Iowa is my home state and it is home to some of America’s most beautiful campgrounds. It’s also unique in that it has many different landscapes. You can find rolling hills, cliffs, flatlands, and bluffs that will stick in your mind for quite some time. Camping is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Iowa. Each of these campgrounds has something unique to offer, and I can guarantee that you will have an enjoyable camping trip. Most importantly, remember that camping comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. I hope you will be inspired to invest in a camping trip, as it’s an easy and affordable way to embrace the beauty of Iowa. These campgrounds all offer some of the best camping in Iowa.
1. McIntosh Woods State Park
McIntosh Woods is one of Iowa’s premier state parks and is home to one of the best campgrounds in the state of Iowa. It is located along the shores of Clear Lake, which is a popular lake for fishing and outdoor water sports. With 49 campsites and a modern restroom and shower building, you will find a campsite that is right for you. We have camped here several times through the years with a travel trailer and site 27 is one of our favorites. It’s a reservable campsite in a quiet loop that offers a nice shaded area.
For a unique camping experience, book a stay in a yurt. These are traditional dwellings like the nomadic people of central Asia stay in. There are two yurts in the campground, and they both have a view of the lake. They come with a full-size futon, twin bunk beds, and a table with chairs. Bring your own bedding as you would for any camping experience. Ventura is approximately 30 miles south of the Minnesota border, right off of I-35. For more inspiration on what to do in the area, read up on why Clear Lake, Iowa, is worth a visit.
2. Margaret MacNider Campground
The Margaret MacNider Campground is located near East Park in Mason City. There are 20 full hookup sites including sewer, water, and electrical; 55 campsites offer water and electricity; and 20 sites are reserved for tent camping. This campground is also home to a large shower house that serves as a storm shelter. It’s located next to the Mason City Family Aquatic Center as well as the nature experiences available in East Park. Campsites are not reservable; everything’s first come, first served, but with 95 camping sites, you should find a site that meets your needs. Most campsites have shade, but some are less shady and located near smaller trees.
Be sure to visit the gardens in East Park, which are a short walk from the campground. During the summer months, the gardens are in full bloom and are stunning. Volunteers keep it beautiful all season long. Don’t forget to take a selfie in the “photo frame” near the gardens.
3. Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park is home to numerous hiking trails that go up and down the valleys that lead to panoramic views. It is home to some of the best camping in Iowa. We have stayed there several times and have always appreciated the deep, forested area that the campground sits in. There are electric and nonelectric campsites as well as hiking and group camping sites. Site 37 is our preferred level camping site for our 21-foot travel trailer and truck. Pack your favorite hiking boots as this campground is home to some of the best hiking experiences in Iowa. We also enjoy riding our bicycles around this campground and into the state park. This campground is located right outside the main entrance to the state park and approximately 40 miles north of Des Moines.
4. Des Moines West KOA
KOA campgrounds are always clean, friendly, and safe campgrounds that you can count on. The Des Moines West KOA is the Iowa campground that has everything you could ever want while camping. It’s located among the beautiful farm fields in Iowa off of I-80 at Exit 106. You will have all the amenities of home while camping in the experience that you choose. Camping cabins of different types and numerous camping sites await you. A short drive south, through the rolling hills of southern Iowa, is where you can experience the Bridges of Madison County and John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset — some of the 25 perfect stops on Madison County’s Covered Bridges Scenic Byway.
Pack your fishing pole, as you can toss a line in at the private stocked pond at the campground. If you are a person who wants to camp but are not quite ready to do so in more primitive places, you will fall in love with this campground. The best part about this location is that it’s in a rural setting but is only a short drive to the amenities that West Des Moines has to offer.
5. Pikes Peak State Park
With so much to see and explore along the Mississippi River, Pikes Peak State Park Campground is the perfect place to set up camp for the night. With more than 50 campsites for campers, there’s a site for you and your preferred method of camping. This particular campground is great for campers who enjoy small river towns and the great outdoors. There is also a large ramp with a viewing area of the Mississippi River within walking distance of the campground. Bridal Veil Trail is a highlight for many visiting the park and campground.
This trail is 0.9 miles in length and parts of the trail are handicap accessible. The bluffs overlooking the river, an effigy mound in the shape of a bear, and the falls themselves make each step worth the hike. If you are traveling The Great River Road, one of the best scenic routes in northeast Iowa, this makes for a great place to stop.
6. Big Woods Lake Campground
Big Woods Lake Campground is located in Cedar Falls, but it has a real rural feel despite being located in an urban area. Fishing, biking, hiking, and wildlife viewing are all popular activities. The campsites are level and offer a fire ring and picnic table and Wi-Fi. Some campsites are reservable and some are first come, first served. The Cedar Valley Trail System borders the campground on the south side and the campground overlooks Big Woods Lake.
7. Lake Darling State Park
Lake Darling State Park is located near Brighton in Southeast Iowa. On a recent camping trip, we experienced beautiful wildflowers and excellent birding here. The best tip I can give you when you camp in this campground is to bring your binoculars. There are numerous campsites with electrical and full hookups. There are also two modern restroom stations for campers. Camping cabins are also very popular, and I would suggest reserving them early on in the season, as they fill quickly. There are also numerous hiking trails for all levels of experience. Winter outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the snowmobile and cross-country skiing trails.
A nice addition in the park is a 1.5-mile paved fishing trail that runs near the shoreline and is ADA accessible. It is located along the southern shores of the lake. The 18 miles of shoreline will welcome you as you set up your camper for a camping experience to remember. Sites 1 to 6 are right next to the lake, as are sites 63 to 66.
8. Lake Wapello State Park
Lake Wapello State Park is located in Southeast Iowa, south of Ottumwa near Drakesville. This campground sits adjacent to the lake and offers standard full hookup sites, electrical sites, and numerous tent camping sites. You can choose to rough it or opt for the amenities that you are used to having at home. Many of the sites are level and shaded, which makes it comfortable on a hot summer day. What sets this state park apart from others is that it offers 13 modern cabins. They each offer space for a minimum of six guests, and one cabin offers space for 10 guests and is ADA accessible. Eleven of these cabins are seasonal and two are available all year long.
Several miles of hiking trails go around Lake Wapello and are popular all year long. Depending on the season, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are all popular trail activities. A popular nature trail is located on the north side of the park. Fishing, sunbathing, and beach activities are also very popular around the lake.
9. Maquoketa Caves State Park
The Maquoketa Caves State Park is home to 370 acres of bluffs, caves, and trails for hiking and caving. Several electric and nonelectric camping sites are available in the campground. A modern restroom and shower facility are also on site. If you prefer river activities, the Maquoketa River is nearby and there are local vendors that rent out inner tubes and canoes to float on the river. Personally, my family and I have always enjoyed caving while at this campground. The best tip that I can give you is to wear old clothes, as you will probably want to throw them in the trash once you are done caving. If you are not that adventurous, there is still plenty to see and explore, as this is one of the most beautiful areas in Iowa.