Located in the tiny town of St. Charles, IA, just outside of Des Moines, Hinterland Music Festival truly is a hidden gem. Every August, fans of indie pop, alt-country, Americana, and soul flock to the Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater for three days of music across three stages. Headliners tend to land somewhere between cult heroes and household names, with stage space set aside for the next big things and up-and-coming local acts.
The atmosphere at Hinterland is hard to beat. The festival’s laid-back, low-key vibe is as fun for families as it is for free-and-single twenty-somethings. That camaraderie carries over to the campground. If you’re not staying here, you may be missing out, so load up that RV and snag a spot.
Not only will you have a chance to make fast friends with your fellow campers, but you’ll also get a front-row seat to special late-night sets at the Campfire Stage. You’ll also be staying in a peaceful, pastoral landscape with some sites overlooking a lake, perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of modern urban life.
The festival is also fantastically kid-friendly, and the organizers make every effort to keep the little ones entertained. There’s a special Hinterkids tent that runs activities throughout the festival, including arts and crafts and facepainting, and even an AC-controlled corner for breastfeeding folks and their babies. Make Hinterland Music Festival your next Midwest adventure; you won’t regret it.
Tickets usually go on sale in January of the same year, and you can expect to pay around $60 for a single-day ticket and $140 for a three-day pass. Various VIP packages, including perks ranging from private bar and lounge access to viewing platform access, meals and early entry range from about $360 to $700
Camping is purchased separately, and booking with your crew may be helpful if you plan to attend with other guests. Each person camping requires a wristband to enter the campground, which usually costs around $35-$50 depending on the type of site you choose.
RV camping costs around $250 for the Silver option (including two camping wristbands), which gets you 20’x40’ worth of space but no power or other hookups (you can bring a car or a tent if it fits the site).
Each person using the site will need to purchase an additional camping wristband. The same goes for the Gold option, which gets you a little closer to the action at a price of around $350, and the Gold with Power section, which buys you the luxury of electric hookups for about $550. Review the Hinterland Music Festival website for details related to what type of tickets you will prefer.
Camping in St. Charles might feel like you’ve left all of civilization behind, but the Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater is only around half an hour away from Des Moines, two hours from Omaha and around two-and-a-half hours from Kansas City. The interstate serves the area well, and the festival grounds themselves are just off I-35. Travelers can stay updated on road and weather information for Iowa through 511 by phone or online.
Once you get off the Interstate, festival staff will direct you to the parking lots. You can park, but not camp, in the general area, about a quarter-mile away from the grounds, for a fee of around $25 for the entire weekend. If you don’t feel like walking and have selected a Silver of Gold Camping option, you can leave your car at a parking lot closer to the site for around $10 extra. There are a limited amount of ADA accessible spaces available; it’s best to contact the festival organizers in advance to make sure you get a spot that suits your needs.
Unfortunately, there’s no public transit route directly to the festival grounds. However, the festival does offer a $20 shuttle service from the Southridge Mall in downtown Des Moines, which is fairly accessible by bus from both Omaha and Kansas City. This is also a great option if you’re watching the pennies when it comes to parking since parking at the mall is free.
The number one pro-tip for camping at Hinterland is to get there as early as possible, especially if you’re staying at one of the RV sites. Shade is at a premium, and it’s a good bet to bring an umbrella, sun tent, or other shade structure if you’re planning on hanging out during the day. While a Gold RV site will get you the luxury of electricity, there aren’t any water hookups, so fill up your tank before you go. All sites are served by vault toilets and have access to showers, but it’ll cost you around $7 to get clean.
St. Charles, Iowa may not already be on every vacationer’s bucket list, but the history (and film-fame) of the surrounding Madison County does attract a fair amount of visitors, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding an alternative RV place to stay. There are a few state and county park campgrounds in the immediate vicinity with a couple of RV parks with hookups within a twenty-five-minute drive. Lake Red Rock is also a popular area to look for campsites and is about an hour to the east of the venue.
Golf carts, bikes, and ATVs are all banned at Hinterland, so the only real way to get around is on foot (in keeping with the festival’s family-friendly policies, strollers are welcome). Thankfully, the area is relatively compact, so you won’t need to do too much walking. In terms of accessibility, the festival grounds are relatively flat, and there’s enough space that you shouldn’t find it too difficult to maneuver a wheelchair or mobility scooter. However, not all of the area is served by walkways, and the ground can get pretty muddy.
Whatever else you do, pack for heat and humidity. August in Iowa sees high temperatures and a lot of cloud cover. Breathable fabrics, such as cotton, can make all the difference. There’s also a decent chance of rainfall this time of year, so be sure to bring a light waterproof jacket (look for one with vents or some other design that makes it more breathable than the average trash bag). Of course, you could also be treated to blazing sunshine, so be sure to pack a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. You’re probably going to be standing in line a lot, so bring sturdy, comfortable shoes and moisture-wicking socks.
Chairs aren’t permitted in the amphitheater, but you’ll definitely want to bring at least a tarp. Not all sites at the campgrounds are shaded, so it’s a good idea to bring a shade structure of some sort if you’re planning on hanging out during the day at your campsite.
Two words: bug spray. A heavy-duty insect repellent can make all the difference between a good Hinterland experience and less than wonderful one, as the humid conditions and nearby lake attract all sorts of buzzing critters. As always, sunscreen is a must, and while there is a first-aid tent at Hinterland, it never hurts to carry your own kit in case of minor cuts and scrapes.
Campfires are allowed at Hinterland as long as they’re kept to designated grills or rings, so you can cook away to your heart’s content. However, keep in mind that fire regulations can change with the weather. Ensure that none of your food is stored in a glass container. There’s a general store at the campground, but prices are a bit steep, and there’s not much in the way of groceries in St. Charles, either. You’re better off making a pitstop in Des Moines or in the nearby town of Winterset to pick up supplies.
The community of St. Charles, Iowa is not known for having a long list of restaurant choices. In Winterset, a couple of miles away, you’ll find some pretty good classic American fare and pub grub, as well as some Mexican options. You’ll have to head up to Des Moines if you’re looking for variety or to find something gluten-free or vegan. Travelers can also look for meal options along I-35 in both directions.
Hinterland is home to a variety of food vendors, mostly serving up BBQ, grilled cheese, and other quick and tasty food options, though there are some healthier options as well. The festival makes a point to ensure that all dietary requirements are catered for according to guest requests. You may also want to check out the craft stalls, which stock creations from local independent artists.
Hinterland’s organizers are very security conscious, and unfortunately, that does make for long lines. Expect everything you bring to be searched thoroughly. Unlike many other music festivals, backpacks are permitted, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you bring a clear bag. Outside food and drink, glass and sun tents are strictly banned. The festival grounds are patrolled by private security, and you can generally expect a police presence as well.
Your primary weather concern is going to be the humidity. Braving the outdoors in an Iowan August can feel like breathing soup, so be careful to stay hydrated. Summer storms are possible, and you may want to review the weather ahead when packing for your trip. The bands at Hinterland play on come rain or shine, so if you feel unsafe, leave or inquire with staff while there.
You’ll find a first-aid tent on the festival grounds, as well as a medical and security RV at the campground. Both are staffed by EMTs. There’s a small general medical practice in St. Charles, as well as a pharmacy, but the nearest emergency care centers are a few miles away in either Winterset or Oscola.