Set in southern Iowa's rolling countryside, which is checker-boarded with farms and forests, Buck Creek Park offers a quiet getaway among water and woods. The park's bucolic campground sits on the shores of Buck Creek, a trout-filled waterway that feeds into Rathbun Lake. The lake, at 11,000 acres, offers tremendous opportunities for boating, paddling, fishing, swimming and even sailing. But there's plenty to do off the water, too. Take a refreshing stroll through some of the park's 100 acres of tranquil broad-leaf forests, toss a Frisbee at one of the campground's lovely, spacious sites, or take out a pair of binoculars and track bald eagles as they dive into the water in search of their next meal. Buck Creek is also close to several other state and local parks, as well as the Rathbun Fish Hatchery, which offers self-guided tours.
Buck Creek is easy to get to, and it's conveniently located close to the towns of Centerville and Moravia, Iowa, where you can stock up on supplies. The park's peaceful campground features 42 RV-friendly campsites, all with electric hookups available. Most of the park's sites can be reserved up to six months in advance.
Buck Creek park can be accessed via Hwy J5T, which itself is just a mile or so from IA-5. Moravia, to the north, and Centerville, to the south, are the largest nearby towns (with the latter being considerably larger). You can find basic supplies and amenities in Morovia, while Centerville offers full-service amenities.
The roads to and in the park are paved and well-maintained. The topography here ranges from gently rolling to flat as a pancake, so you need not expect any steep hills or sharp turns.
Turning off from Hwy J5T, you'll find the park's main road, which branches into three smaller roads, one for each of the campground's loops. Spots range in size, though most can accommodate even large RVs and trailers. Some are back-in while others are pull-through (you can check out the park's website to see details on individual site's type, length limit, etc.). Each of the loops is quite close to each other, and the park is small enough that just about everything, including the water, is within walking distance. Other state and local parks surround Rathbun Lake, and they are all just a short drive away.
The campground at Buck Creek is humble but offers grassy, tree-lined sites and easy access to the water. You can sit under the shade of a mighty oak or string up a hammock and watch as warblers and swallows flit overhead. In total, 42 RV sites are spread across three small loops, which together comprise the campground. Sites have either 30 or 50 amp electrical hookups, though no sewer or water hookups are available. There are potable water spigots in all three loops, and there's a sanitary dump station near the campgrounds' entrance. There are modern restrooms and showers too. Sites also sport fire rings, grills and picnic tables.
Hosts usually have firewood available, but you can also get some from nearby Centerville or Moravia (remember, don't use firewood transported from long distances - emerald ash borer is a big threat to Iowa's ash trees!)
Most of Buck Creek's sites can be reserved up to six months in advance. A handful, however, are first-come first-served.
Buck Creek park is located on the banks of the Buck Creek Trout Stream, a name which evinces the waters' rich fish populations. The stream is periodically stocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout. Tall red oaks, silver maples and box elder trees stretch their arcing branches over the stream banks, providing a gorgeous and verdant setting to cast a line. Anglers can also head out to Rathbun Lake, where they can catch large-mouth bass, crappie, walleye, catfish and more.
While the waters of Buck Creek may be humble, they flow into the huge (for Iowa, anyway) Rathbun Lake, a 11,000-acre body of water that offers some of the best boating opportunities in the region. While most of the lakes ponds of southern Iowa's rolling wooded country are small and placid, Rathbun is open and windy enough to allow for excellent sailing. Motorboats, canoes, and kayaks, are, of course, also welcome, and can be used to explore Rathbun's winding green banks and open waters. An in-park boat ramp offers easy access to the lake.
Summers in southern Iowa can get hot and muggy; the drone of cicadas and the oppressive heat of a strong July sun are a sure sign that it's time to go for a dip. Luckily, Buck Creek has a lovely swimming area where visitors can indulge their urge to cool off. Watch herons soar by overhead as puffy white clouds sail through clear blue skies - and after you work up an appetite swimming, you can head to one of Buck Creek's lovely water-side picnic areas.
Though there's not much in the way of developed hiking trails at Buck Creek, other nearby parks, such as Honey Creek, do have some excellent trails which cross the area's forested, gently rolling terrain and offer great views of the lake. You can also walk along the shores of buck creek itself - vegetation along the quiet creek becomes verdant in the summer and hums with the activity of birds and bugs. Take a stroll in late September and you may see the first of the leaves beginning to turn.
Woods and waters both provide rich, scenic habitats for some of the surprisingly diverse denizens of southern Iowa. Bald eagle's frequent both Buck Creek and Rathbun Lake, which both offer prodigious quantities of fish. A couple dozen species of colorful songbirds, including yellow-throated warblers, black and white warblers, Canadian warblers and many more, can be heard making their melodic calls on spring and summer mornings. Deer and wild turkeys frequent the park and its surrounds, too.
Just a few minutes from the park, the Rathbun Fish Hatchery, run the the Iowa DNR, offers visitors the chance to see first-hand how game species of fish are bred, grown and cared for. Walkways and interpretive signs comprise the informative self-guided tour at Rathbun - visitors will see some of the hundreds of thousands of fish which the hatchery releases annually into the region's streams and lakes. Walleye and catfish are the primary breeding species at Rathbun. The facility is open Mon-Fri, year-round.