The middle of June is already in the rear-view mirror, but there’s still a lot of summer left. Iowa has lots of options for full-week vacations and little weekend getaways. It’s not hard to find information on hundreds of wonderful parks and local festivals, either. A good place to start is at either the Iowa DNR’s or the Iowa Association of County Conservation Board’s web sites.
The DNR’s web site is www.iowadnr.gov. You’ll find almost anything you might need to plan a visit to any of our state parks, recreation areas or wildlife refuges. You can even make reservations for some campsites and cabins. The site provides information on a full range of activities available at those areas and maps. Maps are available for most public lakes in Iowa and show depth contours, boat ramps, the location of fish structures with GPS coordinates and more. You can also check out the latest fishing reports from fisheries biologists all over the state. If your tastes run to canoeing or kayaking, equestrian trails or ATV riding, there’s information for those activities, too.
Iowa is unique in the nation in having an extensive system of county conservation areas that rival the state’s offerings in the range of facilities and activities available. All 99 counties have a conservation board. Almost all of them offer camping opportunities and some have multiple highly developed campgrounds, with the option of staying in rental cabins as well. The cabins range from basic sleeping units with bunks, electric power and a table, to fully air conditioned, four-season units with bedrooms, showers, full kitchens and wide-screen TVs. You typically need to provide your own bedding at rental cabins.
The best place to look for information on Iowa’s county conservation programs is at www.mycountyparks.com. The website lets you browse by activity of interest such as fishing, boating, biking, camping, etc., or by county. Many of the county sites offer links to other local attractions like museums, local festivals and more. The state and a number of counties offer major parks of regional significance, but counties also specialize in unique little parks in some of the state’s most picturesque and out-of-the-way locations. Even these little gems can be busy on weekends, but they are often less crowded and less expensive than major destination parks. If you can visit some of these smaller parks mid-week, it’s just possible that you might find a shaded campsite on a lakeshore and have a beautiful, quiet park nearly all to yourself.
Perhaps you still like to have printed information for your vacation planning. You can always print off information from web sites, but many county conservation boards still have copies of a publication called the "Outdoor Adventure Guide" available for sale. This handy booklet was published by the Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards. It lists every county-managed area in the state, offers information on each area’s facilities and recreation opportunities, and locates it on a county map. The maps of each county are detailed and show every rural gravel road. That, by itself, may make the booklet a valuable reference to have in the car for people who love traveling Iowa’s back roads.
You won’t have to go very far or spend much time or money to find wonderful places you’ve never seen before right here in Iowa. Once you’ve visited some of them, you’ll doubtlessly want to go back.
(Steve Lekwa is retired director of Story County Conservation.)