Big Hollow Recreation Area is Des Moines County's premiere outdoor recreation destination. This 798 acre recreation area offers year-round recreational opportunities for families wanting to get out and enjoy the outdoors.
The 178 acre lake complete with a beach, boat ramp and multiple fishing jetties offers ample opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with the family on or near the water.
General Park Rules
Camping permitted in designated areas only
Golf carts are not allowed. UTV / ATV's must stay on gravel roads
Pets must be controlled by their owners at all times
Horseback riding is permitted on designated trails only when conditions are such that no damage will be done to the trail surface. Horses are not allowed in any of the campgrounds
Fires in grills and fire rings only
Public hunting is permitted following all state laws governing public lands
Permit required to use the Big Hollow Shooting Range
All boats must operate at no wake on the lake. There are no motor size restrictions
Report all accidents to a park ranger or County Conservation office 319-753-8260
Use our boat ramp to launch your craft and then enjoy a day on the lake! There are no motor size restrictions, but we ask that boats please do not create a wake.
Paddlers, in particular, will find the lake to be paradise. The 90-acres of standing timber inundated by the 178-acre lake offer paddlers opportunities to go where no larger craft can. Top it off with great scenery and high-quality fishing and paddlers could spend entire weekends exploring.
There is a dedicated kayak launch just down the hill from the camp host. Additionally, kayaks and canoes can be rented from the camp host during the season for $5 an hour per boat.
Big Hollow offers 48 campsites within the park, each only a short distance from the lake. A campground host is usually present during the summer months to offer assistance and Park Rangers make regular rounds through the park.
At Big Hollow Recreation Area, there are 32 full hookup sites (with on-site electric, water and sewer) within the RV campground. Each site offers ample room for a camper, truck and extra vehicle or boat trailer. Several sites are designed as "buddy sites" and can accomodate two campers for those that want to share a site with friends or family. Nearby overflow parking areas accommodate additional vehicles for family members or guests. A central water and sewer dump station and modern restroom/shower house are also available.
Reserve a Campsite at Big Hollow
Half of the RV campsites in this campground are reservable online up to one year in advance. Reservations can be made at MyCountyParks.com
Primitive (Tent) Campground
For those wanting to "rough it" a little more, 16 primitive campsites are carved right into the mature oak-hickory forest at Big Hollow. Ample space between the sites helps maintain the solitude of each site. For those really wanting to get away from it all, some sites can only be reached via a short hike down an access trail.
The nightly rate for a non-electric (primitive) site is $10.
Firewood is available for purchase at the registration area or through the campground host in the RV campground. To prevent the spread of invasive species, Des Moines County Conservation does not allow any outside firewood to be brought in to any of its parks.
All campers in non-reserved sites must self register unless you have a reservation
Maximum length of stay is fourteen (14) days
All pets must be controlled by owners
Fires permitted only in containers provided
Do not remove or deface natural features or park structures
Golf carts prohibited
UTV's / ATV's are allowed on the same roads and parking areas as passenger vehicles and must comply with the same laws governing their use on county roads
Keep all vehicles on roads or parking areas
Quiet hours: 10:30 p.m. - 6:00 a.m.
One camper per site unless you are in a designated buddy site
Only a few years ago, the area that is now the lake was forest and trails; today, most of the trees still stand, their canopies rising above the water, making the lake a fish and wildlife haven like no other around. The lake features excellent bluegill, crappie, channel cat, and bass fishing opportunity either by boat or from the shore.
Download a topographic map of the lake with GPS locations of fish structures (PDF)
For anglers looking for a quieter setting, Big Hollow Recreation Area offers numerous other small ponds within its borders, all of which offer great fishing opportunities throughout the year.
If you are planning a fishing event at Big Hollow, you must apply for a permit with the DNR. We also require that groups contact the DMCC Administration Office at 319-753-8260 so that scheduling conflicts may be avoided.
Big Hollow offers more than 10 miles of trails to explore, some of which are equestrian accessible. Big Hollow also serves as the north terminal point of the multi-use Flint River Trail.
Big Hollow is open to public hunting and features quality deer, turkey, upland and small game hunting. The open lands are actively managed for upland game and the diversity of forest types on the property offer a variety of habitats for various woodland species. The extensive trail system throughout the area gives hunters access to parts far from main roads.
Big Hollow offers a number of shelter houses that can be used for picnics and family gatherings. Most can be rented in advance using the park's online reservation system.
Model Airplane Field
The Burlington Model Airplane Club maintains the Polson Flying Field at Big Hollow for use by radio controlled airplane enthusiasts who are members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Find out more by visiting the club's website.
Stargazing at the Observatory
Witte Observatory Complex
From the Southeastern Iowa Astronomy Club:
The Witte Observatory Complex Will Be Open By Appointments Only.
The Southeastern Iowa Astronomy Club has opened the John H. Witte Observatory by RESERVATION ONLY, limited to 20 visitors for a 90 minute session. A session includes, tour observatory buildings/ telescopes, educational activities, viewing through telescopes, and names of constellation.
The JOHN H. WITTE, JR. OBERVATORY COMPLEX consists of three separate observatory buildings. It is located at 18832 152nd Avenue, Sperry, Iowa in Big Hollow Recreation Area approximately 12 miles north of Burlington, Iowa.
