Bounded entirely by rivers to the east and the west, Iowa boasts some of the largest, longest, deepest, and most beautiful lakes in the country. The Hawkeye State has a rich history that dates back to the 1600s and involves many of the bodies of water that can be found around the state, both human-made and natural. Tucked between rolling hills and deep valleys, surrounded by dense forests and pristine woodlands, and bordered by sandy beaches and marshy wetlands, the lakes in Iowa don’t disappoint when it comes to spending a day hiking, mountain, boating, sailing, swimming, or fishing on or off their shores. Here are some of the Hawkeye State’s most beautiful and well-worth-a-visit lakes and reservoirs.
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Set within Backbone Lake State Park, Backbone Lake is a beautiful recreational lake that offers an array of outdoor and recreational fun on both land and water. Formed by the impoundment of the Maquoketa River by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lake offers boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming and is an excellent spot for fishing for trout, bass, and catfish. There is a protected beach for sunbathing and swimming, a boat ramp for launching small craft, and a concession stand that sells refreshments. Other facilities around the lake include picnic shelters, camping, cabin rentals, a network of hiking, mountain biking, and multi-use trails, and challenging climbing and rappelling routes in the rugged dolomite limestone cliffs around the lake.
Backbone State Park: 1347 129th Street, Dundee, IA 52038
2.Big Creek Lake
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Resting around 11 miles north of Des Moines near the town of Polk City, Big Creek Lake is an 883-acre lake that provides the residents of Polk City and visitors with multiple recreational opportunities. Formed as part of the Saylorville Project by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s, Big Creek Lake offers some of the best year-round fishing in central Iowa, with an abundance of bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, muskie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and particularly walleye. Other water-based fun on the lake includes pleasure and power boating, canoeing and kayaking, sailing and swimming, jet-skiing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing. The lake is bordered by 3,550-acre Big Creek State Park and a wildlife refuge, which features the 26-mile paved Neal Smith Trail, where visitors can walk, jog, cycle, or skate all the way to Des Moines.
Big Creek State Park: NW Big Creek Drive, Iowa
3.Black Hawk Lake
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Located on the southeast tip of the town of Lake View in Sac County, Black Hawk Lake is a 387-hectare body of water and the country’s southernmost glacial lake. Named after Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk Native American tribe, Black Hawk Lake is a favorite recreational spot, with an array of activities to enjoy, such as boating, kayaking, and swimming. An abundance of bluegills, channel catfish, crappies, sunfish, walleyes, and several types of bass offer a challenge for all levels of angler, and Black Hawk State Park provides camping, picnicking areas with grills and tables, a volleyball court, and a large playground facility. Around the lake, there are plenty of great hiking trails, including the Stubb Severson Nature Trail, which boasts a wealth of birds and wildlife along the way.
Black Hawk State Park: 228 S. Blossom, Lake View, IA 51450
4.Brushy Creek Lake
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Situated within the Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, Brushy Creek Lake is a tranquil lake on the Des Moines River that offers a beautiful spot for a day of relaxation. The lake provides a myriad of outdoor and recreational activities, including boating, fishing, and swimming at a designated beach area. The 690-acre lake is a no-wake lake, with no high-intensity watersports such as skiing, tubing or wakeboarding allowed, making fishing a favorite activity with an abundance of panfish and smallmouth bass and several boat ramps and fishing jetties. The lake’s shoreline offers camping, equestrian camping, picnic areas and shelters, and approximately 45 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
Brushy Creek State Recreation Area: 2802 Brushy Creek Road, Lehigh, IA 50557
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Set within the southwest region of Iowa, Carter Lake is an oxbow lake that was formed in 1877 when the Missouri River changed its course. Carter Lake quickly earned a reputation as a fantastic recreation destination, a title which it still holds today with visitors flocking to its shores to enjoy boating, swimming, wakeboarding, and waterskiing. The 315-acre lake has an average depth of 8 feet and a maximum depth of 28 feet and is stocked with bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and the occasional walleye, making for excellent fishing. The northern shore of the lake is home to Levi Carter Park, which has public boat ramps, ball fields, restrooms, and a picnic pavilion.
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One of 34 naturally occurring glacial lakes in Iowa that were formed by the melting and movement of glaciers over 14,000 years ago, Clear Lake is a boater’s paradise and is renowned for excellent sailing. Home to the Clear Lake Yacht Club, the 1,500-hectare lake offers an array of watersports from pleasure and power boating to sailing, tubing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing, as well as more relaxing activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. The lake also provides excellent fishing, with an abundance of bullhead, channel catfish, yellow bass, and walleye and plenty of boat ramps, jetties, and a fish cleaning station. The lake’s 27-mile shoreline is peppered with residential and summer homes and includes Clear Lake State Park.
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Formed by the Coralville Dam in 1949, Coralville Lake is the star of east-central Iowa's recreational lakes, attracting visitors to its waters and shores for more than 60 years. Originally built to control flooding and regulate water levels on the Iowa River, the Coralville Reservoir fast became the go-to destination for water-based fun. Stretching for 23 miles and fed by the Iowa River, the lake provides outdoor activities such as superb fishing, swimming, sailing, and pleasure boating as well as camping, hiking, mountain biking, and beach volleyball. Coralville Lake is home to three campgrounds, which feature more than 500 campsites together, along with sheltered picnic areas and quiet, shady places to relax by the water.
8.East Okoboji Lake
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A remnant of the Ice Age dating back 13,000 years, East Okoboji Lake is a 743-hectare natural body of water and is the longest and third largest lake in the Iowa Great Lakes chain of lakes. Named by the Dakota people, who once called the shores of the lake their home, East Okoboji Lake is relatively shallow at just 10 feet, which makes it quieter than its neighbors regarding watersports. It is, however, a popular fishing destination due to its abundance of bullheads, and sees more relaxing pursuits such as boating, sailing, and swimming. The western shoreline of the lake is home to Elinor Bedell State Park, which features camping grounds, picnic areas, a network of hiking and mountain biking trails, and boat ramps for small craft.
9.George Wyth Lake
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Located in Black Hawk County, George Wyth Lake is a 100-acre lake with several water areas for various watersports, namely Brinker Lake with 120 acres for power boating; George Wyth Lake with 75 acres of no-wake water, a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier, and several fishing jetties; Fisher Lake, with 40 acres of natural lake; Alice Wyth Lake, with 60 acres for electric motors only; and Cedar River. Other watersports, such as sailing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding, are also popular on the lake, along with swimming at the popular George Wyth beach. Fishing is extremely popular, with lovely scenic backdrops for anglers trying to catch channel catfish and northern pike, and the natural beauty of George Wyth State Park, which is set on the shores of the lake, is perfect for picnicking, camping, hiking, and mountain biking.
George Wyth State Park: 3659 Wyth Road, Waterloo, IA 50703
10.Iowa Great Lakes
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The Iowa Great Lakes are a chain of lakes in the northwest region of Iowa just south of the Minnesota border, which offer a variety of recreational pursuits, ranging from boating, various watersports, and fishing to land-based activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching. The lakes in the chain include Spirit Lake, Little Spirit Lake, West and East Okoboji Lakes, the Gar Lakes, Center Lake, and Silver Lake and are home to well-maintained state parks, wildlife management areas, and recreation areas. The Iowa Great Lakes is one of the region's most popular retirement and vacation destinations, with a variety of lodgings around the shorelines, ranging from residential homes and summer cabins to chain hotels and vacation condos.
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Lake Ahquabi is set within Lake Ahquabi State Park, which is situated 6 miles south of Indianola and 22 miles south of Des Moines. The 115-acre human-made lake features a large sandy beach for sunbathing and swimming, and activities on the lake range from pleasure and power boating, canoeing and kayaking to paddle-boating, jet-skiing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing. The lake boasts two boat ramps and several fishing jetties as well as a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier and is a popular fishing destination for all levels of angler. Scenic 770-acre Lake Ahquabi State Park also offers camping, picnicking, hiking, and mountain biking in the summer months, and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter months.
Lake Ahquabi State Park: 16510 118th Avenue, Indianola, IA 50125
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Lake Anita is a beautiful 171-acre artificial lake situated within Lake Anita State Park in southwest Iowa, a 1,062-acre park with a variety of accessible outdoor recreation facilities. Formed when a dam was created on a branch of the Nishnabotna River, Lake Anita has something for everyone, from swimming at protected beaches and fishing for bluegill and channel catfish to hiking on several trails and lakeside camping. The lakeshore is ideal for small children with safe swimming areas, and there are several picnic areas dotted along the lakeshore with beautiful views of the lake. Other lakeside activities include camping and walking, hiking and cycling along a 5-mile trail that winds around the lake, and a 0.3-mile self-guided nature trail.
Lake Anita State Park: 55111 750th Street, Anita, IA 50020
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Lake Geode is a pristine 187-acre lake set in 1,640-acre Lake Geode State Park that was built in 1950 and has been a favorite recreational destination for decades. Named for the geode stone that is found in this area, Lake Geode attracts geologists, who come to see the fantastic display of geodes and the crystal formations set in their hollow cavities. The lake is also well-known for excellent fishing, where anglers may catch bluegill, channel catfish, bullhead, largemouth bass, and red-eared sunfish. The lake has several campgrounds with modern shower blocks, scenic picnicking spots, and several hiking trails that wind around the lake and cater for all levels of hiker.
Geode State Park: 3333 Racine Avenue, Danville, IA 52623
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Located in Lake Manawa State Park in the city of Council Bluffs and close to bordering Nebraska, Lake Manawa is a 618-hectare lake surrounded by lush forests and dense woodlands teeming with birds and wildlife. Formed when the Missouri River flooded in 1881, Lake Manawa is named after a Native American term meaning “peace and comfort” and offers locals and visitors from neighboring Nebraska just that. The lake is a popular vacation destination, offering pleasure and power boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, wakeboarding, and water-skiing as well as facilities such as boat ramps, picnic areas, campsites, and protected beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive, Council Bluffs, IA 51501
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Hailed as one of the best recreation lakes in east-central Iowa, Lake Macbride is a 200-acre reservoir with two “arms” that offers a full complement of water-based activities from fishing to sailing. Visitors flock to the waters to enjoy pleasure and power boating, fishing, sailing, swimming, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and more, and there are several boat ramps for launching and boat rental concessions. The lake is surrounded by 2,180-acre Lake Macbride State Park, which features two camping areas, picnic areas, children’s playgrounds, a protected swimming beach, and several boat ramps for launching small craft. The park also has plenty of lakeside picnic sites for fun family days out in the sun.
Lake Macbride State Park: 3525 Highway 382 NE, Solon, IA 52333
16.Lake Red Rock
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Situated along the Des Moines River in south-central Iowa, Lake Red Rock is an Army Corps of Engineers-built reservoir that offers a variety of great recreational activities, including boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. Located just over 50 miles southeast of the city of Des Moines, Lake Red Rock was formed with the building of the Red Rock Dam in 1969. Today, the lake is a popular recreational area offering both water-based recreation and land activities in the 35,000 acres of pristine woodlands and wetlands that surround the lake. Elk Rock State Park, Cordova Park, and Roberts Creek Park rest on the shoreline of the lake, along with several lovely beaches for swimming and many excellent hiking and mountain biking trails.
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Okamanpeedan Lake, also known as Tuttle Lake, is situated in the northern end of Iowa, sharing a border with the neighboring state on Minnesota, and is a favorite vacation with a wealth of outdoor and recreational activities to pursue. Spanning the three counties of Emmet, Martin, and Minnesota, the 930-hectare lake is named after the Native American word meaning “a nesting place of the herons,” due to the large population of herons that live in the tall trees along the shoreline. Okamanpeedan Lake is a favorite destination for water fun, with boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and swimming being the main activities. The southwest shoreline of the lake is home to a collection of seasonal cabins and summer homes, while the south shore boasts permanent residential homes and a significant camping ground with a boat launch.
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Located along the Iowa River, Pine Lake is made up of two lakes, namely 50-acre Lower Pine Lake and 69-acre Upper Pine Lake, both of which offer excellent fishing for bass, bluegill, catfish, and crappie. The lake is situated within 668-acre Pine Lake State Park, which features a beautiful mix of streams and lakes, dense forests and woodlands, and rolling Iowa farmlands and offers family-friendly camping, four picnic areas with lovely lake views, and boat ramps for launching craft. The park also has accommodation in the form of a historical stone lodge and rental cabins, and there are several well-developed trails for hiking, mountain biking, and nature watching.
Pine Lake State Park: 22620 County Highway S56, Eldora, IA 50627-8010
19.Pleasant Creek Lake
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Surrounded by the Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area, Pleasant Creek Lake is a recreational lake in eastern Iowa that is one of the most popular boating spots in the region and one of the highest quality fishing lakes in the area. Stocked with a large variety of fish from bluegill, channel catfish, and crappie to muskellunge and largemouth bass, the lake attracts anglers from far and wide to enjoy the lake’s bounty. Pleasant Creek Lake also has beautiful beaches on the shoreline, which offer protected swimming and lovely places to sunbathe as well as sheltered and open picnic areas, camping sites and restroom facilities, rustic pine log rental cabins, and 8.5 miles of trails for hiking, equestrian riding, cycling, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area: 4530 McClintock Road, Palo, IA 52324-0242
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Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and now one of the largest lakes in the state of Iowa, Rathbun Lake is a beautiful lake in south-central Iowa that offers an excellent variety of watersports, fishing, and outdoor recreational activities of all kinds. Located in Appanoose County, the lake is ideal for boating, sailing, and swimming and is home to the largest warm-water fish hatchery in the state, so is an excellent spot to fish for crappie, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and walleye. Eight parks are situated around the lake’s shoreline, which provide camping sites and picnic areas, public docks, boat ramps, and children’s playgrounds, along with an 18-hole golf course and huge indoor waterpark at the state-run Honey Creek State Park Resort.
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Stretching for 50 miles across three counties, Saylorville Lake is situated along the Des Moines River just outside the city of Des Moines and is extremely popular for both land and water-based activities. Constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1977 for flood control, the 5,950-acre reservoir now attracts locals and visitors, who come to enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, and kayaking as well as camping, hiking, and mountain biking. The lake is encircled by a multi-purpose trail that is ideal for jogging, walking, cycling, and in-line skating against a backdrop of beautiful lake views.
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Silver Lake is a spectacular natural glacial lake spanning 1,041 acres bordering the town of Lake Park in northwestern Iowa. Part of Iowa's Great Lakes Chain, Silver Lake offers a scenic location for an array of outdoor recreational activities such as boating, camping, fishing, and nature watching. Silver Lake provides excellent fishing for walleye, along with bullhead, crappie, northern pike, and yellow perch, as well as recreational boating, power boating, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and swimming. The two adjacent parks have three hard surface boat ramps, fishing docks and jetties, campgrounds, restrooms, and trails for hiking, mountain biking, and nature watching.
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Nestled in Dickinson County in northwest Iowa, Spirit Lake, also known as Big Spirit Lake, is one of the lakes in Iowa's Great Lakes Chain that was formed during the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. Named by the Dakota Native Americans, who believed the lake was guarded by evil spirits, Spirit Lake is Iowa's largest natural lake with a surface area of 5,684 acres, 16 miles of shoreline, and a maximum depth of 24 feet. The waters flow over a spillway into the upper end of East Okoboji Lake, and the shallow depth is ideal for canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing for bluegill, crappie, large and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and walleye. The lake features boat ramps for fishing boats, canoes, and kayaks and has several hiking trails along the shoreline.
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Located in Buena Vista County in northern Iowa, Storm Lake is a 3,097-acre lake that boasts a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities. One of the most significant natural lakes in the state, Storm Lake is home to the thriving community and an eponymously named town on the northern shore with a lakeside resort-style development, several city parks, and the Buena Vista University. The lake is a popular boating and fishing destination with an abundance of channel catfish, crappie, white bass, and walleye, with good access from the shoreline and public boat ramps. Other water-based activities include jet-skiing, sailing, waterskiing, and swimming, while the shoreline has lovely beaches for sunbathing and relaxing and several hiking and mountain trails.
25.West Okoboji Lake
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Part of the chain of lakes known as the Iowa Great Lakes, West Okoboji Lake, also known as West Lake Okoboji, is a 1,557-hectare natural lake in northwest Iowa that is one of the most popular lakes in the region for excellent recreational activities. The lake’s beautiful waters draw locals and visitors alike to enjoy boating, sailing, swimming, and waterskiing as well as world-class fishing for bluegill, yellow perch, and walleye. Long-inhabited by the Dakota Sioux and Santee people, and named in the Dakota language, today, the shores of the lake are home to the cities of Arnolds Park, Okoboji, West Okoboji, and Wahpeton, boasting an array of residential and vacation homes, amusement parks, nature reserves, campsites, restaurants, and shops.
Dickinson County, Iowa
25 Best Lakes in Iowa
- Backbone Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Klanarong Chitmung - Fotolia.com
- Big Creek Lake, Photo: Courtesy of liubomirt - Fotolia.com
- Black Hawk Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Katerina A. Cechova - Fotolia.com
- Brushy Creek Lake, Photo: Courtesy of lexpixelart - Fotolia.com
- Carter Lake, Photo: Courtesy of natakuzmina - Fotolia.com
- Clear Lake, Photo: Courtesy of @acikmie - Fotolia.com
- Coralville Lake, Photo: Courtesy of johndwilliams - Fotolia.com
- East Okoboji Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Albo - Fotolia.com
- George Wyth Lake, Photo: Courtesy of sandrafotodesign - Fotolia.com
- Iowa Great Lakes, Photo: Courtesy of faykatriona - Fotolia.com
- Lake Ahquabi, Photo: Courtesy of Elenathewise - Fotolia.com
- Lake Anita, Photo: Courtesy of svetlanais - Fotolia.com
- Lake Geode, Photo: Courtesy of nd3000 - Fotolia.com
- Lake Manawa, Photo: Courtesy of Prin - Fotolia.com
- Lake McBride, Photo: Courtesy of madiff - Fotolia.com
- Lake Red Rock, Photo: Courtesy of smspsy - Fotolia.com
- Okamanpeedan Lake, Photo: Courtesy of baon - Fotolia.com
- Pine Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Emilia - Fotolia.com
- Pleasant Creek Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Serghei - Fotolia.com
- Rathbun Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Slobodan - Fotolia.com
- Saylorville Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Wirepec - Fotolia.com
- Silver Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Callum - Fotolia.com
- Spirit Lake, Photo: Courtesy of baluzek - Fotolia.com
- Storm Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Steve - Fotolia.com
- West Okoboji Lake, Photo: Courtesy of swkrullimaging - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of BJ Clark - Fotolia.com