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Camping Lake Red Rock in Iowa

Camp Iowa: I’m talking with Tracy Sprite today, she is a park ranger for Lake Red Rock and there are quite a few camp grounds over there, Tracy, how many do you guys have?

Tracy: Well the camp engineers who I work for manage 6 campgrounds and we also have some parks that are managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as well as the Marion County Conservation Board but as far as the core direct management which we take care of here, we have 6.

Camp Iowa: And how long have those campgrounds been there?

Tracy: Well that varies by area. The reservoir came into being in the late 1960s and so a good percentage of them I think were here since the 1970s but I don’t know specific dates on that.

Camp Iowa: Okay and when people come to that area to go camping, what are the most popular activities?

Tracy: The most popular activities would revolve around our water. We have the largest lake in the state, we’ve got over 15,000 acres and visitors often bring boats to go boating, there’s no size restriction on the boats that come here so water skiing, fishing, just recreational boating in general, kayaking, paddling, we have a lot of different varieties of watercraft that come in and use the facilities here. We do have a lot of fisherman that either come to spend time on Lake Red Rock or below the Red Rock dam on the Des Moines River or even on one of our impoundment area which is a body of water called Robert’s creek, which at certain lake levels the waters from Robert’s creek join Red Rock but otherwise they’re separate bodies of water.

Camp Iowa: Okay, with that many campgrounds, I would assume that they’re all a little bit different and do they tend to tailor to different demographics? Let’s say I was doing some family camping and I had some younger kids, is there a certain campground that would be better for that?
Tracy: I wouldn’t say that would necessarily fall within demographics in that range. All of our parks are family friendly depending on the favorite of the particular family; we see them gravitate back towards the same park. For instance, Howell’s station which is one of our larger campgrounds below the Red Rock dam seems to be a favorite for many people and they’ll continually try to build their sites within that park or at least try to find a walk in site if they don’t have a reservation but Wallashuck, Ivans, North Overlook all attracts families equally and all are close enough to the lake that they can get on to the lake for boating or can go over the dam for fishing. It’s not a large enough lake where it’s hard to get from one place to the other. It’s fairly easy to get around.

Camp Iowa: Right, and what do you think people like about Howell Station?

Tracy: Howell Station its levels, it’s got a lot of space between the sites. It’s got direct access to the Des Moines River for those who want to go shoreline fishing and it also has close access to a boat ramp for those who want to bring their boat out and go fishing from the water on the river. Also has direct access to our paved bicycle trail called the Volksweg trail that winds about 13 miles north, winds around the north side of the lake below the river on both sides as well as go into the city of Pella which is about 4 miles away.

Camp Iowa: So a lot, kind of a hub, a lot of different things to do from that particular park.

Tracy: Yes exactly

Camp Iowa: What if I wanted to be a little bit more secluded, are there any of the campgrounds have some sites that are little bit further away from people?

Tracy: Yes, the Hickory Ridge Wilderness Camp is for people who will be looking for a wilderness experience and that is a lot more primitive in nature for those that are tent campers and it’s considered a pedal in, hike in camp ground that was recently acquired through the help of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and it was a private land for a good many years that had not been used for quite a bit of that time and then was able to be partly developed in a primitive way for visitors. Pedal in, hike in campers can setup on one of the 8 pads that are available there. They’re just basically a chip to camping pad with chips and fire ring and the rest of it is fairly primitive. We just have a pit toilet at this point; you have to bring your own water. There is an open sited picnic shelter and a larger group fire ring towards the main part of the park which was actually a remnant part of the previous membership campground that used to be located there.

Camp Iowa: Okay and how far of a hiking are we talking?

Tracy: From the parking lot that’s located close by, it’s probably about a mile, mile and half walk.

Camp Iowa: Okay, so a little bit of a good walk. You want to make sure you didn’t have too much gear that you’re trying to drag in.

Tracy: Exactly and I think I’ve heard sometimes people will bring a little wagon that they can also use to haul it in. There’s a gravel road from the parking lot that allows them to come in to the park without too much effort, they’re not having to push back their way in but it is not where we allow vehicle access into the park. They have to haul it in themselves.

Camp Iowa: Are any of the campgrounds more suited for large groups?

Tracy: We have at the Whitebreast campground a group use area which is divided into 2 sections, that’s basically the whole park has several loops you might say and each loop has a name. The Whitebreast heights is the group-use loop and people who might be interested in bringing your family, reunion or a larger group with them can reserve either the 12 unit section of the loop for the group of the 7 units piece of that loop for the group or they could reserve both but that would be the best area for that type of function.

Camp Iowa: Two questions about some of your favorite things to do in that area. If you can spend only 1 hour in any of these parks, what would you do with your time?

Tracy: Well that’s a good question. From a non-camping perspective I would say that paddling is something that I enjoy so I’d probably pick a park that has easy water access such as Wallashuck campground would have easy access on to the lake. For people who might be bringing a kayak with them or would have easy access to Robert’s creek where I could haul my boat there; Lake Red Rock is especially rough. It’s not a beginning kayaker lake so Robert’s creek is a more secluded, protected area for that type of function. That would probably be one thing. The other thing is trail use. Any of the parks that have access to the bike trail would be one of the more popular things that I guess I will personally enjoy. The Howell station in addition to having the bike trail, it also has its own nature trail. It’s about a mile in length and offers some nice ways to get out into the woods or back into one of our prairie areas that have a combination of landscapes. That’s always kind of a fun thing to do, have a main campground and explore anything wildlife you might find.

Camp Iowa: Sure and one last question, if you could spend just one night in any of the campgrounds, which particular campsite would you pick?

Tracy: What campsite would I pick? I would have to, there’s so many that are probably vying for that purpose but I would probably pick one of the few that have a view of Lake Red Rock from the Wallashuck campground. There’s a tie with many others that I can think on top of my head but again with paddling access, as a kayaker I would probably enjoy that plus the sunset views from the Wallashuck campground from those few sites that have lake view will be really prime.

Camp Iowa: And if I wanted to try to get a hold with one of those, is there a site number that I’d be going for?

Tracy: Well I’d be in the 30s, I’m sorry I lost it in the top of my head.

Camp Iowa: Sure

Tracy: I would have to look it up on a map, I’m thinking it’s probably going to be, in some of the sites in the low 30s but I don’t know the number on top of my head.

Camp Iowa: That’s pretty specific those few right about where to go if they wanted that type of camping experience. It sounds gorgeous.

Tracy: Right, it’s very nice

Camp Iowa: Great, anything else you want to add about any of these campgrounds or what potential visitors should look out for, any other information?

Tracy: Sure, well the National Reservation Service that offers the site camping information, that would be important to provide them how to make a reservation for the sites they may be interested in. 60% of our sites are reservable, 40% are considered first come first serve.

Camp Iowa: Okay

Tracy: The toll free number is 877-444-6777 and there’s a website of www.recreation.gov, for information from our lake area website they can visit lakeredrock.org and get maps of the lake area and the campgrounds, a bit of information on calendar events, things that might be coming up for programs and other special activities and then they can also contact us with any specific questions they may have before coming up here for a visit.

Camp Iowa: Perfect, we’ll put all those links on the site.

Tracy: Excellent, thank you.

Camp Iowa: Alright well thanks for taking the time out of your day to talk to us, Tracy.

Tracy: I’ve no problem, appreciate the promotion.

Camp Iowa: Alright, take care.

Tracy: Yup, you too.

Camp Iowa: Bye, bye.

For more information about camping at Lake Red Rock in Iowa, click here.

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