Iowa State Parks and why we won't go there

First, I should say it has been hard to sit down and write lately, I think because we are in old familiar territory with friends and family. Nothing really new or too interesting happening. Yet it seems like we are busier than ever.
The tale to tell today is about the Iowa State Parks and why I don’t think we will be staying in them any time soon or even ever.  This week we decided to try out Pleasant Creek recreational Area, a state park near us in Palo, IA. My nephew is competing in a triathlon there on Saturday so it would be nice to be there.  We got up and out to the park around 11:30 am. Took 2 trips around checking the “non-reservable sites” The Iowa State parks are suppose to have about half of their sites as walk up, non reservable sites. We spotted one that had no ticket on the post so we pulled in set up and paid our fees into the little kiosk. It was a beautiful day, of which we have had very few this summer, so we were set to enjoy it. My son and his girlfriend joined us by bringing some Chinese food out to us. We were having a very enjoyable time. Around 5-5:30 a young ranger shows up and asks if we took the ticket off the post because someone else had already paid for this spot. No sir no ticket and no tent or anything to indicate it was taken. Well, too bad you’ll have to move, the spot next to us was available. I asked why there wasn’t a tent or something indicating it was taken. Well if we didn’t take the ticket then it must have blown away. (Now I am getting a little angry at being accused of taking the ticket, that is something we would never do.) He says they are short staffed so no one realized we had set up in a spot that was already taken. So we got ready to move but after he left we looked more carefully at the site next to us and there is no way we will fit as there was a tree at the back of the site with branches that were way too low. Now I don’t want to go anywhere until we know a site is really available because Lord knows we did everything right on this one and were told to move. Trying to find the ranger was no easy task. I looked up the park number online and of course they are closed for the evening so I left a message but was sure no one would check it so I went to the camp host site and no one answered the door. Then I talked to the guy across from us who I found out was a volunteer and asked him to call the ranger to have him return. Ranger returns about 30 minutes later and agrees to check the other loop for a site, guess what- no site. There probably was a site earlier in the day but now at 6pm there is not one left.  I told him to retrieve our money so we could leave. We did just that and we are back at a Linn county park and glad for it. Hitching up an setting up twice in a day is not fun, especially when I feel it never should have happened. At the Linn county parks if you pay for a site you must occupy that site, some type of camping unit must be on the site and that is the way it should be. So here goes my rant on reservable/nonreservable sites.
Most full timers and many others really hate the reservable sites not only because we feel it keeps many people from being able to use the park but also because most states use Reserve America for their reservations. Extra fees are tacked on and they really know nothing about the park they are just a reservation call center, so there is no way to ask questions about the site. The non reservable sites are good to have, but sometimes the least desirable sites are the ones left as non reservable, which I feel is an absolute disservice to many of us. What really cranks me on the Iowa system is allowing people to come in and pay for a non-reservable site but not actually occupying that site. It really comes down to there are no non reservable but instead two types of reservable sites, the ones you call and reserve and the ones you reserve by driving out and paying for in advance. So here is a campground that wasn’t even half full and there was not a site that we could camp in for 5 nights. Just doesn’t make sense. 
so if you want to go to an Iowa State Park and camp you should make a reservation and pay Reserve America’s extra fees and you should do it 6-12 months in advance or go somewhere else. Otherwise you are at the mercy of a system that is clearly not working. I think this whole system makes it difficult not only for us but for the average family who wants to camp. I know when my kids were young we never would have know that far in advance that it would be a good weekend to camp, so I feel for families who would like to use our state parks but because of the policies of the Iowa DNR their chances at a site on a nice week or weekend are slim or none. 
If you come to Iowa I would check out the many county parks here, Linn County parks are exceptional or go to the Corps of Engineers (COE) parks. These parks in my opinion are run much better and have as nice or in many cases nicer facilities. So that is my rant for the day, good to get it off my chest. I think I will go have a beer and enjoy the rest of the night.


  1. We've been extremely lucky in finding places to park even in state parks. But we don't do much "park" camping during the summer. We did run into a problem at a COE park by not having a reservation. But we could stay one night and then we had to move on. But I agree with you - if they come in and pay for the site they need to occupy that site.

  2. What a dumb system...although I would bet that California has the same system. At least you can enjoy your time with your family & matter where you are!

  3. I hear you on the state park situation. We have only stayed at 3 in our 7 years of FTing and only one was a really good deal in our opinion.

    We are having fun with Lorlie and Lee.....we've played a lot of cards! I know we'll cross paths someday soon. Hugs, rockin.

  4. Wisconsin state parks have the same issues. It seems people are always playing "the system" to reserve sites. If you are lucky enough to get a site, you can walk around the park and observe that at least half of the sites are empty, but reserved. They keep saying they are working on making the system better, but I've yet to see it. It's a shame because Wisconsin has some amazingly beautiful state parks. But, getting a site is usually not worth the hassle. We have also found county parks to be a better option. And the price is usually better than the state parks. I, for one, am not surprised so many state parks in many states are in financial trouble.


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