Campground Review: Jester Park, Granger, Iowa

Posted January 27, 2022 – Narrated by Carmen
To listen to the podcast, click the play button

bambi-4
See our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

Call it faith, wizardry or universal wisdom, Jim’s travel philosophy is a beautiful fact.

The next enchanting two-week vacation is never more than four hours away. 4-3-2 is our address. This travel-wonder mojo holds us in thrall as we make our bed (literally) on America’s highways.

A back road Sunday drive leads to every new-to-us destination. Usually, we have the luxury to choose between city, suburb, countryside and maybe, if we’re lucky, a smattering of wilderness. Only rarely do we find all of those attributes in one location.

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Cycling near the Des Moines River

Lists of “The Most Beautiful Places In America” abound, but most people are convinced they live in one of the top ten. That’s how beautiful this country is. With help from Beauty and The Beast, we are able to enter the local’s reality that their hometown is perfection and make it our home, too.

For an old married couple who blew their annual two-week vacation on the same three trips year-after-year, Living in Beauty is quite the awakening. In five-and-a-half years, we’re not over it because this mind-blowing Forever Camping journey is still taking us places we’ve never been, like Iowa.

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Pappajohn Sculpture Park, Downtown Des Moines

Marilyn Smith, our dear San Diego friend and chiropractor, grew up in Iowa. She’s told us about Iowa’s beauty for the last forty-five some-odd years – but from our coastal California perspective we just couldn’t understand.

Marilyn Smith

In mid-September, that all changed when we pulled out of Door County, Wisconsin, for a three-day Sunday Drive – that’s what we call these pacifying and opportunistic Harvest Hosts interludes between our two-week destinations.

Here’s our first Sunday Drive TikTok.

@livinginbeauty

Living in Beauty Sunday drive

♬ ROADTRIP – Ković Red

U-Pick Strawberry Farm

A storm broke open as we stopped at UPick Strawberry Farm in DeForest, Wisconsin. It had been pressing upon us all afternoon, zig-zagging across the landscape, spitting and threatening.

upick strawberry farm

As we drove in, the sign read Fresh Tomatoes. So, I put the pasta water on to boil and Jim stepped out to inspect the fields.

upick strawberry farm

Suddenly, the hair on my forearms stood up. Thunder bowled and lighting cracked. Pico dove into his “cave” under the table and Jim vaulted back into the trailer. Pick-your-own would be on hold till morning. This is why we keep Herb The Herb onboard: emergency pesto.

Homemade pesto

Next morning, a girl scout troop showed up and cleaned out the strawberries, but tomatoes were still abundant. Summer marinara was in the future.

upick strawberry farm
No pesticides or chemicals – fresh, juicy, clean tomatoes!

Potosi Brewing Company

Moving down the road a piece, we overnighted at Potosi Brewing Company in Potosi, Wisconsin.

Potosi Brewing Company

Harvest Hosts doesn’t always promise you a quiet rose garden beside a mountain stream flowing with locally sourced beer, brats and cheese but …

Voila.

The next day we crossed over into Iowa – a strong state, a practical state, a seriously hard-working state where, as I’ve been told, all the best chiropractors come from.

Amana Colonies

Then we drove a scenic 115 miles to Amana Colonies

… an intriguing 300+ year-old agricultural community built by German pietists.

Before the early 1930’s, the seven villages of the Amana Colonies – also known as The Community of True Inspiration – remained tightly controlled and culturally insular except for commerce and manufacturing.

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Amana colonies is filled with biking trails. The colonies once pastured sheep for wool.

Today, like most utopian movements with the grit to survive, Amana is a National Historic Landmark thriving on tourism, shopping, hiking and cycling.

There, we spent two days learning a good deal about American history, colonial settlements, architecture, folk art, woolen mill blankets, hearth baking, hand-crafted candy and chocolate.

Craft beer isn’t a trend here. Millstream Brau Haus continues the Amana brewing tradition which goes back to 1885.

millstream brau haus

And the hometown hospitality is genuine, too.

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Brooke, our Amana Beer Girl!

Inspired by the community – and, incredibly well fed …

we stocked up with chocolate espresso beans for Christmas gifts …

amana colonies
Okay, I should have bought more espresso beans

Prairie Flower Recreation Area

and pulled out of Amana on a Tuesday morning, heading for Prairie Flower Recreation Area. Jim worked for months to successfully secure a site in this stunning campground on Saylorville Lake, a reservoir north of Des Moines.

But Jim’s hard work and good fortune took a turn when we saw our campsite, positioned a few feet off the road.

Prairie Flower Recreation Area
Inside the red circle – a car passing just behind the site.

