The Ultimate Guide to RV Camping in Iowa

State Travel Guides

RV camping in Iowa is an amazing way to vacation. Despite what many think, this state has a good number of awesome things to see and do, including museums, amusement parks, and of course, outdoor adventures.

Of course, you will probably want a bit of guidance when planning your first RV camping in Iowa adventure. Lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve included everything you need to know to plan an amazing Iowa RV camping trip. 

Preparing for RV Camping

First, you will need to make some preparations. This involves getting an RV to camp in—and of course, packing the RV with all the right gear. If you have an RV already, this is easy enough, but those who don’t own an RV of their own will need to look into Iowa rental RVs.

Choosing the Right RV for Your Needs

Not sure how to go about choosing the best rental RV for RV camping in Iowa? Begin by deciding whether you’d like the RV delivered or not. If delivery is a must-have option, you will be able to narrow your options a bit right off the bat.

Plan to drive the rig yourself? That’s great, but you will need to choose a driveable RV unless you have a truck that is big enough to tow the trailer of your choosing. 

Once you know whether you want a motorhome or trailer and whether you plan to have it delivered or not, you can look into things like size of the RV, amenities, and floorplan. On the subject of size, you’ll want to make sure the rig is big enough to accommodate your travel party, but small enough to fit into campsites.

Packing Essentials for a Successful Trip

No matter what kind of RV you choose, you will need to pack it before you hit the road. This can be a bit overwhelming for those who have never gone RV camping before. If you aren’t sure where to begin, use the very basic list below as a starting point. From there, you can take off items that will be provided with your rental (be sure to check on this beforehand) and add to the list as you see fit. 

  • Clothes
  • Toiletries
  • Medications
  • First aid kit
  • Bug spray and sunscreen 
  • Tools
  • Entertainment (books, games, movies, toys for kids)
  • Outdoor recreation gear
  • Electronics and chargers
  • Pots, pans, and dishes
  • Paper towels
  • Groceries
  • Flashlights
  • Folding chairs
  • Bed sheets
  • Pillows
  • Blankets
  • Pet gear
  • RV leveling blocks
  • Sewer hose and adapter
  • Freshwater hose
  • RV surge protector

Check out this RV packing list for more suggestions on things you might want to pack for RV camping in Iowa.

Road in Iowa

Considerations for Camping in Iowa

With your rig picked out and packed up, you are almost ready to get going. That said, it is important to know the rules of the road before you leave. While RVing laws are pretty similar from one state to the next, there are some small differences that you will want to be aware of. 

In Iowa, no rig should exceed 65 feet in length. Trailers must be 53 feet or less, and motorhomes can’t be more than 45 feet long. No RV should exceed 8.5 feet in width or 13.5 feet in height. 

Towing a trailer behind another trailer (AKA triple-towing) is allowed in this state, but overnight parking in state rest areas is not permitted. 

Finding Campgrounds

Obviously, you will need someplace to park the RV during your Iowa adventures. Fortunately, there are a lot of options to choose from. From luxury campgrounds and urban campsites to rustic state park camping and boondocking in the middle of nowhere, you’re sure to find something that suits your fancy. 

Exploring Public Campgrounds in Iowa

Public campgrounds are first on our list of Iowa camping options. In Iowa, these include state parks, which are the perfect option for those on a budget as well as those who like to camp in beautiful places. 

State Park Camping

Iowa’s state parks are some of the very best places to escape into nature while spending time in the state. These beautiful areas offer hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, and of course, camping. 

One of our favorite state parks in Iowa is Maquoketa Caves State Park where guests can explore caves, go rock climbing, and more. We also really love Pikes Peak State Park, which features a 500-foot bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River and some seriously beautiful hiking trails. Those who love water recreation will appreciate Lake Keomah State Park and Backbone State Park, as both offer awesome water access. 

All of these state parks (and most other Iowa state parks) offer camping, most with bathhouses and playgrounds, and some with electric hookups. 

