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Iowa Great Lakes Map

Ice In & Out Dates    East - West Okoboji data from 1916 – Big Spirit Lake data from 1944                                          










First Date


    Last Date





East Lake Okoboji

November 4

December 1

    January 2


West Lake Okoboji

November 29

December 14

    January 13 


Big Spirit Lake

November 4

November 30

  January 13






















First Date


    Last Date





East Lake Okoboji

March 3

March 31

    April 26


West Lake Okoboji

March 7

April 5

    April 28


Big Spirit Lake

March 6

April 4

    April 28

Lake Protective Associations these organizations work to protect and improve the water safety and quality along with the environment of the lakes and their watersheds. Help them do their work by becoming a member. Their annual membership probably costs less than a new dock post.    

Iowa Great Lakes Association  

PO Box 468, Okoboji, IA 51355                                                 



Okoboji Protective Association – John Wills, President 

Meets April thru September – Last Saturday of the month, 8 or 9 AM, – Iowa Lakeside Laboratory - Waitt Building

PO Box 242, Okoboji, IA 51355      Annual Dues: $25                                              



East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation – Bill Maas, Pres,  

Meets every month, except January, February, and March, on the Third Monday of the month, 7 PM, Spirit Lake Public Library Conference Room

PO Box 45, Spirit Lake, IA 51360                 Annual Dues: $20



Spirit Lake Protective Association –Kirk Huisenga, President

Meets April thru early September – Second Saturday of the month, 8 AM, Orleans City Hall

PO Box 51, Spirit Lake, IA 51360                 Annual Dues: $30


Three Lakes Improvement Association – Paul Netsch, President
PO Box 216, Arnolds Park, IA 51331   

Center Lake Improvement & Preservation - Howard Paul, President
PO Box 540, Spirit Lake, IA 51360

Silver Lake Park Improvement Association – Scott Mitchell, President
PO Box 352, Lake Park, IA 51347

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. 

Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake Boaters Map: CLICK HERE

Contour map:

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.

West Okoboji Lake West Lake Okoboji is located to the south and west of the City of Okoboji and northwest of the City of Arnolds Park. West Lake is the largest of a chain of five connecting lakes, which is considered part of Iowa’s Great Lakes. According to information obtained from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, West Lake Okoboji is comprised of 3,847 surface acres of water with an average depth of 38 feet and maximum depth of 136 feet. There are 19.8 miles of shoreline around West Lake and the natural drainage basin is fed by 13,668 acres of land or approximately 22 square miles. Three State Parks are located along the shores of West Lake, including Pillsbury Point, Gull Point, and Pike’s Point that is located adjacent to the City of Okoboji’s northern city limits. West Lake Okoboji is considered a blue water lake formed by glacial movements retreating north, and is only one of three blue water lakes in the world. More than 47 species of fish can be found in West Lake, with approximately 11 species of popular sport fish.

West Lake Okoboji

West Okoboji Boaters Map:  CLICK HERE

Contour map

West was called “Minnetonka” by the Sioux Indians and translated into “Great Waters”. The first settlers decided to use a version of the name “Okoboozhy” for both lakes known today as the “Okoboji” lakes. West Okoboji is the second largest in the chain covering 3, 850 acres. It is a glacial lake created by the Wisconsin Glacier 14,000 years ago and has a maximum depth of 134 feet, which makes it the deepest natural lake in Iowa. Subterranean springs help provide the cool, clear, blue water of Iowa’s most popular lake. West Okoboji is about seven miles long and up to two miles in width. Boats can travel to Lake East Okoboji under the Highway US 71 Bridge and a walking bridge.

East Okoboji Lake East Lake Okoboji is the other natural lake delineating the City of Okoboji’s eastern city limits. East Lake and West Lake Okoboji meet at the Highway 71 viaduct where the cities of Okoboji and Arnolds Park also meet. East Lake is a 1,835-acre lake with an average depth of 10 feet and a maximum depth of 22 feet. Of the 16.8 miles of East Lake shoreline, only 6 percent is state owned and about 85 percent is developed. In 2002, East Lake Okoboji was named the location of Iowa’s newest state park. The Elinor Bedell State Park offers access to fishing from shore, camping, picnicking, and playground facilities. The lake’s watershed is comprised of 12,212 acres or approximately 19 square miles.The Indians called the lake “Okoboozhy,” and the name is said to mean “Reeds or Rushes,” as they once surrounded the lake.  It has the appearance of a river rather than a lake and is the longest natural lake in Iowa.


East Okoboji and chain Boaters Map  CLICK HERE

Contour map


Upper Gar Lake Upper Gar Lake connects the south bay of East Okoboji Lake to Minnewashta Lake. At 37 acres, Upper Gar is the smallest of the Iowa Great Lakes chain. This lake is basically a shallow channel connecting two larger bodies of water. The average depth of Upper Gar is 3.5 feet, therefore warranting a maximum 5-mph speed limit on the lake. At its Northern end Upper Gar Lake connects to East Lake Okoboji at the Hinshaw Bridge (near Trigg’s Resort) and at the Southern end it connects to Lake Minnewashta at the Sawmill Bridge. The Gar Lakes were named for their outlet known as Gar Outlet. This was because schools of Gars, a type of fish, were working their way upstream. Originally, there were three lakes known as the Gar lakes, forming a chain about two miles in length, and were called Upper, Middle, and Lower Gar Lakes. Around 1900, the name Middle Gar was changed to “Minnewashta,” which is Dakotah for good or nice.

