High travel rates expected for the holiday weekend

By: - July 1, 2022 9:01 am

Passengers wait for luggage at the Des Moines International Airport. (Photo by Kate Kealey/ Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Nearly 50 million Americans will travel for the holiday weekend, making this the second busiest Independence Day since 2000. 

In Iowa, the Des Moines International Airport is anticipating high travel rates. From June 30 through July 4, over 26,800 passengers are expected to process through Des Moines Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Security Checkpoint. 

Iowa’s largest airport also predicted the most people to fly on July 4, estimating nearly 5,800 passengers. As of June, passenger traffic at the Des Moines International Airport has increased to 94% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The top three travel destinations in the United States for Independence Day are Seattle, New York City and Orlando, Florida. Meredith Mitts, public affairs specialist for AAA in Minnesota and Iowa, recommended arriving several hours early at the airport in case of delays. As of June, Des Moines International Airport’s cancellation rate was 2%, according to airport spokesperson Kayla Kovarna.

Although air travel nationally still lags behind pre-pandemic levels, it has increased 1.5% since 2021. AAA expects over 3.5 million people to fly for the Fourth of July — but it will be more expensive. The lowest average cost for a flight is $201 a ticket, a 14% increase from 2021.

Record car travel despite record gas prices

Automobile travel has surpassed pre-pandemic rates in spite of record-high gas prices. AAA estimates car travel nationally will set a new record with 42 million people hitting the road on the Fourth of July. The number of people traveling 50 miles for the holiday is expected to increase 3.7% over 2021. AAA predicted Thursday and Friday afternoon would be the busiest days on the interstates.

Chandlar Hudson is from Longview, Texas, and traveled through Iowa on his way to Minnesota. While high gas prices didn’t make him think twice about traveling for the holiday, on the 760-mile drive Hudson said  Iowa had the most expensive gas.

The average price at the pump in Iowa is $4.62, which is a drop from mid-June when the average price was $4.76. Iowa is still below the national average of $4.98 per gallon. The previous record gas price over Independence Day weekend was a national average of $3.96 back in 2008, Mitts said. 

“We usually see an increase in gas prices around the holidays because there is more demand,” Mitts said. “More people are out on the roads, traveling going long distances. Everyone is traveling at the same time, which raises the demand at the pumps, which means the owners can charge more.”

Kim Decker is from Ames, and she is spending the holiday weekend at Lake Panorama in Guthrie County. Decker left Des Moines on Thursday afternoon and the first thing she noticed was heavy traffic on the interstate. 

“Lots and lots of traffic,” Decker said. “Usually I can make it from Des Moines to Ames without a pit stop — had to do that today.”

The busiest times to be on the road will be Friday from noon to 9 p.m. AAA recommends leaving before 10 a.m. on to beat the rush. Sunday and Monday are expected to have low congestion all day.

Mitts advised drivers to get an auto inspection before taking a road trip because the heat drains car batteries.

Arrive to state parks early

Iowa’s parks will also host thousands of campers and picnickers, leaving many campsites booked for the holiday weekend. 

Camden Leonard, the patrol officer at Lake Macbride State Park, said all 104 sites are reserved for the weekend. Many reservations were made as early as Thanksgiving. 

Lake Macbride also offers 29 walk-in campground sites that are first come first serve, but Leonard said nearly all of the sites have been reserved. High demand during Independence Day for campgrounds has remained consistent, even throughout the pandemic, because of the annual fireworks show on the lake, Leonard said.

Amenities at the lake include the beach, paddle boards, concession stands and rental pontoon boats. There may still be reservations open for the pontoon. The campgrounds also offer trails for hikers. Leonard recommends the 5-mile North Shore Trail, available for walking and biking.

“It actually rides right along the coast of the lake, so if you hit it early morning when the sun is rising or late at night when the sun is setting it is just beautiful scenery,” Leonard said. 

For those looking to spend the day in nature, Big Creek State Park offers shelters and cabanas for reservation. Andy Place, park manager at Big Creek State Park, said while all of the shelters along the beach are booked, there are still openings throughout the park. 

Place said day-use of the park increased when community pools shut down for the pandemic. He said he expects the same level of demand for the holiday weekend. He recommends visitors arrive at the beach before noon. Park staff will have to limit entrances to the beach if it reaches capacity, but as people leave, park staff will filter in new visitors. 

“If it is nice weather, we expect big crowds and typically during the Fourth of July it is not uncommon for us to have to close the beach area because the parking lot will fill up,” Place said.

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Kate Kealey
Kate Kealey

Katherine Kealey is a senior majoring in journalism and political science at Iowa State University. Before interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch, she interned at the Carroll Times Herald. She served as the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily in 2022.