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Clear Lake in Iowa

12 Best Lakes in Iowa (2023)

Outsiders know Iowa as a landlocked state, but if you ask the same to a local, he/she will surely disagree. Of what it appears from afar, Iowa is beyond its landlocks, fields, and agriculture. Instead, this Midwestern state is known for its pristine lake culture and an array of gorgeous lakes. Every direction of the state has a new water body to explore, and you are only within a short driving distance of one of them. The Iowa Great Lakes region in the northwest part of the state is a family-friendly water recreational spot. This group of lakes contains mainly natural water bodies, dedicatedly the ones which offer classic beauty and recreational fun.

Besides Iowa Great Lakes, there are many small picturesque lakes surrounded by dense forests and pristine woodlands. Though Iowa doesn’t have any ocean beaches, its inland lakes are enough to provide it with some great sandy shorelines. Hence to enjoy these surpluses of lake beauty and activities, drive towards one of Iowa’s lakes. Here are some most popular lakes in Iowa that you can’t afford to miss.

12 Best Lakes in Iowa

Have a look:

1. Lake Red Rock

Lake Red Rock is the largest lake in Iowa state. This massive reservoir is within a 40-mile drive from Des Moines and also close to Pella and Knoxville. The lake was originally formed by the building of the Red Rock Dam in 1969 and is a human-made wonder. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction amongst the Iowans, especially the south-central population. In addition, it is a popular recreational spot that offers both land and water-based fun. The lake in itself covers 15,000 acres, whereas the woodlands around encompass 35,000 acres. Popular Iowa parks, including Cordova Park, Roberts Creek Park, and Elk Rock State Park, are on the lake’s shoreline. Individuals visiting here can enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, cycling, picnicking, and camping.

2. Lake Okoboji (East & West)

East Lake Okoboji and West Lake Okoboji are two prominent names of the Iowa Great Lakes. These two water bodies are known as Iowa’s ultimate summer destinations providing a wide array of fun. The East Lake Okoboji has been around for thousands of years and is a remnant of the Ice Age. Going 743 long, it is the longest lake in Iowa; however, it isn’t actually very deep. The lake is so long and without such low depth that it appears out like a river. East Okoboji has less public access and is ideal for activities no more than fishing. Near its edge, there is a beautiful hotel and a resort to spend a vacation at.

Whereas the West Lake Okoboji is noted among Iowa’s most popular water recreation destinations. This 1,557-hectare lake is popular for a family vacation and thus remains crowded during most part of the summers. The Pikes Point State Park from the lake’s north provides easy access for water activities, ideally swimming. The rest of the shoreline, too, has many access points that allow for some fantastic swimming and fishing fun. Along the shoreline also lies the Arnolds Park Amusement Park, a fantastic adventure space operating for over a century now.

3. Rathbun Lake

Rathbun Lake is a picturesque water body and one of the best lakes in Iowa for water-based recreation. It is a human-made lake that was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers basically for controlling floods. However, later this 11,000-acre lake became a popular recreational unit. Across its shore lies picnic areas, campgrounds, playgrounds, and even a full-fledged resort known as Honey Creek State Park Resort. The number of options surrounding this lake makes for not just a day for days of fun and adventure. The popular water adventure one can try here includes standup paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, and fishing. The abundance of public use lakes around also provides wildlife viewing opportunities. Some common animals found here are Canada geese, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bald eagle, and more.

4. Saylorville Lake

Just outside Des Moines, the Saylorville Lake is a massive reservoir on the Des Moines River. Besides providing for flood control and drought prevention, it also comes out as a vital recreational spot near Des Moines. On its western shore lies the Jester Park, an afternoon and evening spot where friends and family chill. This park with several tables is popular for lakeside picnic facilities. It also has a free gold course open to the general public. For watercraft and other recreation, Saylorville Lake offers activities like boating, fishing, shore dipping, and more. On nearby land, individuals can go hiking, biking, nature walking, and camping. There is also a multi-purpose trail that encircles the lakes and provides for extended activities like jogging and in-line skating.

