Though small, the bucolic Red Haw State Park offers bountiful recreation opportunities for all sorts of visitors. The park’s main attraction is Red Haw Lake, a placid, 72-acre body of water which invites anglers, swimmers and paddlers alike. Two boat launches provide easy access to the water, which is teaming with bluegill, largemouth bass, crappie and more. A swim beach lets guests cool off in the clear water on muggy summer days.
Surrounding Red Haw Lake is a thick woodland of oak, pine, maple and hawthorne - the sylvan setting will make you forget you’re in the heart of America’s farm country. Several miles of trails let guests explore the forest, the lakeshore and several quiet ponds; spring through fall, you can hike or bike, and in winter, explore a wintry landscape on skis or snowshoes. Year-round, there’s plenty to see in the way of both flora and fauna. One of the park’s more remarkable natural features is its redbud bloom; in mid-spring, these small but abundant trees unfurl thousands of red-purple flowers.
Red Haw’s campground boasts 76 RV sites, many of them with great views of the nearby lake. The park itself is easily accessible, and it is conveniently set right next to the full-service town of Chariton. Reservations are taken up to three months in advance, though a dozen or so first-come-first-serve sites are also available.
Red Haw is located just off of US-34, which runs east-west across southern Iowa. The park’s main road (which branches directly off of US-34) runs along the western edge of the lake, with spurs leading to day use areas and the main campground. All the roads to and within the park are paved, flat and easily navigable. Even drivers with larger rigs or trailers should have no problem making their way to the park.
If you’re looking for amenities, the town of Chariton is just a half-mile to the west of the park; Chariton offers groceries, camping supplies, banks, restaurants and hosts several fun seasonal events, too.
Parking shouldn’t pose much of a challenge either; many of the larger sites at Red Haw are pull-through, and even back-in sites have ample space. The campground’s layout, consisting of several small interlocking loops, is relatively straightforward. There’s also plenty of parking available at the two day use areas, which both offer shelters, picnic areas and restrooms. The northernmost day use area also offers an additional boat ramp and access to a swim beach. Everything is accessible via a short drive, or by taking a quick hike along the lakeshore via the Lake Loop trail.
The campground at Red Haw provides lovely, shaded spots just a stone’s throw from Red Haw Lake’s western shore. 76 RV-suitable sites are available; the majority of these have either 30 or 50 amp electric hookups, though have no electric. None of the sites have water or sewage hookups, though there are several potable water spigots throughout the campground as well as an easily accessible sanitary dump station. There are vault toilets and a modern restroom with showers, and one of the loops has a small playground too.
The campground’s location offers easy access to both the lake and the park’s trails. A boat launch and parking area are just a short walk away, and several short spurs from the campground tie into the four-mile Lake Loop Trail.
Sites are a mix of back-in and pull through, with only some being able to accommodate large rigs. Reservations are taken for three-fourths (about sixty) of the campgrounds sites, and reservations can be made through the Iowa State Parks’ website up to three months in advance.
Visitors can explore verdant, tree-lined shores, fish-filled waters and brilliant green patches of lily pads as they paddle or motor on Red Haw Lake (visitors should note that only electric trolling motors are allowed). There are two conveniently placed boat launches - one at the day use area and one just near the campground. Each offers access to 72 beautiful acres of water, and Red Haw’s serpentine, inlet-laden shore means everyone can find their own private patch of lake to enjoy.
Fishing is one of the most popular activities at Red Haw, and with good reason; the lake boasts large, healthy populations of bluegills, crappie, catfish and largemouth bass. Anglers can head out onto the water from one of the park’s two boat launches, or they can find the perfect shore-spot by taking the scenic Lake Loop trail. Watch herons and puffy white clouds sail through a beautiful blue sky as you wait for a bite. In mid and late winter, ice-fishing on Red Haw Lake is also permitted.
In all seasons - but especially during the summer - Red Haw attracts a diverse array of avian species. Ducks such as pintails, teals, and buffleheads float on Red Haw Lake’s surface, while eagles and hawks patrol the skies above in search of fish. Bluebirds, orioles, flycatchers and red-headed woodpeckers are just a few of the many species which breed at the park, and visitors can improve their chances of seeing them by taking a stroll along one of Red Haw’s lovely trails.
For travelers looking to stretch their legs and explore Red Haw’s woodlands, there are about five miles of hiking trails to take advantage of. The Lake Loop travels in a four-mile ring around Red Haw Lake, offering wonderful views of the water and the surrounding landscape. Spring visitors can see an abundance forest-floor wildflowers, and the blossoming of the park’s redbud trees (usually in late April and early May) paints brilliant swaths of magenta across the woodlands. In the fall, hardwood species blaze with reds, yellows and oranges, transforming the whole canopy. Regardless of the season, you’ll undoubtedly find something to marvel at along the park’s trails.
Abutting the southern end of the state park are about 230 acres of woodlands where hunting is permitted. The mixed woods, gentle hills and reconstructed patches of prairie offer a scenic, quiet backdrop for pursuing game species including wild turkeys, pheasants, quail, cottontails, and white-tailed deer. Spring and fall seasons boast mild weather and (relatively) bug-free conditions. Before heading out, make sure you’re properly licensed and have familiarized yourself with state hunting regulations, which are provided by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Snow and ice transform the character of Red Haw; the bustling lake spot turns into a quiet winter getaway. Cross-country skiing is a popular way to explore the park during winter, and the park’s gentle topography provides just enough of a challenge for most skiers. When Red Haw Lake’s surface ice grows thick, ice-skating also becomes a great option. Skaters can take in views of the snowy, tree-lined shores while gliding across the ice. Some of the park’s larger hills also offer great sledding opportunities.