Welcome to Iowa's little piece of perfection!
Every summer the waters of the Iowa Great Lakes come alive with people. The Lakes are full of opportunities for locals and visitors alike, meeting the needs of families, adventurers and outdoorsmen. No matter what your looking for, the Iowa Great Lakes has something for everyone!
Iowa Great Lakes Statistics
Miles of Shoreline
There are seven lakes in a chain that are known as the Iowa Great lakes. They include Spirit Lake, East Okoboji, West Okoboji, Upper Gar, Minnewashta, and Lower Gar. A boat can move between these lakes by passing under a bridge, except for Spirit Lake. Bridge clearance depends on lake levels. Two lakes in Dickinson County not part of the lake chain are Center Lake and Silver Lake. Use the arrows on the right and left side of the page below to rotate through each lake description.
Big Spirit Lake
Spirit Lake (Big) is situated approximately 1 mile north of the City of Spirit Lake. At 5,684 acres, Spirit Lake is Iowa’s largest natural lake. It is approximately 6 miles north/south and 4 miles east/west. Due to its circular shape and large open body of water, its 15.25 miles of shoreline is less that that of its neighboring lakes to the south. The average depth of Spirit Lake is around 17 feet with a maximum recorded depth of 24 feet. The northern edge of Spirit Lake borders the Iowa/Minnesota State line and a majority of its 34,471 watershed acres (approximately 75 sq. miles) are located in southern Minnesota. Spirit Lake offers two state parks and 4 public accesses to this popular fishing lake. Spirit Lake claims some 40 species of fish with 13 species of sport fish sought after by many outdoor enthusiasts.
According to various Indian legends, Spirit Lake was believed to be under the guardian watch of an evil spirit. No Dakotah ever dared to cross it in their canoe and no Indian canoes were ever found in the vicinity of this lake by the early settlers. Whether there are demons who dwell in the lake or not, the waters of Big Spirit Lake are never quiet.
Little Spirit Lake - Little Spirit Lake is located to the northwest of Spirit Lake and is considered an Iowa/Minnesota border lake. This means that approximately the southern 40% of the lake is situated in Iowa and the northern 60% is in Minnesota. The lake is 618 acres in size and offers 10.1 miles of shoreline. A shallow lake, Little Spirit is only 6 feet deep on average with its deepest point of 10 feet. Since Little Spirit is a border lake, anglers must comply with Minnesota bag limits and fishing seasons as well as Iowa’s fishing regulations.
Finding Fun On The Waters
Many visitors and residents take their boats to the water for fishing, tubing, wake boarding, skiing or pleasure boating. Those needing to rent a boat who enjoy water-skiing, wakeboarding or tubing can rent a ski boat at Extreme Water sports, Funtime Rentals, Mau Marine, Oak Hill Marina, Parks Marina, Triggs Bay Resort or Village West Resort and Marina. Boat rentals are available at most locations by the hour, half-day, full day or by the week. Usually a deposit is required to rent any boat and basic instruction is given on their operation by the various businesses.
Water skiing is a delightful experience for those who can keep their balance. It’s not uncommon to see a boat pulling one or more skiers around the lake. For water skiing enthusiasts, especially those adept at the slalom ski, wakeboarding is the next step in the challenge of being up on the water. For the novice, a longer wakeboard is probably best. Construction of the board at this level is not as critical, as the tricks that a novice can perform are usually limited. For the advanced wake boarder, the shorter compression boards with molded fins are the most popular, as they allow more tricks. Ski equipment, wakeboards, kneeboards, tubes and other boat accessories are available at most boat rental shops.
Those wanting to get close to the water without going swimming or those wanting to go fast on the water may want to rent a wave runner or jet ski. These little machines can travel at speeds in excess of 100 mph and hold as many as three adults. They are quick, agile and a lot of fun. They also are powerful enough to pull a tube or a skier. Wave runners and jet skis can generally be rented by the half hour, hour, half day or full day at any of these locations: Extreme Water Sports, Funtime Rentals, The Inn on West Lake Okoboji, Mau Marine, Oak Hill Marina, Triggs Bay Resort or at Village West Resort and Marina.
For a slower pace, paddleboat rentals are also available in the area. Head to Oak Hill Marina, Triggs Bay Resort, or Make-A-Wake Watersports (Village West).