Here, just thirty minutes from Des Moines, the traffic was noisy and fast with no border wall or fence. When Pico sees deer he bolts after them. We’d have to keep him on a short leash for two weeks. No, this would not do at all. But, thanks to 4-3-2, the day was young, so we returned to the office to request a better site.

“Sorry. No openings for a fourteen-day stay but you might try Jester,” the camp host said as she issued our refund, “Better hurry, it’s first-come-first serve.”

Jester Park

About seven miles away – over the bridge on the other side of the lake – the park was completely off our radar, but it appeared that Jester was our only hope.

So, bye-bye prairie flowers.

We turned left onto the road and crossed over to the west shore of Saylorville Lake. Here, the traffic was slower and the pastoral landscape took us to an even deeper level of tranquility.

Within fifteen minutes we pulled straight into our fabulous, scenic site overlooking the lake.

Home again, for two weeks …

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Our Jester Park Campsite #212e for 14 days

with a boat launch nearby.

Jester park

Oh yeah… Heaven. Thank you Lewis A. Jester!

Jester park
Carmen, on beautiful Saylorville Lake – photo taken from our campsite

The 1,661 acre park is named for the man who once farmed this land.

Jester park

His son and uncle gifted the land to Polk County in 1954, and Jester opened to the public in 1958.

Jester park

How To Secure a First-Come-First-Served site at Jester Park

Registration is accomplished at a kiosk located at the entrance.

Jester park

The process begins with selecting a site. This involves driving around, or parking and riding a bike, to find a space. Sites with an orange post must be reserved online. A green post on an empty site indicates that the site is up for grabs.

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Pick as many sites as you can and rate them according to preference, checking cell signals along the way. Take your time, don’t speed. Be as thorough as possible and keep your fingers crossed that you secure your preferred site before someone else does.

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Jester Park Campground

As you look for a site, watch out for tiny pup tents. Savvy locals use the pup-tent method to secure a space for the weekend.

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A camper reserved this spot for an entire week for a one-night stay.

Some campers holding sites with pup tents might check back throughout the week to set up camp or look for a more desirable spot. Jester is a local’s campground. Everyone knows everyone. “Hey Buddy! When do you plan to leave that spot? Text me.” You get the idea.

Jester park

Traffic is the downside of First-Come-First-Served campgrounds. Campers are constantly scouting – and, in mid-September, time’s a’wastin’ to squeeze in that last camping trip of the season. With patience, strategy and luck you will find the perfect spot, just like we did, with a great kitchen window view.

Like most minimally staffed campgrounds, registration is a self-check-in process. Come with your checkbook – no credit cards or cash.

Jester park

There are 80 electric sites (17 allow for advance reservation); 62 non-electric sites (9 of these allow advance reservation); four primitive walk-in sites; and two reservable youth areas.

Jester park

All sites are large, naturally landscaped with no green screen. The prettiest sites are nestled into the trees …

Jester park

and overlooking the lake.

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Site# 212e

No water or sewer connections are available in any of the sites, but potable water spigots are located throughout the campground. There’s a free dump station at the entrance.

Jester park

Some of the streets are paved and some are dirt, but all are wide with plenty of room to maneuver.

There are five distinct camping areas.

We occupied area #2 in campsite 212e (the e is for electric).

Sturdy shelters, picnic tables and grills are scattered throughout the park – these pleasant areas are styled to accommodate groups.

Jester park
Jester park

Each shelter comes with at least one Iowa-sized grill – big enough for entire side of pork, beef or mammoth, if that’s what’s for dinner.

Big get-togethers happen here.

Modern, fully-equipped cabins surround a community fire pit. Perfect for a family reunion or group retreat.

Kayaking

The Lodge with kayak and equipment rental appeared to be closed for the season or, perhaps, due to COVID.

Bring the binoculars, with over 300 species of wild fowl, Saylorville Reservoir is a bird-watching hot spot.

Jester park

There are two, clean and functional, but outdated, bathhouses with showers.

Other features include: a primitive amphitheater with earthen terrace seating,

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a sand volleyball court,

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and a playground.

Jester park

Pack your clubs for the gorgeous 18-hole championship golf course, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

Cycling

This area is also a biking bonanza with miles of interconnecting trails.

Jester park

Our lightweight, folding and portable Dolphin eBikes entirely served our transportation needs around the campground, the lake …

and to the corner pub for happy hour …

We were in our habitat. But Jester Park reminds us that this is where the deer and buffalo used to roam.

