We went to Iowa over fall break. Let me go ahead and say, yes, it was a surprising choice, and I can see your face through the screen. It looks very similar to the faces of people I know in real life when I shared this plan.
Anyway, we went to Iowa for a week, and I think you should do it too. Let me explain.
Our goal is to visit all 50 states with our girls before they graduate high school. The rules for this are pretty simple, but we have to spend time in a state before it counts. Driving through a state to get somewhere else does not count as a visit. We have to take time to explore a state before we check it off the list. Do we have to spend a week in a state? Nope. That’s just how it worked out this time.
We spent the beginning of our week at Honey Creek State Park. It was about a seven hour drive from Indy. They have two campgrounds: north campground and south campground. We stayed at the north campground because we needed full hookups, but if you don’t need that, I highly suggest grabbing a spot in the south campground. Many of the spots overlook the lake and have a lot more trees.
The campground doesn’t have a lot of extra stuff, but there are a lot of trails and places to explore. Everything seems to lead to Rathbun Lake so carry water shoes or toys for kids if you’re hiking with them. We spent a lot of time on the shores of the lake even though it was October, and it was chilly. The lake was still busy with people boating and fishing. We spoke to a fellow camper who frequents the park. He said in the summer, it’s hard to get a reservation because it’s so busy. There are plenty of sandy beaches and great picnic areas in the park too, I can see why this would be a popular place in the summer.
We saw deer everywhere—we even had visitors walk through the campgrounds in the evenings. Everywhere we went, we came across deer. The girls loved it. It doesn’t matter that we live in Indiana where we also see deer all the time, or that they often run across the field behind our house. Iowa deer are special, I guess.
About mid-week, we packed up the camper and headed a few miles up the road to Honey Creek Resort. The resort has a small campground; I think there was room for about 14 campers. Everything is full hookup, which you’ll need if camping there because there are no public bathhouses or restrooms. The resort is huge. We were about a 4-minute bike ride from the main hotel. On the way, you pass the golf course and a lot of cute cabins to rent.
It was—just like at the state park—the off-season so we were one of very few guests during the week. You pay a $25 daily activity fee on top of your reservation, and it gets you access to their waterpark, bikes, nature center, golf course, kayaks, standup paddle boards, outdoor games, and more. A lot of it was closed for the season, so we weren’t able to get on the lake. The waterpark is open Thursday through Sunday, so the girls got to play a few days before we headed home. We’re really careful about where we travel and what we do since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, so it felt weird and wonderful to be the only people at the waterpark one afternoon. We’re also pretty cautious about eating in restaurants with the girls since Harper isn’t vaccinated yet, but we did go to the main hotel for breakfast every morning. Monday through Thursday was a continental breakfast included in our stay. They had a lot more available than the cereal and yogurt advertised on the board at check-in. Friday through Sunday the restaurant serves breakfast ala carte. We had a delicious breakfast Friday morning in an almost-empty dining room.
During our stay, we made a few trips to neighboring towns. We really were in the middle of nowhere. Normally when we camp, we do a few day trips to nearby cities to explore and try new restaurants. That wasn’t really an option here. We spent an afternoon wandering around Centerville’s town square. They had lots of antique and thrift shops I loved, but my children did not. We hiked Lake Wapello State Park one morning, but most of the trail was closed, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We spent an afternoon looking for Amish markets and bakeries, because the area around Centerville has a large Amish population. After an afternoon grocery store run, we had a picnic at Sharon Bluffs State Park, but I’d recommend no one ever going there because it was weird.
We did learn that in Iowa, state parks are run by the county. So they varied widely based on how much the county wanted to invest in their local parks. The more we visit state parks outside of Indiana, the more I realize how nice our parks are. We are definitely spoiled.
On the way home, we spend the afternoon in Burlington, Iowa. It’s on the Mississippi River, right before you cross into Illinois. An Instagram follower suggested we eat at Som: Burgers + Beer, and it was a such a great recommendation. The girls loved the free popcorn while we waited for our food, and then every single meal we ordered was amazing. Afterward, we walked around the city for a while. Snake Alley, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not site, is this cool twisty cobblestone street you can walk or drive on. Pulling the camper on it would have been a disaster, but it was fun to watch cars go down it. It wasn’t busy so we took advantage of the lull to run up and down a few times too.
So, yeah, we went to Iowa. I’d say a week might have been a little too long in the fall once a lot of stuff is closed; you could explore the area we stayed at in about 3-4 days, but it was restful and quiet nonetheless. In the summer, a week might not be long enough for all the stuff you can do.
We came home ready to winterize the camper, to settle into the couch after five months of camping adventures, and to welcome the colder weather.
Iowa was state number 30, and we’re already planning our next great adventure.