Camping at Elk Rock State Park: Review and Guide

Sunset at the Elk Rock State Park Campground

 A few weeks ago I went campaigning at Elk Rock State Park in central Iowa. This beautiful park is located on Red Rock Lake near Pella and Knoxville, Iowa. Let's break down what camping here is like, and who would have the most fun camping here. 

What are the campsites like at Elk Rock State Park? How do I get a campsite? 

These campsites are very different depending on what loop you pick! All campsites have a firepit and picnic table. There are electric and non-electric sites. If your site does not come with water, each loop also has a drinking water pump. We took a spot in the furthest loop into the campground (non-electric), which happened to have a lake view, but was further away from the bathrooms. There is also an equestrian section, where riders can camp with their horses. Our camping area didn't have a lot of tree cover, so I could see it getting quite hot during late summer.

We found the campground to be very peaceful and quiet. That being said, our loop was empty while we were camping, and the campground often sells out for local festivals. While some campsites are always reserved for walkups, I wouldn't rely on that during busy weekends or holidays. You can always check the availability of campsites on the reservation website.

What is there to do in Elk Rock State Park?

Elk rock’s primary claim to fame is several miles of horse-friendly multi-use trails, and easy access to Red Rock Lake. This is one of Iowa’s largest bodies of water, and it’s a popular place for fishing, boating and kayaking. (keep in mind that this park does not have equipment rentals on site.) Since all Iowa state parks are free for day use, you can use the boat launch with or without camping reservations. While the hiking is very pretty, hard-core hikers might find themselves wishing for more elaborate or longer trails compared to Iowan parks like Backbone or Ledges. There are also multiple playgrounds for children.

The campground at Elk Rock State Park

What are the bathrooms like at Elk Rock State Park? Are there showers here?

The bathrooms are clean and serviceable, very standard concrete bathrooms with stalls. A nice aspect of the showers at Elk Rock is that they are separate from the toilet, private, and non-gendered. This means that ladies might have fewer lines while waiting for the showers to be unoccupied. Additionally, families with small children will have an easier time arranging bath time. 

When is the best time to camp at Elk Rock State Park?

Iowa state parks have reduced prices for camping in the shoulder season. For this reason, I would recommend spring or fall - just be sure to avoid the weekend of Tulip Time in Pella or other local festivals when the campground might fill up or become crowded. We visited in late April, and we thought the weather was perfect in temperature, and there were no mosquitoes at all! However, if you plan on swimming in Red Rock lake, make sure you go in the summer so that the water isn’t too cold.

What can I do nearby Elk Rock State Park? What can I do in Town?

Red rock lake is near two towns, Pella and Knoxville, with several activities. I highly recommend visiting Pella to participate in the rich Dutch-American culture in that town. There is an open air museum, windmill tours, and several bakeries, eateries and delis. If you come at the right time of year, there are also beautiful tulip displays, and you don't have to go at Tulip Time weekend specifically to enjoy them. Knoxville is most famous for it's dirt racetrack, and is home to the National Sprint Car Museum. Knoxville also has a winery and mini golf.

Would I camp at Elk Rock State Park again?

Absolutely! I found the quietness of this park very charming, and watching the horses in the equestrian loop is always entertaining. We extended our morning activities into midday because we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere so much! We will 100% be coming back.


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