Jester Park Nature Centre is the crowning feature of the park – with habitat and interactive learning exhibits. Its environmental education outreach includes a bison and elk enclosure to explain how this land thrived before big-agriculture took control of over 60% percent of the prairies for animal feed production (which must really confuse the aliens who are always landing in those cornfields).

Jester park
Crusin’ on our fabulous Dolphin eBikes

Fortunately, Iowa women are accepting their role as land owners and taking more responsible steps. Here’s to the future of more sustainable Iowa farming.

Taking Care Of Business

The campground is not staffed or equipped to accept packages, so we fetched deliveries at the nearby Amazon hub. On the way we stopped by the post office to vote; had the tires rotated; and picked up a growler at 515 Brewing.

Whoa! Even without the help of our weBoost Cell Signal Booster, the Verizon cell service was screaming-fast with bursts up to 100 Mbps. Such efficient service helps visitors to support neighborhood business.

jester park

Unfortunately, there is no camp store, laundry or propane in the park, but the Polk County business community is happy to take care of you.

Downtown Des Moines

The city is only a few minutes away. If you have more time, there’s a beautiful shady cycling trail which leads right into downtown. The free outdoor art exhibit at Papajohn’s Sculpture Park alone is worth the visit …

We love home cooking, but we also enjoy dining out on the town …

and diving face first into the World Food & Music Festival.

World Food & Music Festival

Gosh, the weather was nice.

Come sundown it was a bit buggy but no worse than anywhere in Florida at any time of year. Funny how Central Florida kept coming to mind. It must be the recreational opportunities, safe off-road cycling trails and the ideal climate (without the hurricanes and gators).

Yessiree-bob, the Prairie Life really pulled us in. We could get used to Iowa summertimes. I think we get it now.

It’s the weeds …

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the frogs croaking contentedly …

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the rustle of nesting cranes in the marsh …

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colors that appear one day …

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and are gone the next …

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It’s mid-September …

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Everything is changing …

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The angle of the sun …

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is reordering the landscape.

jester park

Better pay more attention …

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Best moonlight kayaking ever!

and be home before dark.

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Here are some Jester Park links you might find helpful:

The Details

The physical address for the campground is 12130 NW 128th St, Granger, IA 50109

$25 per night. $150 per week. Or Senior discount, $20 per night. A discounted 7-day rate applies to non-reservable (first come first serve) sites. Discounted senior rates apply only to non-reservable (first come first serve) sites only.

Many campsites cannot be reserved in advance. Those using these first come first served campsites should set up at their campsite before registering at the campground registration booth located one mile from the park entrance. Firewood is available near the registration booth.

Online reservations, https://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/conservation/parks-trails/jester-park/, can be made for some campsites. Online reservations are available for camping between April 15 and October 15. Campground shower houses are open mid-April through mid-October. All sites are first come first serve from October 16 through November 30 and April 1 through April 14. Campgrounds are closed from December 1 – March 31 (except to walk-in tent camping, which is allowed year-round).

Fourteen day limit.

Park Office Phone Number is 515-323-5338 and the Ranger Cell Phone Number is 515-249-3229



If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (hiking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

Click here to see our other campground reviews.

32 thoughts on “Campground Review: Jester Park, Granger, Iowa

    1. Hey Gary!

      Thank you for stopping by. For you, our trailer door is always open. How is your painting coming along?

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Hey Jerry! Always wonderful to hear from you. We would love to spend more time in Iowa. Great climate and so much culture and flowers … I can only imagine how nice it must in Spring and early Summer! Gotta go back.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Hey Lizbeth!

      No, but thanks for the tip! We put Granger House on our wish list.

      https://grangerhouse.org/about-us

      We drove right through Cedar Rapids on our way to Amana Colonies. Wow. Fascinating place. We hope to catch this museum next time we’re road-tripping through Iowa.

      Thank SO much for dropping by! We MISS you!!!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Brooke!!!

      What a delight to meet you! You have such good energy. Your photo makes us want to drive right back to Amana for more friendly conversation and beer! We were so impressed by you, Millstream and the entire community. Thank you for taking the time to follow us on this crazy adventure.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Nathalia!

      Jim says, Thank you and Happy New Year! How are you!?! SO great to hear from you. How’s the movie review gig going?

      When the time is right, we wish you Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  1. As an Iowan Airstreamer, it was fun reading your piece on a small slice of our great state…having NEVER been to Jester myself! Thanks…and keep up your wonderful posts from the road!
    Pamela Myhre

    1. Pamela, thank you for following! We are so happy you are part of the LIB caravan! I hope you don’t mind if we do some more camping in your beautiful state. Jester would be a great place for a rally!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  2. Another great review of what appears to be a pretty nice park. Thanks. Appreciate all the pictures. Have a question. Saw a pic of Jim cooking on your Blackstone in the Clam. Do you run a line from your low pressure port for that? It looked like in another picture that your Clam was not real close to your trailer. If you do that, how long is your hose? Or do you carry a separate propane tank for that? Just curious.