Exploring Private Campgrounds and RV Parks

Of course, Iowa’s private campgrounds are also an option. These include basic campgrounds with simple amenities such as bathhouses and dump stations, as well as luxury campgrounds with some amazing glamping opportunities. 

One of the best private campgrounds in the state is BEYONDER Getaway at Sleepy Hollow. This campground has been around since the 1970s and is still going strong to this day. Planned activities (such as hayrides) happen on a regular basis in this park, and a pool, onsite fishing, and an onsite pizza place all add to the fun. 

Crossroads RV Park in Mt. Pleasant is another favorite. This park features cable TV, a book exchange, cornhole and horseshoes, and a playground to keep visitors busy and happy. The clean restrooms, full hookups, and included Wi-Fi are pretty great as well!

Boondocking in Iowa

Hoping to find some free camping? Boondocking in Iowa is an option and is a great pick for those who want to spend time in nature without spending a dime. 

Hickory Hills Park in New Virginia, Iowa is one excellent boondocking spot in Iowa. Here, guests can enjoy onsite fishing and hiking paths. A pit toilet is available in the park and water can be found in the nearby day-use area. 

Another great pick? Otter Creek Park, which is just 16 miles outside of Des Moines, meaning there is plenty to see and do in the area. However, aside from pit toilets, there are no amenities at this park so be sure to plan accordingly. 

Researching Campground Options and Making Reservations

Still not sure where to stay when visiting Iowa? Try doing a bit more digging on sites like Hipcamp, BookOutdoors, RoverPass, Campspot, and The Dyrt. For some unique camp spots, consider trying Harvest Hosts, which allows guests to camp out on farms, in museum parking lots, and more. 

Des Moines

Planning Your Itinerary

The next thing you need to do in order to ensure your Iowa trip goes off without a hitch? Plan your itinerary, of course! Whether you plan to explore Davenport or Des Moines, or you’d rather head to the rugged natural areas in the state, you’re sure to find some amazing ways to spend your time in the Hawkeye State. 

Features and Attractions in Iowa

Hoping to really dive into Iowa’s natural beauty and spend some time soaking it all in? A scenic drive is an excellent choice for doing just that. Iowa is home to three nationally designated scenic byways, including the Loews Hills National Scenic Byway and the Iowa Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

Seeing some of Iowa’s iconic landmarks is, of course, a must-do while in the state. These include such interesting spots as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, the Old Capitol Building, John Wayne Birthplace & Museum, and the famed bridges of Madison County. 

Many of the landmarks scattered across the state are actually run by the National Parks Service. These NPS sites include wonders like Effigy Mounds National Monument, and should definitely be added to your itinerary. 

Festivals, Fairs, and Events in Iowa

Festivals, concerts, and other events can add another level of fun to any trip. This is just as true in Iowa as anywhere else, and fortunately, Iowa plays host to a number of great events throughout the year. 

Some of the best annual events in Iowa include the Lumberjack Festival in Clinton during June, the BACooN Ride in Waukesha during June, Truckers Jamboree in Walcott during July, Tug Fest in Le Claire during August, and Pancake Day in Centerville during September. 

Exploring Outdoor Activities

Obviously, spending some time outdoors is a must while RV camping in Iowa. But what will you do specifically? Don’t worry! Iowa has tons of awesome outdoor recreation opportunities to offer people of all ages and abilities. 

Hiking, Biking and Nature Trails

Trails wind their way through the state of Iowa, providing hikers and cyclists with a number of fantastic ways to get outside and go exploring. Which trail will you choose to follow as you go a bit deeper into Iowa’s wilderness areas?

For hikers, we recommend the following trails:

Meanwhile, we think cyclists might prefer the trails below:

Don’t think any of these trails is quite right for you? Just head to AllTrails, put in the search filters that best suit you, and see what else you can find. 

Fishing, Boating, and Water Activities

Trails are great, but they aren’t the only thing that can make the outdoors extra fun. Water can also provide hours of amusement. Whether you prefer fishing, swimming, or chasing waterfalls, Iowa has a water-based activity for you.

