Elk Rock State Park in Sweetwater, Iowa is centrally located near the middle of the state. The park is a favorite location for RV camping and water recreation because it sits alongside Iowa’s largest bodies of water, Lake Red Rock. The lake is a 15,000-acre reservoir fed by the Des Moines River. The lake provides numerous activities for fishing, boating, and many other water activities. Whether you stay inside of the park and take advantage of the two boat ramps and access the water near your campground, or you head to the Red Rock Marina, only 12 miles away, you are sure to enjoy your waterfront stay. The park is open year-round for recreation and camping.
The Red Rock Reservoir is one of the main draws for locals who live in the many towns surrounding the lake. The large body of water, formed by the construction of the Red Rock Dam in 1969, was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers to mitigate flooding. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers is still involved with the lake and dam, and maintains several campgrounds surrounding the lake. The Corps runs five of the recreation areas, making it possible for people to have a safe, clean, and fun place to spend their time outdoors.
Guests who love to paddle should bring or rent kayaks and canoes and explore the water from a different vantage point. The Des Moines water trail takes paddlers along many scenic routes, including the Mile Long Bridge, a local landmark.
Elk Rock State Park, located in Sweetwater, Iowa, is a close drive from many major destinations in Iowa. From Des Moines, the park is 42 miles southeast and 105 miles southwest of Iowa City.
Visitors planning on bringing horses should monitor potential trail closures. Equestrian trails close periodically when rainfall and other natural events create adverse conditions that may impact the stability of the trail. For more information, call the park for current trail reports.
Iowa state parks do not charge entry fees.
All state parks are open from 4:00 am to 10:30 pm. All guests who are not registered for overnight stays must vacate the premises by 10:30 pm.
The Equestrian Campground is an RV and horse-friendly campground. The facility allows camping year-round, but restrooms, showers, the dump station, and other areas that use water are winterized during the winter season. The campground provides different types of sites, depending on your needs. Choose from electrical only hookups (30 or 50 amp), or primitive-style camping with no hookups. The pull-through sites accommodate RVs and trailers up to 74 feet in length. The sites have gravel driveways as well as a hitching post and a grill. The campground provides guests with vault toilets, dumpsters, modern restrooms and showers, hydrants, and a dump station. Please keep noise to a minimum during the hours of 10:30 pm and 6:00 am. Generators and other noise which can be heard from more than three campsites away are not permitted during quiet hours.
The Non-Equestrian Campground is a year-round, pet-friendly facility. Although the campground is open for camping during all seasons, restrooms, showers, the dump station, and other areas that use water are winterized during the winter season. The sites have gravel, back-in driveways and accommodate RVs and trailers up to 80 feet in length. Each space has either electrical-only (30 or 50 amp) or primitive-style camping with no hookups. The campground provides guests with hydrants, showers, modern restrooms, vault toilets, a dump station, and a playground. For campers needing firewood outside of peak operating season, there is a self-dispensing firewood machine located next to the shower building. Please keep noise to a minimum during the hours of 10:30 pm and 6:00 am. Generators and other noise which can be heard from more than three campsites away are not permitted during quiet hours.
Iowa has more than 18,000 miles of navigable waterways for kayakers and canoers to explore. Resources like the trail guides provided by the Iowa Water Trails Association, water safety classes, and canoe and kayak classes are provided statewide for Iowa residents and guests. A section of the Des Moines River, near Lake Little Rock is a designated water trail, with clearly marked routes for paddlers. If you don’t have a boat, rent one at any of the nearby outfitters or inquire about paddling excursions near the area.
Anglers who like to fish for crappie, bass, catfish, and walleye will enjoy fishing in either the Des Moines River or Lake Little Rock. For anglers who prefer fishing from a boat, access the water from one of the park’s two boat ramps. One ramp is located near the main park entrance, and the second ramp is located near the park office. There are also other favorite fishing locations outside of the park run by the Marion County Conservation Board. For anglers who want to fish in different places each day, visit Roberts Creek and Cordova Park which are located just north of Elk Rock State Park. Anglers who are 16 and older must possess a valid fishing license to fish in the state of Iowa.
Park visitors should take advantage of the outdoors while staying at the park and spend time in the day use areas. Aside from the two boat launch areas for water recreation, the park has one main picnic area with a reservable shelter. The day use area is a jumping off point for hikers, bikers, and equestrians. It has a parking area and restrooms nearby. Guests can also take advantage of one of the playgrounds in the campgrounds or head off-site for swimming and more water recreation.
Adventurers of many ages who like to combine technology with the outdoors will find geocaching challenging and fun. Geocaching is a game where you can use a handheld GPS device to locate caches or containers. Elk Rock State Park has one cache, placed in an ammo can that was donated by Durango Dale & P. It contains trade items along with a log and pencil. Please follow park rules, stay on the trails, and leave nothing behind. Cachers can take a souvenir or leave a travel bug, but please don’t leave anything else! The park does not rent GPS units, so be sure to bring your own!
One of the many reasons people come to this park is because of the thirteen miles of all-season, multi-use trails that weave throughout the park. The trails accommodate hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Getting to a trailhead is convenient because many of the trails connect to the equestrian campground area. All hikers, bikers, and equestrians should follow proper multi-use trail etiquette and yield to the right of way when approaching another person or horse. Before planning time out on one of the trails, please check with the park office regarding the current operating status. Wet conditions within the park will occasionally cause temporary trail closures.
Birdwatchers should bring their birdwatching guides and their binoculars and spend time near the reservoir water habitat looking for birds that live or pass through the area. In the spring and fall, migratory birds and waterfowl use Lake Red Rock as a stopping point along their migratory paths. White pelicans and bald eagles join the more than 200 species of birds that call Elk Rock State Park home whether permanently or temporarily. For birding questions or to inquire about bird sightings, contact the park.