access to large, mostly clean modern bathrooms
-The lake is a peaceful spot to spend the early mornings, a nice place to fish (but don't expect to catch anything) and its beach is fun on the hot summer days, and tends to not be too busy. Has lots of benches around to sit and enjoy the view.
-No cell reception, which could be a "con" but we like that it forces us to unplug
-Tent camping spots are clustered mainly in the middle of a loop, which feels a bit like a fishbowl with no privacy
-It's mainly an RV/camper campground, which can be loud/rowdy at night for tent campers. Lots of parties happening the two weekends we were there. Definitely don't recommend if you want a peaceful weekend away from the world.
-Other than hiking and a bit of swimming/fishing, there's not much to do
-Firewood is a short drive from the campground, which can get inconvenient