Witte Observatory Building
Houses a 12-inch aperture refractor manufactured in 1937 by Alvan Clark and Sons. It is doublet achromatic design with a brass tube approximately 15 feet long resting on a German Equatorial mount. Depending on the eyepiece used, it can magnify celestial objects up to nearly 400 times. This telescope is believed to be the largest refractor in Iowa. John H. Witte, Jr gave this telescope to the Burlington School district housed at Apollo School. The Des Moines County Conservation Board owns the telescope and the Southeastern Iowa Astronomy Club members built a building to house the telescope which was completed in 1987.
Prugh-Carver Observatory Building (The Roll-Off)
With a unique motorized roll roof houses John H. Witte’s personal 8-inch refractor manufactures in 1931 and built in 1996.
Stone-Kelly Observatory Building
Houses a 16-inch Ealing Cassegrian telescope relocated from the current Burlington High School in 2004. The building was named for two Burlington space pioneers. Dr. Edward Stone, Project Scientist for the Voyager Missions and former Director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Astronaut Jim Kelly, Space Shuttle Pilot on STS-102 Discovery and STS 114 Return to Flight missions.
John H. Witte, Jr. Observatory Complex is the result of cooperation between Des Moines County Conservation, Burlington Community School District, John H. Witte Jr. foundation and Southeastern Iowa Astronomy club. The Witte Observatory and the Prugh-Carver Observatory are owned by Des Moines County Conservation. The Stone-Kelly Observatory is under long-term loan agreement between Des Moines County Conservation and the Burlington Community School District.
For group opportunities call the Des Moines County Conservation office at 319-753-8260.
The beach at Big Hollow is a popular summer destination.
No alcohol on beach or in parking lot
No pets on beach
No swimming beyond buoys
No glass containers
No lifeguard on duty
Beach Hours: 7:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
The water at the beach is sampled weekly between Memorial and Labor Day and tested for E. coli and microcystin through the Iowa DNR's Beach Water Monitoring Program. Weekly results for Big Hollow and other lakes around the state are posted on the DNR's website.
Big Hollow Shooting Range
About the Range
Big Hollow Recreation Area is home to a 25, 50, 100 yard, and 300 meter outdoor shooting range. Those wanting access to the range must complete an online Shooting Range Certification Course to become a shooting range member. After successful completion of the course, a membership card will be issued that must be carried at all times when on the range.
The yearly membership fee is $30 for an individual and $35 for families (the head of the family will be issued a card allowing all members of the family to shoot on the range as long as the cardholder is present).
This is a two bedroom off-grid cabin (no running water, solar powered lights) with open living/dining room area and covered porch. One bedroom has a queen size bed and one has two double beds. The living area has a couch, coffee table, four-person dining table with chairs, and a concrete countertop in one corner. A portable restroom, campfire ring, upright charcoal grill, picnic table, sitting benches, and serving station are provided outside. The serving station has a concrete countertop, sink and a cistern pump connected to a rain barrel for non-potable water needs.
Offerred for public rental between April 1 and October 31 each year. Though the cabin is not connected to the electric grid, a solar panel connected to a battery generates enough juice to power overhead LED lights after dark. Drinking water must be carried in during a stay there but there's a hydrant at the Hickory Shelter for refills as needed.
Sleeps 6; maximum capacity: 10
Cabin is available by reservation only and may be reserved up to twenty four (24) months in advance.
Optional: Borrow a canoe during your stay free of charge. Included complimentary canoe with paddles and life jackets for use on the lake any time while renting the cabin. **If you would like a free canoe for your stay, please include the request during the final step of check-out**
Hours of Operation & Seasons
Cabin available yearly from April 1 to October 31.
Check-in time is 3:00 p.m.. Check-out time is 12:00 p.m.
During the reservation process, you will provide a four digit code that will unlock the cabin.
Cabin and surrounding grounds should be cleaned and left in good condition. Any damaged or stolen property will be charged to the renter.
Cabin Rules & Regulations
Smoking is prohibited in the cabins
No flame-producing devices (candles, lanterns, etc.) allowed in the cabin
Quiet hours are 10:30 p.m. - 6:00 a.m.
Non-registered guests must leave by 10:30 p.m.
Responsible party of record will be held responsible for any damages or theft that occurs
Pets are not allowed in the cabin
No one under the age of 21 is allowed to occupy a cabin unless that minor is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, 21 years or older
Maximum number of occupants: 10; Cabin is furnished to sleep 5
No camping trailers or tents may be at the cabins; please use the campground
Keep all vehicles on roads or designated parking areas
No outside firewood may be brought in. Firewood is available at Big Hollow, two pieces for $1.
Only paper and wood products may be burned in the fire ring. Fires must be contained completely within the ring.
Park Rangers have authority to refuse rental privileges and rescind any and all rental permits for cause
All Park Rules & Regulations of Des Moines County Conservation apply
What to Bring
Note: the mattresses are very firm. Bring extra padding or blankets if you prefer a softer bed.
Cookware, dishes and utensils
Outdoor cooking stove
Dish soap and dish towels
Flashlights/lanterns and extra batteries
Note: No flame-producing devices are allowed in the cabin.
Big Hollow is conveniently located ten miles north of Burlington. Get there by taking Pleasant Grove Road west three miles off of Highway 61 then turning south on 152nd Avenue and go one mile to the park entrance.