Best Boating in Iowa

Boat anchored in a cove, inside a lake located in Iowa.
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When it comes to the best boating experiences in the heart of the Midwest, Iowa emerges as a hidden gem for water enthusiasts. With a diverse array of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, the Hawkeye State offers something for every boater. From the serene and picturesque waters of Spirit Lake to the majestic Mississippi River running along its eastern border, Iowa provides a unique blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and lakeside amenities. Whether you’re seeking thrilling water sports, a peaceful day of fishing, or a leisurely cruise, the best boating destinations in Iowa promise a memorable and versatile experience for all who take to the water.

Spirit Lake

Located in the picturesque Iowa Great Lakes region, Spirit Lake stands as a captivating destination for boating enthusiasts. As the largest natural lake in the state, it offers ample room for various water activities, from leisurely cruises to exhilarating water sports. The serene and scenic beauty of the lake’s surroundings, coupled with convenient lakeside amenities, makes it a favored spot for those seeking a tranquil yet adventurous boating experience.

Reasons to Boat in Spirit Lake:

  • Largest Natural Lake: Spirit Lake is the largest natural lake in Iowa, providing ample space for boating activities.
  • Scenic Beauty: The lake is surrounded by beautiful scenery and offers a serene boating experience.
  • Water Sports: Spirit Lake is perfect for water sports like tubing, water skiing, and wakeboarding.
  • Fishing: It’s a great spot for fishing, with a variety of fish species to catch.
  • Lakeside Amenities: You’ll find marinas, restaurants, and resorts along the lake’s shores for convenience.

Recommended Gear: Life Jackets, Compass, Anchor, Tarps, Marine Radio, Cooler, Water Shoes


Lake Okoboji, situated in the Iowa Great Lakes region, boasts crystal-clear waters and an undeniable charm. Sailing aficionados often gather here to harness the lake’s steady winds, while families appreciate the waterfront attractions and inviting sandy beaches. Whether you’re casting a line, savoring a lakeside meal, or simply cruising the tranquil waters, Okoboji offers a splendid setting for all.

Reasons to Boat in Okoboji:

  • Clear Waters: Lake Okoboji is known for its clear and clean waters, ideal for boating and swimming.
  • Sailing Paradise: The lake is a popular spot for sailing and sailboat races.
  • Waterfront Attractions: Explore the waterfront attractions and enjoy lakeside dining and entertainment.
  • Fishing Opportunities: The lake offers excellent fishing opportunities with various fish species.
  • Waterfront Parks: You’ll find several parks and beaches for picnics and relaxation.

Recommended Gear: Rope, Water Shoes, Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Compass, Paddle

Mississippi River

The majestic Mississippi River runs alongside Iowa’s eastern border, providing an extensive and ever-changing waterway that beckons adventurers. This iconic river offers breathtaking landscapes, from calm riverbanks to bustling river towns. History enthusiasts will be delighted by the numerous historic sites, and nature lovers can spot wildlife along the way. The Mississippi River is an adventurer’s dream, offering something for every boating enthusiast.

Reasons to Boat in the Mississippi River:

  • Extensive Waterway: The Mississippi River provides a vast and diverse boating experience with many access points.
  • Scenic Views: Enjoy stunning views of the riverbanks and surrounding landscapes.
  • Historic Sites: Discover historic sites and landmarks along the river’s course.
  • Wildlife Watching: Spot various wildlife and bird species while boating.
  • River Towns: Explore charming river towns and their unique culture and dining options.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Paddle, Sunscreen, Dry Box, Waterproof Phone Case, Anchor

Clear Lake

Clear Lake, located in northern Iowa, serves as a prime destination for boating and water recreation. With sandy beaches and a resort community ambiance, it’s a favorite spot for both relaxation and adventure. Boating events and regattas further enliven the atmosphere, and anglers will appreciate the excellent fishing opportunities in the area. Additionally, lakeside dining options provide the perfect ending to a day on the water.

Reasons to Boat in Clear Lake:

  • Resort Community: Clear Lake offers a resort community atmosphere with various water-based activities.
  • Sandy Beaches: Relax on sandy beaches and enjoy swimming in the lake.
  • Boating Events: The lake hosts boating events and regattas, providing a lively atmosphere.
  • Fishing: Anglers will find excellent fishing opportunities for both beginners and experts.
  • Waterfront Dining: Enjoy lakeside dining at restaurants and cafes.

Recommended Gear: Sunscreen, Cooler, Paddle, Sunglasses, Marine Radio, Waterproof Phone Case, Dry Box

Saylorville Lake

Saylorville Lake, conveniently situated near Des Moines, is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a quick escape from the city. This reservoir on the Des Moines River offers a wide range of recreational activities, including boating, hiking, and camping. Wildlife watchers will find diverse species to observe, and marina services ensure a smooth boating experience. For anglers, the lake’s waters are rich with various fish species, making it a versatile destination for all.

Reasons to Boat in Saylorville Lake:

  • Proximity to Des Moines: Saylorville Lake is conveniently close to Des Moines, making it an ideal day trip destination.
  • Recreational Opportunities: The lake offers a wide range of recreational activities, including boating, hiking, and camping.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Encounter diverse wildlife and bird species in the surrounding areas.
  • Marina Services: You can access marina services, making boating more convenient.
  • Fishing: The lake is a popular spot for fishing, and you can catch various fish species.

