Growing up in Texas, lakes are a bit of an abstract thought. Sure, they exist, but there aren’t a ton of them and not everyone enjoys them. Who wants to sit out at a lake and fend off mosquitoes when it is 110? There are a few people with boats that hang out at the lake every weekend, but I never knew any of them.
Fast forward to me spending my 20’s in the Midwest. Everyone I met had these great stories of times on the lake. They either lived on a lake full time, or had a cabin up north on a lake that they went to frequently. They’d talk about all the fun they had at the lake with their cousins and siblings and I’ll admit, I was a little envious.
So the kids are out of their toddler stage, and they have two really great cousins in Des Moines. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if they could have some of those awesome memories? So I somehow convinced my non-camping brother to pack up his family and go cabin camping at Green Valley State Park in Iowa.
As we pull up to the cabins and walk by the lake, the first thing I notice is that there is a smell coming from it.
And the green algae is heavy.
And when the speedboats go by, it looks like wiggly lime jelly.
I still wasn’t totally deterred. Walking a bit further down the shoreline, I found that the lake was clearer and didn’t even smell in most places.
Then my sister-in-law, who grew up in Creston right next door to Green Valley State Park, tells me that there is swimmer’s itch in the lake. This doesn’t sound too bad… maybe some swimmers get itchy from the algae.
Nope, swimmer’s itch is an immune reaction to flatworm larvae popping through your skin. They die, but the body says “Nope!” and you get a itchy raised bump. Or lots of itchy raised bumps.
No carefree swimming memories were going to be made on this trip! But there was still camping…
I like to camp, and over my lifetime I’ve done quite a lot of it. But as I get older, I try to find ways to make the experience a bit easier on the family. Camping in a cabin is quite a bit easier than pulling out a tent. It is infinitely easier than trying to get a tent on a plane.
The cabin did not have linens provided. That is expected, but something you CAN find in more expensive state park cabins (ex. renting the rim cabins at Palo Duro Canyon). If we were roadtripping, we just would have brought sheets or sleeping bags. Since we were flying in, I bought the cheapest sheets I could find ($5 twin, $10 queen – 100% Polyester!!). We borrowed pillows and blankets from our family, but we probably could have figured out a way to bring another rollerbag with small pillows and blankets if we had to.
The cabins did have an air conditioner. That was nice, and it took a lot of the guesswork out of planning the trip far in advance. But I was surprised that there was not a sink. There was a water spigot outside of one of the cabins, but having a sink is a luxury I apparently take for granted. The shared bathroom was a primitive “porta-potty” type hole in the ground toilet. That didn’t bother me – it was clean and there was hand sanitizer provided. I’ve used much, much worse. But it did bother my brother and sister-in-law. Potty training a kid in that situation isn’t exactly fun.
We had decent cell phone coverage at all times during our visit, and for most spots near the cabin I could get data service.
My brother brought some fishing equipment and the kids enjoyed trying that out. And by trying it out, I mean messing with it for 5 minutes and then losing interest and running on to something else. But they got to play with worms, and that was tons of fun.
The sunsets were gorgeous, and it was a pretty quiet relaxing setting overall.
The bug bite count was pretty moderate. I got quite a few chigger bites and some mystery marks on my hands. But as far as bug bites went, it could have been much worse. I got way more in an afternoon in Ontario than I did in a weekend at Green Valley.
The kids did have a good time, and we decided to do something similar to it next year. Although it probably won’t be at Green Valley. I think we’re leaning towards more upscale accommodations. They want a flush toilet and I at least want a sink!
Southwest of Des Moines and directly east of Omaha, Green Valley is next door to Creston, Iowa. Find out more, and reserve your own cabin at Iowa DNR’s website.