5. Big Creek Lake

North of Saylorville Lake is the mesmerizing Big Creek Lake, another one of the Best Lakes in Iowa. Big Creek is 11 miles north of Des Moines and close to Polk city as well. It is popular for providing fishing ground year-round to central Iowa residents. The lake is full of a variety of fishes, including bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, muskie, largemouth, smallmouth bass, and more. Though what’s found in abundance here are walleyes, and chances are out of 10 catches, you will get walleyes in 7. Other prevalent activities in the lake include water-skiing, sailing, powerboating, canoeing, kayaking, jet-skiing, and swimming. Surrounding the lake is the Big Creek Lake State Park, which covers nearly its entire shoreline. The park features natural hiking, cycling, and skating trails, wildlife, 13 picnic shelters, and a gold course and caters to novice and professional players both.

6. Clear Lake

Clear Lake is a huge water body and a small city in Iowa. It is known for its number of marinas and mainly tourism-related business. Clear Lake is a natural spring-fed lake in northern Iowa, somewhere between Minneapolis and Des Moines. These 1,500 hectares is home to the Clear Lake Yacht Club, which provides its popularity amongst boaters all across the world. Iowans and individuals from the neighboring state gather here to enjoy activities like wakeboarding, water skiing, and tubing. Besides that, since the clear lake has an abundance of walleye, yellow bass, bullhead, and channel catfish, fishing too flourishes here. The lake even has a fish cleaning station along with boat ramps and jetties. Clear Lake’s 27 miles of shoreline is known for private housing homes, cottages, and parks, including the famous Clear Lake State Park. While you are planning to visit the lake, do plan a day or two more to explore the adjoining town, especially during summers.

7. Big Spirit Lake

The largest of Iowa Great Lakes, the Big Spirit Lake, is located in the northwest part of the state. A glacial pothole that has been in existence since Ice Age, Big Spirit is also known as the largest freshwater lake in Iowa. The lake is popular for tourism, and outdoor recreation and thus stays populated all across summers, sometimes even during winters. The popular activities here include motorized boating (pleasure boats, pontoon boats), kiteboarding, and sailing. It isn’t a still water lake; the water has enough current to it. That is why activities like swimming and dipping aren’t encouraged here. Big Spirit Lake gathers individuals from across Iowa for its exciting fishing opportunities. The lake is full of bullhead, largemouth bass, and northern pike, and chances of a catch here are quite easy. What increases the popularity of Big Spirit is the surrounding outdoor attractions. The list includes Marble Beach, Mini-Wakan State Park, and a huge campground.

8. Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a nearly 120 acres lake southeast of the city of Carroll. The lake is a part of Swan Lake State Park, and pretty much a lush woodland surrounds it from each side. Even the number of visitors it happens to entertain is a by-product of State Park’s popularity and tourism. Though that also means that the lake remains less populated and more serene on most days (ideally weekdays). Though Swan Lake is popular for a day visit since the State Park has multiple campgrounds (about 100), the lake is also popular amongst night visitors/ stayers. Upon visiting the lake, visitors can try various activities, including kayaking, canoeing, paddle boating, sledding, and snowmobiling, depending upon the season. Besides that, fishing (and ice fishing) too is a popular sport here, all thanks to the stock of crappies, bluegills, and largemouth bass. For anglers’ ease, there is also a fish house on the south shore.

Other Best and Popular Lakes in Iowa

9. Lake MacBride (It is part of Iowa’s biggest state park, the Lake MacBride State Park. The lake is also within proximity to Coralville Reservoir and is half an hour drive from Iowa City).

10. DeSoto Lake (This narrow and long lake is quite popular for fishing activities).

11. Coralville Lake (Coralville Lake sits along the Iowa River and is popular for recreational purposes. It is surrounded by three huge campgrounds offering about 500 campsites).

12. Lake Manawa (It serves as a border lake for both Iowa and Nebraska. This natural setting makes Lake Manawa accessible and popular amongst residents of both the state. It even has a beach and is popular for a plethora of common water sports/crafts).

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