Recommended Gear: Compass, Anchor, Cooler, Rope, Tarp, Snacks, Sunscreen

Coralville Lake

Coralville Lake, nestled in eastern Iowa, welcomes boaters to its tranquil waters and serene beauty. Its picturesque coves offer seclusion and a perfect place to anchor your boat for a peaceful day on the water. Fishing enthusiasts are drawn to the lake’s abundant catches, while campgrounds nearby make extended stays convenient. For those seeking more excitement, Coralville Lake is a hub for water sports such as water skiing and tubing, providing something for everyone in a peaceful setting.

Reasons to Boat in Coralville Lake:

  • Beautiful Coves: Coralville Lake features picturesque coves to explore and anchor your boat.
  • Fishing: The lake is a great place for anglers with plenty of fish to catch.
  • Camping Facilities: Campgrounds around the lake make it easy to enjoy a camping vacation.
  • Water Sports: Try water skiing, tubing, and jet skiing in the lake’s calm waters.
  • Peaceful Atmosphere: The lake offers a peaceful and scenic atmosphere for boating, making it a great escape for relaxation and outdoor enjoyment.

Recommended Gear: Life Jackets, Compass, Anchor, Tarps, Marine Radio, Cooler, Sunscreen

Rathbun Lake

Rathbun Lake, Iowa’s second-largest lake, offers a vast expanse of water that beckons boaters to explore. It’s a favorite destination for those looking to rent houseboats and embark on leisurely cruises along its tranquil waters. Anglers will find a paradise in Rathbun Lake, with a variety of fish species to catch. Whether you’re in the mood for swimming, water skiing, or simply enjoying the peaceful surroundings, this lake has it all. Lakeside campgrounds provide convenient accommodations for a boating adventure to remember.

Reasons to Boat in Rathbun Lake:

  • Vast Water Area: Rathbun Lake is Iowa’s second-largest lake, providing plenty of space for boating.
  • Houseboats: It’s a popular spot for houseboat vacations and leisurely cruises.
  • Fishing Hotspot: Anglers can catch various fish species, including catfish and crappie.
  • Water Recreation: Enjoy swimming, water skiing, and other water-based activities.
  • Lakeside Campgrounds: Campgrounds offer convenient accommodations for boating enthusiasts.

Recommended Gear: Rope, Compass, Paddle, Cooler, Sunglasses, Snacks, Anchor

Red Rock Lake

Red Rock Lake, surrounded by stunning landscapes, promises a breathtaking boating experience. This popular sailing destination is known for sailboat races and a calm, inviting atmosphere. Houseboating is a favorite activity, allowing visitors to explore numerous coves and inlets along the shoreline. The lake is also a hotbed for fishing, with many well-known fishing spots. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the nearby Red Rock Wildlife Area, making it an ideal spot for both outdoor recreation and relaxation.

Reasons to Boat in Red Rock Lake:

  • Scenic Views: Red Rock Lake is surrounded by stunning landscapes and offers breathtaking views.
  • Sailing Opportunities: It’s a favorite spot for sailboats and sailboat races.
  • Houseboating: Rent a houseboat and explore the lake’s numerous coves and inlets.
  • Fishing: The lake is known for its great fishing, with many fishing hotspots.
  • Nature Exploration: Explore the nearby Red Rock Wildlife Area and spot various wildlife.

Recommended Gear: Anchor, Dry Box, Sunscreen, Marine Radio, Paddle , Compass, Rope

Storm Lake

Storm Lake, situated in the heart of northwestern Iowa, provides a tranquil retreat for boating enthusiasts. The lake’s calm waters and serene atmosphere make it an ideal destination for those seeking relaxation and a connection with nature. Waterside parks offer excellent locations for picnics and outdoor activities, while water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and tubing provide a sense of adventure. Anglers can expect to reel in a variety of fish species, making it an excellent choice for a family-friendly boating outing.

Reasons to Boat in Storm Lake:

  • Relaxing Atmosphere: Storm Lake offers a peaceful and serene boating experience.
  • Waterside Parks: Enjoy picnics and outdoor activities at the waterfront parks.
  • Watersports: Try kayaking, paddleboarding, or tubing on the lake.
  • Fishing: Anglers can expect to catch a variety of fish species.
  • Family Friendly: It’s a great place for family outings and water-based fun.

Recommended Gear: Sunscreen, Cooler, Paddle, Sunglasses, Marine Radio, Waterproof Phone Case, Dry Box

Five Island Lake

Five Island Lake is a quiet and idyllic escape for boating in north-central Iowa. Offering a peaceful retreat for boaters, the lake features islands that add to the natural beauty of the area. Anglers will find a true paradise with a variety of fish species to catch, including bass and walleye. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy observing birds and wildlife in the surrounding areas, and recreational amenities such as lakeside parks, picnic areas, and campgrounds offer a complete boating experience for those seeking a serene and nature-centric destination.

Reasons to Boat in Five Island Lake:

  • Quiet Retreat: Five Island Lake provides a calm and tranquil setting for boating.
  • Scenic Beauty: Explore the lake’s islands and enjoy the natural beauty.
  • Fishing Paradise: Anglers will find various fish species, including bass and walleye.
  • Wildlife Observation: Spot birds and wildlife in the surrounding areas.
  • Recreational Amenities: Enjoy the lakeside parks, picnic areas, and campgrounds for a complete boating experience.

Recommended Gear: Life Jackets, Compass, Anchor, Tarps, Marine Radio, Cooler, Swim Bag

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