Iowa state park camping fees increase for the first time in 20 years

Campers at Iowa’s state parks this year will pay a few more dollars a night to put up a tent or park their recreational vehicle, with the largest increases coming at state parks with the most visitors and amenities.

Authorized by the Iowa Legislature in 2018 to set its own fees, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has raised camping fees for the first time in more than 20 years.

Under the four-tier pricing structure, out-of-the-way parks that get fewer visitors won’t have a rate increase. But larger parks that draw visitors from across the state and from bordering states will have nightly fees 25 to 55 percent higher.

“The more amenities people have, the fee will reflect that,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the State Parks, Forests and Preserves bureau. “These fees will come back into our budget. It helps us with our planning and presentation.”

At Lake Macbride State Park, near Solon, fees for a full electric/water/sewer site went from $19 to $26, electric site from $16 to $20 and a primitive site from $9 to $12 a night.

Ranger Ron Puettmann said campers for years have expressed surprise at how cheap it is to camp at Iowa’s state parks.

“I don’t really foresee any hardship at all” with the new fees, Puettmann said. “It’s been over 20 years since we increased our fees and we have no user fee to enter the park.”

The 2021 fee schedule for all state parks can be found here.

Iowa’s state park system is coming off a of blockbuster year, when COVID-19 caused many people to look for nearby outdoor vacations. The Iowa DNR brought in nearly $2.3 million in camping fees between July 1 through October 30, 2020 — a 33 percent increase over the same period in 2019.

With the pandemic still present, 2021 likely will be another banner year for camping, fishing, hiking and water sports.

Some state park campgrounds already are open for the season, but the modern restrooms and showers will be opened at all state parks around April 15, Coffelt said.

To set the fee increases, the Iowa DNR compared camping prices at other publicly-owned facilities within a 60-mile radius of each park. The extra money raised by the increases will go toward renovations of state parks, upkeep, staffing and promotions of lesser-visited parks, Coffelt said.

In February, the Iowa DNR offered $100 off the price of a March reservation of a four-bedroom cabin at Springbrook State Park, near Guthrie Center. The four-bedroom cabin has capacity for 14 people.

“We have a fantastic cabin, but we didn’t have any reservations for the month of March,” Coffelt said. The promotion helped Iowans know the cabin was available and gave them a deal to book a stay. “The next thing we knew, we were able to put five bookings into that facility that did not exist before.”

Staff at several Eastern Iowa’s state parks heavily damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho are reopening those parks for the season. Macbride’s campgrounds reopened last Thursday. All trails are open except for the Old Entrance Trail and Angler’s Point Trail, which still have hazard trees and branches. The Main Lodge will reopen May 1.

Palisades-Kepler State Park, near Mount Vernon, has not allowed visitors since the storm, but will open later this month, Coffelt said.

The Iowa DNR also is working to replant trees at Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area near Palo.

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Iowa state park camping fees increase for the first time in 20 years