May 27, 2022 - Things to Do

Iowa's state parks are more popular than ever

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Memorial Day weekend is finally here, and Iowans are expected to go outside in full force.

Driving the news: Visits to state parks swelled in 2020 as Iowans and the rest of the country sought more opportunities to get outside at the height of the pandemic.

  • Roughly two years later, we're still going out in record numbers.

By the numbers: In 2020, there were nearly 17 million visits to Iowa state parks — almost 2 million more than the year before.

  • For 2021, the numbers increased by about 200,000 visits. 2022 is also expected to see high attendance, Sherry Arntzen, of the Iowa DNR, said.

What to know: Because of the parks popularity, a big issue has been parking capacity, Arntzen said. Consider going at a less busy time or visit a lesser known state park.

  • A hidden gem: Arntzen recommends camping out at Lake Keomah State Park just a little over an hour away near Oskaloosa.

The bottom line: Many visited Iowa's state park system for the first time in 2020, and people "fell in love," Arntzen said.

  • While this long weekend typically marks the "kickoff" for families visiting state parks, Arntzen said traffic has been increasing during the shoulder seasons.
  • And, with rising gas prices, she anticipates more Iowans will be planning "staycations" nearby.

🪨 Linh's favorite park: Backbone. The rock climbing is exciting and the northeast Iowa views are gorgeous.

🌲 Jason's favorite park: Ledges State Park. The cliffs and the hiking are breathtaking. Well worth a short drive from the metro.

Estimated visits to Iowa state parks, by year
Data: Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

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