Quiet time on the water and exploring the Iowa Great Lakes is possible on a canoe or kayak; many enjoy the tranquility of the smaller lakes, rivers and streams. For the canoeist or kayaker, the small lakes like Upper Gar, Center, Prairie, Diamond, Marble, Welch or Little Spirit Lake can be fun. Activity on these lakes is minimal much of the time, and even windy days allow for pleasant boating activities. There are varied and interesting points and bays to explore such as a sunken island in East Lake Okoboji. It is easily accessible by canoe or kayak. On calm days, early in the morning or late in the evening, small craft can enjoy the other bigger lakes as well. Favorite area spots are the canals around Gull Point State Park and the Crescent Beach area off West Lake Okoboji, as well as The Twin Forks area located on the Little Sioux River near Kaylor Prairie on 170th Avenue just south of Highway 9. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent from Village West Resort and Marina or Okoboji Expedition Company located on Highway 71 in Okoboji (712) 332-9001.
Touring our lakes by sailing is another option. A few resorts have sailboats for their guests to enjoy: either on their own, or with a seasoned sailor at the helm. The Okoboji Yacht Club offers private lessons in sailing and organizes races on weekends. The wind on the bigger lakes is steady most of the time, so sailing West or East Lake Okoboji or Big Spirit Lake are usually safe for hours of good sailing. On windy days, the smaller lakes are better for most sailors. The smaller lakes include Center Lake, Minnewashta or Lower Gar.
Okoboji Boat Works hosts the largest fleet of Excursion Boats on Lake Okoboji. Cruise with 1-120 passengers. You can be picked up at your dock or board at Okoboji Boat Works. Available excursion include double decker glass bottom boats, tiki style barges, the Elegant Diamond Lady Yacht, the Jezebell Tugboat, or make a statement when you cruise with 100+ of your friends on board the Fish House Boat! Each comes with a captain and bartender. Call (712) 332-9904 or check it out at www.parksmarina.com
An Okoboji summer isn’t complete without a trip on the Queen II. Residents and tourists alike have a fondness for excursions on the Queen II, just as they had for her predecessor, the Queen. The Queen II explores much of the shoreline of West Okoboji from its berth at the State Pier in Arnolds Park. Daily excursions in season begin at noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. These are guided excursions, and the captain will often explain historical and geological aspects of West Okoboji. Groups may also charter the Queen II for parties, weddings, or other occasions. Call group sales at the Arnolds Park Amusement Park for more information on charters.
For the more daring, wind surfing is another opportunity for excitement. It’s not uncommon to see a brave soul over the lakes during a windy, sultry day. To windsurf, check out Funtime Rentals.
While many Lakes area residents and visitors are happy to have their feet on the ground or at least in the water, some are looking for a more extreme adventure in flying. Extreme Water Sports offers parasailing. Parasailing is defined as flying high in a harness under a parachute while being towed by a boat below. The activity not only offers the adrenaline rush of flying, but also brings the parasailer a very unique view of the beautiful lakes.
Another way to get a unique view of the lakes is to go scuba diving. Boji Divers near Okoboji Boat Works provides diving instructions and recreational trips. They can teach scuba basics, help divers become certified, or arrange diving tours for certified divers. West Okoboji is the premiere lake for scuba diving because of its greater clarity and depth. Diving underwater structures, watching fish from the lake bottom or treasure hunting are favorite pastimes for area divers. The greatest water clarity is achieved during the winter months. Visibility in West Okoboji during the spring is usually greater than 40 feet. In late summer, visibility can be as low as 10 to 12 feet. Blue Water Divers can also help divers arrange dive trips to destinations worldwide.
Extreme Water Sports at the lakeside of Arnolds Park Amusement Park
Funtime Rentals, located south of the U.S. Highway 71 bridge on East Lake Okoboji in Arnolds Park
Mau Marine, located on East Lake Okoboji on U.S. Highway 71 in Okoboji
Oak Hill Marina on U.S. Highway 71 in Arnolds Park
Parks Marina on 175th Street, east of the Ranch 66 Convenience Store
Triggs Bay Resort on East Lake Okoboji
Make-A-Wake Watersports at Village West Resort on West Lake Okoboji