For anglers, there are many excellent fishing spots in the state. Black Hawk Lake near the town of Lake View is a great starting spot. We also really like the fishing at Lake Macbride near Solon (and the Kentucky spotted bass found here are pretty great).

Prefer playing at the beach over going fishing? Iowa has a number of great beaches as well. The sandy Ainsworth Beach on Big Spirit Lake is one of our top picks. We also love Whitebreast Beach, which is situated on the shores of Lake Red Rock. 

Want to find some beautiful waterfalls? Iowa can give you those as well. The Dunning’s Spring waterfall near Deborah is small but absolutely beautiful, and it’s perfect for kids who can’t hike far. We also like the Briggs Woods Waterfalls, which can be found via a short hike into the woods. 

Wildlife Viewing and Photography

Photographers and wildlife enthusiasts will be happy to learn that Iowa is an excellent place to see animals in their natural habitats. The many state parks mentioned so far are great for seeing various critters go about their lives. You might also try Desoto National Wildlife Refuge and Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge to see deer, squirrels, birds, and more.

Family-Friendly Activities and Attractions

Taking the whole family RV camping in Iowa? Great news! There are tons of amazing things to do as a family while exploring this amazing state. From the attractions in Dubuque and Iowa City to the aforementioned outdoor activities, you will absolutely be able to find ways to keep the whole clan happy. 

Historical Sites and Museums

We think travel is a great opportunity to teach our kids new things. Historic sites such as the aforementioned NPS sites can really help with this. We especially love the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site for a bit of educational fun. 

Another great way to learn something new while on vacation? Visiting museums, of course! And as it happens, Iowa is home to a number of great museums. 

Some of our favorite family-friendly museums in Iowa include:

  • National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque
  • Iowa 80 Trucking Museum in Walcott
  • Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City
  • John Wayne Birthplace & Museum in Winterset
  • National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids
  • Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch
  • Living History Farms in Urbandale

Amusement Park, Zoos, and Wildlife Refuges

When it comes to finding family-friendly fun while on vacation, amusement parks are pretty much always a win. Some of the best amusement parks in Iowa include Adventureland Park and Adventure Bay Waterpark in Altoona, Lost Island Themepark & Waterpark in Waterloo, and FunCity Resort and Huck’s Harbor in Catfish Bend. 

Another solid pick for families? Zoos, of course! Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is sure to keep everyone amused, and Storybook Hill Children’s Zoo in Dubuque is perfect for little ones. 

Tornado in Iowa

Safety and Preparedness when RV Camping in Iowa

Clearly, you will want to stay safe while RV camping in Iowa. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do. Pack a first aid kit, drive carefully, use common sense, and heed the warnings below, and you should have no trouble keeping your travel party safe as you explore the state. 

Weather Conditions and Natural Disaster Preparedness

Snowstorms and tornadoes are the most common natural disasters in Iowa. To avoid snowstorms, simply avoid visiting during the winter months—something we recommend anyway, as cold temperatures aren’t good for RVs.

As far as tornadoes go, we recommend going in prepared. Downloading a couple of good weather apps and allowing push notifications is a good first step, as this will ensure you know when severe weather is headed your way. Always know where the nearest tornado shelter is, and try to book campgrounds that provide an onsite shelter.

It’s also good to pack a “bug out” bag in case you need to seek shelter. This should include a hand-crank radio, flashlights, food, and water. 

Wildlife Encounters and Precautions

Another thing you should be aware of in order to stay safe while RV camping in Iowa? The local wildlife. Rattlesnakes make themselves at home in this state, so you always want to watch your step. Venomous spiders are another one to look out for, and you’ll want to wear long sleeves and long pants in order to avoid ticks.

Black bears do also live in Iowa. While bears won’t usually bother people, they will attack if they feel threatened. Therefore, it’s important that you always make noise while hiking to let bears know you are there and ideally avoid your party, and we recommend you carry bear spray for protection just in case.

More Inspiration for Your Iowa Travels

As you can see, there are tons of awesome things to see and do while RV camping in Iowa. Want even more inspiration? Be sure to check out the collection of links below to discover some of the best things the state has to offer: