Iowa Great Lakes
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Meet Iowa: A Great Lake State?!?

In the Midwest, Michigan is famously known as the Great Lakes State and is bordered by four of the five Great Lakes – Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. 

While not nearly as big, Iowa has its own collection of great lakes that cover over 12,000 acres and make the northwest corner of the Hawkeye State a popular tourist destination.

Known collectively as Okoboji, these seven lakes are the largest natural lakes in Iowa and beckon visitors with natural beauty, vibrant lakeside communities, and opportunities for outdoor adventure.

West Okoboji Lake-Iowa
West Okoboji Lake | photo via boathouseapparel

Getting to Know Iowa’s Great Lakes 

Formed by glacial activity during the last ice age, Iowa’s seven great lakes are known for their clear waters and scenic beauty.

The seven Iowa Great Lakes are:

  • Big Spirit Lake
  • West Lake Okoboji
  • East Lake Okoboji
  • Upper Gar Lake
  • Lower Gar Lake
  • Lake Minnewashta
  • Center Lake

Beyond the lakes themselves, the region is a popular tourist destination, drawing thousands of native Iowans and visitors alike who come to enjoy lakeside resorts, parks, beaches, golf courses, and ample opportunities for outdoor fun.

The region is also known for its rich cultural and historical heritage, with numerous attractions like the Arnolds Park Amusement Park and the Dickinson County Museum.

East Okoboji Lake | photo via dingo.drone

Activities in Iowa’s Great Lakes Region

The Great Lakes region offers a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors of all ages to enjoy, including:


With expansive lakes like West Okoboji, East Okoboji, and Spirit Lake, residents and visitors can enjoy cruising the waters, waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, or relaxing on a pontoon.

In addition to boating, the lakes offer opportunities for jet skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing. Rentals are available at marinas and outfitters around the lakes.


This grouping of unique lakes is home to a variety of species, making them popular fishing destinations. Eager anglers can try their luck fishing for walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and perch. Fishing continues into the winter when ice fishing is a popular pastime.


Many of the area’s lakes have designated swimming areas with sandy beaches, making them ideal for a refreshing dip on a hot summer day.

Hiking and Biking

Trails within the Dickinson County Trails System offer miles of paved and unpaved paths through forests, prairies, and along the lakeshore, providing opportunities for leisurely strolls and challenging hikes and bike rides.


Beginners and seasoned pros alike can enjoy a round of golf at courses like Brooks Golf Club, Emerald Hills Golf Club, or Okoboji View Golf Course, which all offer their own unique challenges.

Wildlife Watching

The lakes and surrounding natural areas are home to a variety of wildlife species, including birds, waterfowl, deer, foxes, and more. Birdwatchers will especially enjoy spotting migratory birds and waterfowl in the area’s wetlands and marshes.

Camping and Picnicking

Whether you prefer tent camping or RV camping, you can enjoy a night under the stars. Several state parks and natural areas offer opportunities for camping, picnicking, and more. Popular recreation and camping areas include Gull Point State Park, Pike’s Point State Park, and Mini-Wakan State Park.

Big Spirit Lake-Iowa
Big Spirit Lake | photo via bojihyggehouse

Exploring Iowa’s Great Lakes

Of the seven lakes that are part of Okoboji, each has its own unique characteristics.

West Okoboji Lake

The largest and deepest natural lake of the bunch is a crown jewel in the Hawkeye State, covering over 3,800 acres with a maximum depth of 136 feet.

It is beloved for its stunning crystal-clear blue waters and is a popular place for boating, swimming, and other water sports. Fishermen love the lake for its abundance of walleye, pike, perch, bass, and panfish.

Along nearly 20 miles of shoreline, visitors can find upscale lakefront homes, resorts, marinas, restaurants, and shops catering to tourists and locals alike.

East Okoboji Lake

East Okoboji Lake is connected to its western counterpart through a channel known as the “Narrows.” East Okoboji is a little less than half the size of West Okoboji, but it is nonetheless picturesque.

East Okoboji covers 1.835 acres with a maximum depth of 22 feet that’s a favorite spot for swimming, boating, fishing, and sunbathing. The lake is particularly known for its sandy beaches – it boasts more than 17 miles of shoreline – and family-friendly atmosphere, which makes it a popular vacation spot.

Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake is the largest natural lake in Iowa, covering more than 5,600 acres with a depth of around 24 feet. Although less developed than the Okoboji Lakes, Spirit Lake is highly valued for its natural attributes.

Covering more than 15 miles of shoreline and surrounded by a mix of small communities, farmland, and wooded areas, Spirit Lake offers visitors a tranquil experience. Among other activities, it offers excellent fishing opportunities for various species.

Upper Gar Lake

Nestled near Arnold’s Park, Upper Gar Lake is the smallest of Iowa’s Great Lakes at just 37 acres and a depth of around 8 feet. Still, the lake is favored for its peaceful surroundings and scenery and is partially surrounded by natural vegetation.

As one of the shallowest of Iowa’s Great Lakes, it is easily accessible, and nearby parks, campgrounds, and water access points allow visitors to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities.

Center Lake-Iowa
Center Lake | photo via mybojilife

Lower Gar Lake

Lower Gar Lake is significantly bigger than Upper Gar Lake, covering 273 acres and nearly five miles of shoreline. It is however shallower with its deepest point at just 6 feet.

Despite being the shallowest of Iowa’s Great Lakes, Lower Gar Lake is still a popular destination. In addition to fishing, swimming, and other water-based fun, visitors can explore local hiking trails or gather family and friends together for a picnic by the lakeshore.

Lake Minnewashta

Covering 126 acres with a depth of 16.5 feet, Minneswashta is nestled near Arnolds Park. While residents and visitors alike enjoy a wide variety of activities, Lake Minnewashta is easily accessible with public access points, boat ramps, and amenities such as restrooms, and fishing piers.

Center Lake

Located near Spirit Lake, Center Lake covers 263 acres with a depth of 17 feet and a bit less than 5 miles of shoreline. Known for its tranquil atmosphere, Center Lake provides easy accessibility for outdoor recreation. There are no parks directly on the lake, but nearby areas allow access for camping, fishing, and more.

Arnolds Park Amusement Park-Iowa
Arnolds Park Amusement Park | photo via rollercoasterlights

Attractions in Iowa’s Great Lakes Region

Iowa’s Great Lakes region offers a variety of attractions and tourist spots to explore beyond the lakes themselves, including:

Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Located on the shores of West Okoboji Lake, Arnolds Park is one of the nation’s oldest amusement parks. Opened in 1889, its signature rollercoaster the Legend is believed to be one of the nation’s oldest wooden coasters. The park also includes midway games, an arcade, family rides, and more.

Boji Splash Indoor Waterpark

Perfect for family fun, Boji Splash is part of the Bridges Bay Resort in Arnold’s Park and features a year-round tropical escape with water slides, a lazy river, a kiddie play area, and hot tubs.

Dickinson County Museum

Situated in Spirit Lake, the museum offers visitors a glimpse into the area’s past with exhibits featuring local history, Native American artifacts, and pioneer life.

Okoboji Summer Theatre

Founded in 1958, the Okoboji Summer Theatre is one of the Midwest’s oldest professional summer stock theaters. Located on the Iowa Lakes Community College campus in Okoboji, the theatre presents a variety of productions during the summer.

West Okoboji Lake-Iowa
West Okoboji Lake | photo via kerriwede

Discover the Fun and Beauty of Iowa’s Great Lakes Region

Iowa’s Great Lakes offer a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and historical charm, making the region a beloved destination. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or family fun, this scenic region of Northwest Iowa presents something for everyone to enjoy amidst its natural beauty.