Pros: Easy access, large open area, wildlife, great river exposure, lots of campsites
In my travels through the Midwest I came across an Iowa park that caught my eye. I have since enjoyed many visits to the Wilson Island State Recreation Area. Located in Pottawattamie County and near the town of Missouri Valley, Iowa the travel distance is perfect for me. This 577-acre state park has a lot of features for a 104-year-old site. The park is popular with campers and holds a lot of space and huge Cottonwood trees, nestled right on the Missouri River.
What makes the Wilson Island SRA special?
This area of Iowa is very nice. You are located right next to the Missouri River with the bluffs to your back. There is a multitude of large Cottonwood trees that blanket the grounds.
Getting up to the Wilson Island SRA is really easy too. It is located about 25 miles north of Omaha off the Loveland exit of I-29. The park is about 11 miles west of the Iowa town of Missouri Valley.
As you come up to the park you will notice the vast farmlands and the wondrous trees towering before you. Right after the entrance you will find the Park Rangers home to your left about 100 past the gates. Just a little further in you will find the pay phone at a fork in the road. If you proceed straight you will go to the modern campsites and the river launch. To your left is the path to the primitive site and the large group campsites.
Now these huge Cottonwood trees will be you constant companions as they are everywhere! They give roost to Bald Eagles in the winter months as they often perch here for winter feedings. You will also notice some discolored power lines along the road. They are discolored from the massive floods that came through the park some 10 years ago. The park itself was under about 15 of water!
Before coming up to the river you will pass several modern bathrooms with flush toilets and power. This is a nice touch for an older state park.
Important Safety Information: If you have any problems at the park there is a Ranger stationed near the entrance. Go there. There is a pay phone on site. Cellular coverage is spotty and not reliable here.
Current Camping Rates:
Modern Area with water: $16 per night with electricity, $11 per night without power.
Primitive Area without water: $14 per night with electricity, $9 per night without power.
Sewer and water hook up: Additional $3.00 per night.
What does the Wilson Island SRA have to offer?
The park holds 140 modern campsites with power and 20 primitive powered sites. Camping is very popular at this 577-acre state park. There have always been at least a few campers there every time I have been
Along with the sites there is plenty of room to roam. There are 5 miles of trails for hiking or mountain biking (sorry, nothing other than human powered). There is plenty to see as well on the trails. Aside from the Bald Eagles you can find whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and other wild critters. The trees are always there to provide you shade along the path of your travels.
When you get back to your tent you may want to freshen up at the modern shower. Not bad for a park built in 1900! Or maybe you will want to trade the tent in for a the cabin available at the Wilson Island SRA.
The cabin though powered, does not have water. There are bunks and air conditioning though! The cabin is available year round and has heat during the winter. Cooking supplies and sanitary needs are not supplied. The cabin is close to the shower building and bathroom so it is not too rough to handle.
The current cabin rates: $25 a day or $150 for a weekly rental.
There are also two very large open sites, one near the river and the other up against the tree line for large gatherings. Weddings or scout troops would find these areas perfect for most of their needs. With picture perfect shots of the trees and the river, who would not want to have a special gathering here! I did not see any picnic tables or grills while on site but I have seen people grilling with their own equipment. Be sure to check the fire danger posting at the entrance before firing up your grill.
This state park holds a special place in my heart. I took my son here 2 years ago in early April to go cat fishing in the Missouri River. This is where my son caught his first cat and it is one of my favorite fishing memories with him.
I do enjoy this park very much. I have not visited many SRAs in Iowa but I do go to this one fairly often. The park is close to my home and when I am in the mood to go after catfish this park is the park I go to. The riverbank is wide and offers plenty of angles to get the line into the water.
This park is pretty popular with campers and usually has at least a few campers there all the time but because there is not a lake on site and few people bank fish the river at the park, it is rarely crowed near the water. The few fishermen that are there are usually dropping their boats down the launch.
The park feels much bigger than it is. The trees are lush and abundant and always seem to be over your shoulder providing shade. I like that this park has this feel.
The Wilson Island SRA was opened in 1900. This site has a lot of history behind it. The grounds though mature are not overgrown or decaying. The state does a great job keeping the underbrush kept and the park goers seem to respect the land by picking up after themselves.
I have not taken advantage of the camping but from talking to those who do the big attraction for them is the openness. Another nice thing is that you can set up your site and have no worries. Most of the campers are regulars and watch out for each other. There is also lots of space to go out on your own. The 5 miles of trails run you through the thick trees and give you the feeling that you are days away from anyone else in the world.
My only mark against the Wilson Island SRA is the overall condition of the buildings and how bare bones the services are. The shelters and bathrooms are lacking for fresh paint and renewal. A lot of the buildings have peeling paint or dried out exposed wood. The bathrooms have miles of spider webs that are holding scores of moths. This is an older park that just needs a little attention to make it nice.
If I had a say in matters, I would suggest adding a few more services. Maybe add a playground, some picnic tables and some grills. The park is very low key and for those of you that enjoy that, Wilson Island SRA is right up your alley.
***An important update: I have recently visited Wilson Island again and found the park to be much improved. The out buildings have been updated and there has been a new one added. The grounds look great too. There has even been a playground added!!! Thanks to the Iowa Parks Department for doing such a great job with this very nice park. I will not edit out my original statements about the grounds but add this statement so that you know how much work they put in!
All and all this state park is very nice. A family or group will find the openness of the grounds perfect for gatherings or picnics. If you are looking to get away from it all and relax I would suggest bringing ice, a chair and your favorite beverage. Wilson Island will take care of the rest!
Please see my other reviews of state parks:
Memphis State, NE
Crystal Lake, NE
Mormon Island, NE
Summit Lake, NE
DeSoto Bend, NE/IA
Some of my favorite gear:
Plano Soft Sider
Berkley Lighting Rod
Shakespeare Catera reel