Yellow River State Forest – Harper’s Ferry, IA

Dec 22, 2021 | 1 comment

By Theresa “Resa” Leppert

You may have seen my article in the Fall 2021 issue of Girl Camper Magazine about our favorite place to camp in NE Iowa – Yellow River State Forest.  It is one of my favorite places on the planet!  My husband’s family has been camping there for more than 50 years.  I’ve been camping there for at least 20.  It is where my husband and I started dating, where we went on our honeymoon, where our daughter learned to ride without training wheels…..  So many memories! We continue to go there several times a year. Our first trip out each year in early April is to YRSF, and our last trip of the year the first weekend of November is to YRSF.

YRSF isn’t for everyone. 

Little Paint Creek, Fishing hole at site 95.

Let me say that right off the bat.  It is completely off grid – no electric, no cell signal AT ALL, no flush toilets or showers.  It is, however, one of the most beautiful places in Iowa because of those things, in my opinion.  (I mean – check out that fishing hole to the right!)

We spend so much time on our electronic devices in our everyday lives, and YRSF gives us a chance to unplug from all of that.  You can drive “to the top of the hill” just outside the park to check your phone, which we do at least once a day because we both have elderly parents, children, and pets that we need to check on – but the rest of the time, the phones are off and in the Jeep.  Oh, we download some movies to the tablet to watch at bedtime, but it’s just background noise.

There aren’t enough words to describe the beauty of this place. Check out these pics!

Where is this unplugged diamond in the rough?

YRSF is in NE Iowa, between Harper’s Ferry and Waukon.  It is about 17 miles from Marquette and McGregor, which are just across the Mississippi River from Prairie Du Chien, WI.  There are a lot of backroads throughout the park, so if gettin a little muddy is your thing, you’ll really love YRSF!

Have you heard the term “Driftless Area?”

This area is known as the “Driftless” area.  “The region escaped the flattening effects of glaciation during the last ice age and is consequently characterized by steep, forested ridges, deeply carved river valleys, and karst geology characterized by spring-fed waterfalls and cold-water trout streams. Ecologically, the Driftless Area’s flora and fauna are more closely related to those of the Great Lakes region and New England than those of the broader Midwest and central Plains regions.”  (

Muddy forest roads are da bomb!
Shiloh loves Jeepin!

What does that mean? 

It means that there is more rugged terrain than what you would see elsewhere in Iowa.  It means more challenging hikes, and even more exciting – it means TROUT STREAMS.  In fact, you can fly fish (or bobber fish if that floats your boat) just a few steps from your campsite – like in that beautiful fishing hole I posted above.

My Boxer girl Shiloh LOVES camping.

What are your options for camping?

There are 4 major campgrounds at YRSF – two equestrian campgrounds and two regular ones.  The cost for YRSF is low – $11 or $12 a night in peak season, and only $9 off season – and you can camp there year round.  It is a popular destination for hunters, hikers, backpackers, fly fishermen, and equestrian campers.  There is also a rustic cabin available for rent.  Choices for everyone!

Shiloh & Savannah

The two regular campgrounds are Little Paint and Big Paint.  The names might be a bit confusing.  They are named after the creek that runs through each one.  Little Paint is the bigger of the two campgrounds and this is the one we camp in the most.  The Little Paint Creek meanders through the campground, which is in a valley.  You have to drive through the creek twice to get through to the back of the campground.  The sites are large free-form grassy sites with a picnic table and a fire pit.

Firewood and Water are available in the park.

The Friends of Yellow River organization has a self-serve firewood sale shed at the information kiosk near the camp host and ranger office. That is also the only potable water available inthe park – so stop and fill your tanks there on your way in!

Will there be GC IA events at YRSF?

Heck yeah! We had a little event there in October 2021. Since this is my favorite campground, I’m sure there will be more in the future. If off-grid camping is your thing – watch for those events!  You can find out more information about this amazing Iowa State Forest here:   Have you ever camped at YRSF? Where is YOUR favorite campsite? See you down the trail!

Connect with me!

Theresa “Resa” Leppert

Guide Manager

Guide, Iowa & Wisconsin


[email protected]

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1 Comment

  1. Marcy

    I can understand why this place is such an important part of your memory bank!! Sounds beautiful and peaceful!

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