Iowa Camping

Campers setup at George Wyth State Park in Waterloo, Iowa.

Iowa’s state park campgrounds reservations are largely filled up on weekends in June and July, just as the summer and camping season hits, according to the Des Moines Register.

This is the situation at most of the 72 campgrounds listed on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website, according to an IowaWatch review Wednesday (May 26) of each location. DNR counts more than 4,500 campsites.

In 2020, Iowans flocked to state parks when many sought the outdoors for COVID-19-safe activities. In fact, 2020 set a record for park visitors with 16.6 million, according to the DNR.

Campgrounds saw increased activity, too.

Todd Coffelt, DNR bureau chief for state parks and preserves, said in May 2019 there were 13,936 reservations in their online system. Last year at this time, the DNR had 6,482 due to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ spring 2020 plan temporarily shutting down state park campgrounds for COVID safety measures.

“Last year we closed the parks for two months, April and May, so people couldn’t pay or plan ahead with the state’s response to the pandemic,” Coffelt said.

This year, Coffelt said, there were 25,065 reservations as of early May — and counting. “We’re seeing increases in reservations, but we have new users that have new equipment, and a newfound appreciation for Iowa’s resources,” he said.

Camping fans feel the increase.

“This year, it’s been harder to try to find spots,” Ryan Houska, an avid camper from Des Moines who runs the “Camping in Iowa” Facebook group, said. “You have to be right at your three-month window to get a decent spot anymore and even then, it’s still a shot in the dark.”

Iowa allows campers to reserve spots three months in advance and some parks are already at 75%, according to “Camping in Iowa.”

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