There are several gorgeous lakes in Iowa that are waiting for you to visit. Many of these lakes are home to charming towns and parks that offer experiences you cannot find elsewhere. Each of these Iowa lake towns has something to offer year-round. Summer is the ideal time to visit, as the lake water is warm for all outdoor watersports. At sunset, each lake will offer an incredible view. Start planning your visit now and plan for a memorable experience in one of these lake towns.
1. Clear Lake
Clear Lake, a natural spring-fed lake, is 3,684 acres and offers hours of outdoor enjoyment. Fishermen, boaters, swimmers, beach bums, sailors, and water skiers keep Clear Lake hopping. Hike the trails at McIntosh Woods State Park and watch the sunset from the beach. Pitch a tent at Clear Lake State Park and enjoy the nighttime skies that Iowa has to offer. Grab a sandwich from Starboard Market in the town of Clear Lake, sit by the seawall, and enjoy the views of the lake. The 4th of July brings one of the best family-friendly celebrations in the United States. A parade, carnival, fireworks over the lake, music, arts and crafts, watersports, and family picnics are a highlight for many.
Step on board the Lady of The Lake and take a ride around Clear Lake. While you are on this paddleboat, sipping a drink of your choice, the pilot will share stories about the history of Clear Lake. Families have visited this gorgeous lake town for many years and many return year after year. February brings Color The Wind, an outdoor winter kite festival on the lake. All 365 days of the year offer something special in this lake town.
2. Viking Lake
Viking Lake, in Viking Lake State Park, is in southwest Iowa and offers a beautiful lake for your enjoyment. Anglers of all abilities can fish from the six fishing jetties around the lake. If you are lucky you will reel in colorful bluegill or largemouth bass. The full-service campground offers campsites on the shores of the lake. Lace up your hiking shoes and take the 5.5-mile hike around the lake. Make sure you have a pair of binoculars in hand, as birds of all types are known to frequent the area.
If you enjoy lakes, wide-open skies, and spacious campsites with beautiful views, you will fall in love with Viking Lake. One of my most memorable experiences is fishing all day with our boys when they were growing up. A highlight was holding a fish fry with the catch of the day and serving it to several campers on the campground. Iowa State Parks are welcoming and a place where family memories are made.
3. Lake Darling
Lake Darling is a highlight of Lake Darling State Park in southeast Iowa. Eleven cabins are handicap accessible, offering full kitchens and bedrooms with queen-size beds and bunk beds. This lake is a quiet lake, but any size motor is allowed on the lake at a “no wake” speed. If you enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddle boarding, you can rent boards at the Lake Darling Boat Rental Concession. The large campground features full hookups and modern shower and restroom facilities. Wetlands make up the hiking trails that hikers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, and cross-country skiers have grown to enjoy. Lake Darling will not disappoint, offering solitude and peace. There are parking areas near the lake for picnicking and benches to sit on.
4. West Okoboji Lake
Located in northwest Iowa and making up the Iowa Great Lakes, West Okoboji is an incredible fishing destination. This beautiful lake is known for yellow perch, bluegill, and the ever-popular walleye. Boating enthusiasts will enjoy this stunning lake for the variety of things to see and do along the shoreline. Arnolds Park Amusement Park is a highlight for many that visit. Gull Point State Park and Pikes Point State Park offer campsites and outstanding birding opportunities. This beautiful lake is easy to fall in love with. Tie your boat up at one of the state parks and enjoy a picnic lunch with a view of one of Iowa’s most recognizable lakes. You can easily spend a full day, a full week, or a full month in the Iowa Great Lakes area. May and September are great times of the year to visit as the weather is still nice and the large crowds have left for the season.
5. Big Spirit Lake
Big Spirit Lake makes up part of the Iowa Great Lakes and it is one of the most well-known lakes in the state. This incredible lake is a fisherman’s dream come true, with 2,300 acres to toss a line into. Sunrise and sunset offer stunning lake views from anywhere near Big Spirit Lake. The shoreline offers birding, hiking, picnic, and fishing opportunities. This area of northwest Iowa is the perfect place for the water lover to explore. If you enjoy all types of water activities, the Iowa Great Lakes will not disappoint.
It’s easy to grab a meal when you are visiting Big Spirit Lake. There are many restaurants that operate along the shoreline and offer incredible lake views. The best tip that I can give you is to eat in the middle of the afternoon, as the lines are shorter. If you want to try ice fishing, you will not be alone when you head to Big Spirit Lake. Many outdoor winter enthusiasts fish 365 days of the year in this area of Iowa, including winter.
6. Lake Red Rock
Lake Red Rock is a short 10-minute drive from the charming town of Pella. This is one of Iowa’s most popular outdoor recreation areas and offers hiking, boating, fishing, camping, and picnicking. Many visitors to Lake Red Rock enjoy the water activities during the warmer months. Winter brings an opportunity to see several bald eagles. No matter what time of year you visit Red Rock, be sure to have your camera and binoculars close by. The nature opportunities in this large lake area are abundant. I have visited this lake several times on days when the weather was not great for outdoor activities. I appreciated the fact that I could see a lot of birds and see the beautiful lake without leaving my car.
7. Beeds Lake
Located in north-central Iowa, near the town of Hampton, is Beeds Lake. Beeds Lake State Park is where you will experience this beautiful Iowa lake. Franklin County is proud of this lake and it is home to one of the most photographed dams in the Midwest. This is another quiet lake, as boats are required to operate at “no wake” speeds. Fishing from boats or the shoreline is a popular activity. If you are lucky, you will find yourself frying up catfish for supper at your campsite near the lake. This lake is handicap accessible, with several fishing jetties and docks that offer access. Take an evening hike around the lake during the summer months for a beautiful view of an Iowa sunset.
8. Brushy Creek Lake
Brushy Creek Lake, in north-central Iowa, is a beautiful lake for fishing and camping in the Brushy Creek State Recreation Area. Bluegill, crappie, and walleye are popular among fishermen. This lake is another quiet lake, as boats are allowed to travel at “no wake” speed. With 21 miles of shoreline and several fishing jetties, a boat is not necessary to have an incredible experience at Brushy Creek Lake. This 690-acre lake is the deepest manmade permanent pool in Iowa. Equestrian enthusiasts will also enjoy this area, as there are more than 35 miles of multi-use trails and an equestrian campground. Each time I have visited this lake, I have experienced something new. The birding is incredible and the lake offers a quiet place to toss in a fishing line. If you are lucky, you will snag a stump and catch a beautiful fish to filet for supper.
Each of these lakes showcases Iowa and the beauty this state has to offer. They all offer something for everyone. Some of these lakes are more commercialized than others, making it easy to find a restaurant along the shoreline. The quieter lakes offer picnic tables and an opportunity to enjoy slower lake traffic. Depending on what you want to experience at a lake, Iowa has choices. If you are not someone that typically visits state parks, I’d encourage you to visit one that showcases Iowa’s gorgeous lakes.
Anytime you can make a connection with water, magical things happen. The sunset, sunrise, the sight of a kayaker, or the sound of the waves crashing onshore can bring a sense of peace in a short matter of time. Start making plans to visit one of these Iowa lakes — you will be happy you did.
Lakes are not the only reason to visit Iowa: