From an outdoors perspective, were it not for Christmas and deer season, December would have few redeeming qualities. It’s not cold enough to make ice for ice fishing yet. In fact, as the temperatures teeter-totter back and forth across the freezing mark, the ground thaws and freezes and thaws again. The result is hard, uneven, ankle twisting ground in the morning and snot-like mud in the afternoons. 
You’re right, that’s no excuse not to get out and get dirty, but today I offer some December-centric ideas that will keep the floors a bit cleaner and set you up for a great 2024. 

With the gift-buying season in full swing, I encourage you to consider the gift of experience for those in your gifting circles. Many places, Des Moines County included, sell gift certificates or vouchers for camping and cabin rentals. Pair those with a gift basket of s’more making goods and you’ll give the best gift of all, time together outdoors. And let me say, there are cabins and campgrounds across the state in some really neat places. 

Iowa has both county and state parks that offer such getaways. You can find state parks on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. Just go to and use the “Places to Go” tab at the top. 

For county parks, go to You can search by county, by park, or by date that you want to stay. The site offers listings of cabins, campsites, and shelter houses. 

The Travel Iowa website ( is also a great source of information for travelers within (or to) the state. One feature I really enjoy about it is the ability to search for points of interest along your travel route. As the state’s tourism website, it features way more than just cabins and campsites. Everything from community events to historic sites to places to eat are listed there in a very easy to navigate format. 
Speaking of travel, December is also a great time to sit down with friends and family to plan trips. Whether it’s a local campout, a girl’s weekend, or an extended family vacation, now is a great time to block the dates on the calendar. It seems like everyone does this after the first of the year, so getting the jump on it now puts you ahead of the game. Plus, if there’s gear, gadgets, or gifts that you or someone in your gifting circle needs for the trip, you have time to get it ahead of the holiday. 

I also like to use the end of the year to go back through the calendar and identify what I enjoyed most and what wasn’t so great. As the year comes to a close, I use that to set my intention for the following year. Call it goals, plans, resolutions, whatever. The past couple of years I’ve set an intention for the number of times I want to go camping, fishing, and boating. I’ve found that simply having it quantified keeps me from succumbing to what I call “busyness creep.” 

Like, “I’m really busy with this thing, I probably shouldn’t go fishing.” But if I’m behind on my fishing “goals” then I have to consider whether that busy thing is really that important. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. One only gets so many years to take the kids fishing. But I’m sure I’ll continue to be busy long after the kids fly the coop. 

I’ll end with a question. What’s important to you? What do you get true satisfaction out of doing? For me, and probably for many of you reading this, it’s being outside. Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, and just being out in nature is critical for my health (mental and physical) and overall wellbeing. So I prioritize that. I buy gifts accordingly. I fill spots on my calendar to make sure those things happen with the people I want to do them with. 

As we zip through another December, enjoy another Christmas, and bid farewell to 2023, take some time to set an intention for next year. How do you want to get out and enjoy our great outdoors? How can you help others get out and enjoy it? Put some dates on the calendar. Gift a cabin stay or a weekend campout. Book that girl’s weekend float trip or that guy’s weekend backpacking trip. 

And don’t let the busyness of life keep you out of the woods or off the trail. What better gift can you give than that? 

published Friday, December 8, 2023

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