Contour Map

Lake Minnewashta  –  This lake is the second is a string of three small lakes located on the south edge of East Okoboji Lake eventually leading to the outlet creek of the Iowa Great Lakes. Minnewashta is 126 acres in size with 2.3 miles of shoreline. The Lake is located in the City of Arnolds Park to the south of Okoboji. Highway 71 runs along its Western edge. Average depth of Minnewashta is 10 feet with the deepest point of 16.5 feet. Most anglers fishing Lake Minnewashta are in search of its bass and panfish populations. Lake Minnewashta connects Upper Gar Lake at the Sawmill Bridge and connects to Lower Gar Lake at the Trails Bridge.

Contour Map


Lower Gar Lake The southernmost lake in the entire Great Lakes chain, Lower Gar is a large shallow natural lake with the outflow creek existing at the southwest corner of the lake. Lower Gar Lake has a surface area of 242 acres, a mean depth of 4 feet, and a maximum depth of 6 feet. Lower Gar does drain a sizable 11,374 acre watershed primarily from the Spring Run wildlife management area. During years with low water levels it can be difficult for boat traffic to navigate the shallow muddy waters. The lake level has been raised several times, and the current dam, constructed after the flooding in 1993, has substantially stabilized the level of the lake. Most of the Western portion of the Lower Gar Lake is privately owned, and current development on the east and Northeast sides includes housing and a golf course. Its more sheltered location encourages boating and water skiing when wind conditions limit such activities on the larger lakes in the chain.

Contour Map

Center Lake Center Lake, for its namesake, is located between the northern halves of West Okoboji and East Okoboji lakes. This lake is a small shallow natural lake of 263 acres with an average depth of nearly 12 feet and a maximum depth of 17 feet. Although the entire eastern and southern shoreline has been developed, public lake access remains good at Center Lake with approximately 25% of its 4.7 miles of its northwestern shoreline as timber and wetlands.

Center Lake Contour Map with water depth CLICK HERE 

Center Lake Wildlife Management Area        


Silver Lake   The largest lake in the western third of Dickinson County, Silver Lake is a 141 acre natural lake located along the southwest edge of the City of Lake Park. Silver Lake has 1,041 acres of water with an average depth of 6 feet and a maximum depth of 11 feet. There are 9.6 miles of shoreline. The lake is surrounded by timber and marsh, and adjoins Silver Lake Fen. For more information on Silver Lake check website


Silver Lake


                  Iowa Great Lakes Statistics   revised October 28, 2009



Miles of Shoreline


West Okoboji



East Okoboji



Spirit Lake    



Upper Gar     



Lower Gar    






                Silver Lake      








Shoreline Jurisdiction The Iowa Department of Natural Resources maintains jurisdiction for Iowa's lakes including the lake bottom. The DNR shoreline jurisdiction extends from the waters surface to the Ordinary High Water Line (OHWL).  For the chain of five lakes (East Okoboji, West Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, and Minnewashta) the Ordinary High Water Line is defined as 30 vertical inches above crest level at the dam at the lower end of Lower Gar Lake or 1397.768 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL).  For Spirit Lake and the rest of the lakes in Dickinson County the DNR has a 12 vertical inch jurisdiction.

The DNR contact for shoreline erosion is Conservation Officer Jeff Morrison – cell phone 712/ 260-1017 or Mr. Michael Hawkins located at the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery - telephone 336-1840.

Shoreline above the point of DNR jurisdiction is generally covered by shoreline ordinances and zoning of the appropriate municipal government or - if the shore is not in any municipality  - Dickinson County Zoning Administrator (Mr. David Kohlhaase) at the Dickinson County Courthouse, Spirit Lake, telephone 336-2770.

Find Fun On The Waters Of The Iowa Great Lakes
Courtesy Dickinson County News

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.


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 ski/ Wakeboard

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.

Wave runner/Jet ski

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.

Paddle Boat

For a slower pace, paddleboat rentals are also available in the area. Head to Oak Hill Marina, Triggs Bay Resort, or Village West Marina.


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. According to Barbara Tagami, Dickinson County Naturalist, three other locations on the Little Sioux River are good for canoeing and kayaking as well. They are: near the Kettle Hole east of O’Shucks on 210th Avenue, at Horseshoe Bend access, and just south of Horseshoe Bend at Judd Wildlife Area both southwest of Milford. 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.

Excursion Boats

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

The Queen II

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.

Scuba Dive

Another way to get a unique view of the lakes is to go scuba diving. Blue Water Divers Scuba and Snorkeling Center is just north of the State Pier in Arnolds Park (712) 332-6370. 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.

RENTALS                       All phone numbers are Area Code 712

Extreme Water Sports at the waterfront of Arnolds Park Amusement Park  332-5406

Funtime Rentals, located south of the U.S. Highway 71 bridge on East Lake Okoboji in Arnolds Park  332-2540

Mau Marine (Ships Store), located on East Lake Okoboji on U.S. Highway 71 in Okoboji  332-5626

Oak Hill Marina on U.S. Highway 71 in Arnolds Park  332-2701

Parks Marina on 175th Street, east of the Ranch 66 Convenience Store  332-7303

Triggs Bay Resort on East Lake Okoboji  332-2215

Village West Resort and Marina on West Lake Okoboji  337-3223


Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council PO Box 232 Spirit Lake, IA 51360