    1. Steve, so great to hear from you. We do run a line from our low pressure port to the Blackstone. I bought two 20 foot hoses, https://amzn.to/3o5Xmuu, and connect them when the extra length is needed. The connector to the Blackstone is this guy, https://amzn.to/3rVSk50. So far, 40 feet has been the farthest we have needed. Stay safe out there. Jim

    1. Hey Greg!

      When the weather is right, we will be anxious to be back in Iowa. Bubba’s made us feel right at home in the deep south. Those deviled eggs tasted just like Mama’s!

      Thanks for checking in.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

  3. Love this park. I Live nearby, my daughter got married there in an outdoor ceremony. There are hundreds of campsites nearby. Saylorville Lake has excellent boating too.

    1. Hey Linda!

      What a beautiful place to get hitched!

      I should have mentioned that we had dozens of first-come-first-serve 14-day sites to choose from at Jester. Our stroke of luck was getting that great site on the water without a reservation on our first day. We attribute that to showing up in the early afternoon. Most campers arrive so late in the day that the best sites are taken and too dark to make a good choice. And, yes, this is a very large and impressive campground.

      I paddled the entire lake end-to-end. The south side of the lake near the dam had busier boat traffic and more crosswind – good for water skiing and jet skiing. The North side with the river shed is more shallow and reedy and perfect for kayaking. I saw a couple of swimming beaches but the water didn’t look swimming quality to me.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience of Saylorville Lake and Jester Campground.

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

    1. Greetings Kevin!

      So great to hear from and thank you for sharing. The video reminds us of our visit to the RV Hall of Fame Museum – https://www.rvmhhalloffame.org

      The exhibits are all indoors but the vintage pre-motorized and motorized RV’s and trailers are displayed with professional lighting and sets depicting the way they were used in the outdoors. You can even go inside some of the old coaches. May West’s personal motorhome is in the exhibit. You can see some of our photos from the RV Museum Hall of Fame in this blog – https://livinginbeauty.net/2017/08/02/harvest-hosts/

      Airstream recently opened the Heritage Center in their new facility in Ohio. The interactive exhibits and impressive collection of vintage and famous Airstream trailers are a tribute to the history of the American dream to Hit The Road – https://www.airstream.com/heritage-center/exhibits/

      Mobility is experiencing a revival right now. House-free lifestyles were already surging before COVID. Now, once again, trailers and RV’s are hard to come by as jobs transition out of the traditional workplace and high-risk homeowners seek evacuation solutions for fire, flood, and earthquakes.

      As the need for sustainable housing increases, the more mobility will gain acceptance and word will get around fast that it’s actually easier, safer and more pleasant than living in a traditional house. We already see that happening and we’re excited to be a part of it.

      Thanks for hanging out with us Kevin!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  4. A flash from my youth! I wish we had spent more time there and Ledges State Park. If you’re in the Sioux City area, check out Stone State Park. Beautiful areas!!

    1. Then you know what I’m talking about! What a fabulous place to live. Thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie!

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

  5. We’ve got friends from Iowa and your post peeked our interest to go there this summer. As cyclists we love this state, so many trails. A must is the “high trestle trail” especially at night. Maybe a camp host gig for us and our 2002 Classic “Shiny Dancer”

  6. I live close by and it is beautiful. Cherry Glen which isn’t far is gorgeous and one of my favorite places.

  7. I cannot wait to retire, I am still too young but I am looking forward to fun like you both are having.
    Thanks for bringing me along !

    1. Mike, Thanks for hanging out with us. Whatever you have heard about retirement, it is so much better if you can combine it with traveling and seeing new things every day. Hope someday our paths cross on the road. Safe travels! Jim

  8. You’ve met Iowa nice.
    Love Iowa but there’s a reason you had the screened room up.
    Jody

    1. Hey Jody! Great to hear from you! Sorry it took so long to reply but we’ve been without connectivity for a few days now.

      The screened room served as our dry-camping kitchen. Hey, the bugs weren’t bad! They were talking about it all the way up in Michigan We got lucky with an almost bugless summer. It was a bad deal for the birds though. I had forgotten that you’re from Iowa. I should have consulted with you about where to find a vegetarian meal in Iowa 😂

      Safe & Happy Travels!

      Carmen@LIB

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