116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There’s something about trout that appeals to nearly everyone, whether or not they enjoy catching or eating this tasty fish.
Trout live in the most scenic places. Trout country includes gorgeous mountain streams and northern lakes. Head there and you’re assured of gorgeous vistas.
That’s true in Iowa where trout only thrive in the state’s Driftless Area, land bypassed by several waves of glaciation that flattened most of the Hawkeye State.
Iowa trout country
The Driftless has steep, tree-clad slopes, springs gushing from limestone cliffs, clear bubbly streams where trout lurk, and hundreds of pleasant places for both anglers and nonanglers to camp and simply enjoy the delicious scenery.
Iowa’s trout country stretches from Mitchell County east to the Mississippi and south to Delaware, Dubuque and Jackson counties. Its epicenter is the steep hillsides around Decorah.
Many Iowans are familiar with Decorah’s attractions, such as the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum and Seed Savers Exchange, but may be less familiar with Pulpit Rock Campground on the city’s north edge along the Upper Iowa River.
Operated by the Decorah Parks and Recreation Department, it features shady sites for tenters and RV campers just a short bicycle ride from downtown. We’ve camped there several times and always enjoy it.
The Decorah area offers other peaceful, private campgrounds. Simply Google Decorah Area Campsites and a map pops up sprinkled with both private and public places to pitch a tent or park an RV.
Some have rental cabins. Several rent canoes for river adventures. Another information source is visitdecorah.com or call (563) 382-3990.
No state parks with campsites are near Decorah.
But on the east edge of Iowa’s trout country, Pikes Peak State Park near McGregor — with its sweeping vistas of the Mississippi River — and the sprawling Yellow River State Forest near Harpers Ferry welcome campers. Nestled in the bottom of the forest’s hills are the trout-filled Big and Little Paint creeks.
Also, trout anglers share a little-known camping secret.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources allows overnight camping in its wildlife management areas, including those with trout streams. Although the areas are offered as a convenience for anglers, anyone can camp there.
The areas offer great fishing, pleasant scenery and wildlife but no facilities other than a place to camp. It is primitive. Bring drinking water, food, and camp furniture.
A good way to locate the wildlife management areas is the Iowa Trout Fishing Guide distributed by the Iowa DNR. For information, check fishing.iowadnr.gov.
Northeast Iowa counties also welcome campers to its trout county parks, and some have trout streams within casting distance of campsites.
Winneshiek County’s Kendallville and Lake Meyer Parks welcome campers, but plenty of other Driftless Area county conservation boards also feature camping.
One of our favorite fishing streams is Bloody Run in Clayton County, and we’ve often camped in a park of the same name just west of McGregor.
Camping is a relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors. Tenting or RVing within the steep hills, dense timber, and clear streams of the Driftless area offer the most scenic of all Hawkeye outdoor experiences.
Added bonuses include the cultural and historic sites, restaurants and museums in surrounding cities. Just be sure to pack a rod and bring an Iowa fishing and trout license.