Iowa may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to summer beach fun. There are plenty of places to swim, dive, and doggy-paddle in Iowa’s lakes and rivers. Don’t hide away in your air-conditioned Iowa vacation rental. Instead, get your fill of sand and sun at one of the state’s 10 best beaches!
1. Big Creek State Park
In Polk City, just north of Des Moines, Big Creek Beach has plenty of sand and shoreline to enjoy. What was originally built as a flood control project also offers a wide variety of recreation. In addition to the beach, there are shelters, picnic areas, a playground, multi-purpose sports field and several boat ramps. You can also explore more of the area via a 26-mile paved multi-use trail perfect for hiking, jogging, and bicycle riding. The lake’s clear water not only provides great family swimming fun but excellent fishing year-round. Cast your rod and reel in a crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, walleye, channel catfish or muskie!
2. Gull Point
Gull Point is a great place for a family picnic. Either bring a blanket and sit on the beach or reserve one of the open shelters that are available. Planning a special event? Gull Point Lodge was built in the 1930’s, has kitchen facilities, and can seat 140 people. It’s perfect for a wedding or family reunion. Gull Point is also one of the most popular campgrounds in the lakes area. It’s well shaded with modern restrooms, paved roads, and playground equipment.
3. Emerson Bay
Emerson Bay, near Gull Point, has it all. Sandy beach? Yes! Boat ramps? Of course. How about a lighthouse tower, modern restrooms and showers, and hiking and biking trails. You bet. There’s also a campground with 82 electrical sites, 24 full hookups, and a dump station. Like we said. Emerson Bay has it all. There is even baby changing stations!
4. Five Island Lake
This beautiful park is the ideal place to relax near the water. There’s a great beach for swimming, recreational equipment, fishing, boating, and camping. There’s excellent shore fishing, or you can get out on the water using the hard surface boat ramp. If, and when, you catch something, prepare it for dinner at the fish cleaning station.
5. Kent Park
Kent Park is just outside of Coralville, and it’s easy to see that it was planned with beauty, convenience, and recreation in mind. Choose to swim at the beach, take a walk on the waterfront trail, or take advantage of the numerous fishing spots. Kent Park has everything you need!
6. Lake Red Rock
Outdoor enthusiasts will love Iowa’s largest lake, Lake Red Rock, with more than 15,000 acres of water. Choose from two beaches here, North Overlook and Whitebreast. Take a bicycle ride along the paved Volksweg Trail to reach the North Overlook Beach. There are also more hiking trails, fishing areas, and nearby campgrounds. Make campsite reservations up to 6 months in advance, or try your luck at getting a walk-in site on a first come, first served basis. Keep in mind that the campsite reservation program at Lake Red Rock has grown so significantly in the past few years that they’re currently expanding!
7. Honey Creek State Park & Resort
Honey Creek Resort and State Park is a perfect family getaway along the shores of Lake Rathbun. Along with the beach and water activities, there’s also an indoor water park and opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities. Honey Creek is a great place for picnics, and scenic points overlooking the lake can be reserved online for special events or larger gatherings. Honey Creek is also a favorite camping destination with 149 modern campsites with showers, restrooms, and a trailer dump station. You can also get a sense of pioneer lifestyle by staying in one of the rustic pine log camper cabins. Each cabin has electricity, a covered porch, and basic furnishings, but visitors bring their own bedding, towels, cooking utensils and other camping items. For a place with everything you need, stay in a nearby vacation rental instead.
8. Lake Macbride State Park
This popular beach near Iowa City is the perfect place for the family to cool off on a hot summer day. There’s a refreshment stand at the beach, but if you’re looking for a few more goods, head to Solon, located 4 miles east of the park, for grocery stores and restaurants. Multi-use trails wind for miles around the lake and attract many bird watchers and bicyclists. To get on the water, there are seven boat ramps on the lake, and pontoons, motorboats, canoes, paddle boats, and kayaks are available for rent near the beach. Bring your fishing gear because there are plenty of walleyes, channel catfish, crappies and muskie waiting to be caught.
9. West Lake Beach
West Lake Beach, nestled in West Lake Park near the Quad Cities, is a great place to relax and soak up the sun or splash in the water. With the beautiful backdrop of the 620-acre park, you’ll feel like you’re at an exclusive beach club. Water enthusiasts can go fishing, swimming, or rent paddle boats. For the landlubbers, the park offers picnic facilities, playgrounds, modern restrooms, and two campground areas with electrical, water, and sewer hookups.
10. Lake Icaria
Lake Icaria has 300 feet of sandy beach, so you’ll be able to get your fill of swimming, the sunshine, and sand castles. There’s also a modern marina with boat rentals if you want to take advantage of the excellent year-round fishing. Explore more of Iowa’s natural beauty on the 6 miles of walking and hiking trails. It might be too much to do in a day, so stay overnight at one of the 150 camper sites and 24 tents sites. Cabins, shelters, and campsites are also available for rent.