The first weekend in May usually brings many thousands of campers to Iowa’s state parks but this year, with all state campgrounds closed by the pandemic, Iowans again need to change up their routine.

Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Parks Bureau, suggests instead of camping out this weekend, hold a camp-in.

“We are encouraging everybody to take the time to set the tent up in the back yard, use an RV, use a trailer and send a picture in,” Coffelt says. “We want to see folks still taking advantage of the nice weather, spending time together. That’s one of our big things as part of Camping Kickoff Weekend is we’re really promoting the camp-in.”

This is the centennial year for Iowa’s state parks. The website,, has all sorts of videos, plans for outdoor adventures like a nature scavenger hunt, and coloring pages of an owl, deer, camping scenes and more. “Because we can’t get everybody to the parks for the celebration, we want to be sure they can take advantage at home,” Coffelt says. “Use some of those worksheets for the scavenger hunt, the bingo, and those pictures, again, help us make those memories and that’s what will keep bringing people back to the park.”

While most state parks remain open, all state park campgrounds are closed due to COVID-19. They’d ordinarily be filled with 20- to 30,000 campers this weekend. “We have about 4,800 campsites across the state. There’s an average of four to six people per site, so campgrounds really become small cities,” Coffelt says. “People know what they’re doing. They get out of the winter doldrums and they’re able to bring out their excitement and all their gear, especially when we have the nice sunny weather they’re forecasting this weekend.”

If you visit a state park this weekend, he says to take the “Find Peace, Pick Up a Piece” challenge. Bring a trash bag and gloves to help pick up litter, then dispose of it at home in the spirit of “carry in, carry out,” since so many spring clean-up events were canceled.

Post family photos to social media or to the DNR’s Facebook page with the hashtags: #IowaDNR #IowaStateParks or #IowaStateParks100.

(DNR photo)