Vacation Destination: The Iowa Great Lakes


Iowa Great LakesI’m going to share a little family secret of ours…we LOVE to spend our vacation on the lake…in IOWA! Yes, we currently live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes; however, the Iowa Great Lake region provides a wonderful retreat that’s a pretty quick and easy drive from SE Minnesota. Just hop on I-90, head West, and in the blink of an eye, and a little traffic, you will arrive to our favorite spot. There are so many things to see and do in the area that it’s hard to fit everything in, trust me. I’ll share some of our family favorites and then leave some additional tips, because I know how challenging it can be to travel with kids.

A little history lesson – The Iowa Great Lakes is comprised of three major lakes: Spirit Lake, West Okoboji, and East Okoboji. It’s one of the Midwest’s best-kept secrets for kid-friendly vacation spots! Here are some of the things we were able to squeeze in while on vacation.

Lake Time

Need I say more? Going to the lake means spending LOTS of time on the water! Whether you enjoy boating, jet skiing, wading, skiing, floating, or watching the activities around you, time on the water is quiet, peaceful, and quite frankly, good for the soul. We enjoy every minute out in the sun and digging in the sand. Bring your boat, or rent one for the day!

Arnold’s Park

An amusement park with more than 30 rides and attractions, includes the famous wooden ‘Legend’ Roller Coaster. The legendary coaster has recently experienced a renovation and improved its ride! Children young and old can enjoy the most SPECTACULAR view of West Lake Okoboji from 65 feet up on the Ferris Wheel. When you need a break from rides, simply stroll over to the Nutty Bar Stand, and enjoy an iconic NW Iowa treat while you graze through nearly 20 boutiques. The best part is, there’s free parking and you can spend the entire day on the lakefront enjoying the heart of the Iowa Great Lakes! Stay later in the evening for a concert, or just to enjoy the summer air coming off the lake.


There are so many local eateries around the lakes region. You won’t find many chain restaurants. Instead, you’ll have the opportunity to try new places and quickly make a list of your favorites. A few tried-and-true local favorites include the O’Farrell Sisters Restaurant for breakfast and the Barefoot Bar for drinks while kids play on the playground. If you’re looking for breathtaking views while at dinner, try out the Waterfront American Grille!

Family Time

There are so many things to do, and beaches to explore. After growing up in the area, even I don’t think I’ve seen it all. Each of the big lakes is uniquely its own, and the beaches are sure to excite everyone in the family. There’s mini-golfing, go-karts, movies, indoor waterpark (for those rainy lake days), boat rentals, breweries, splash pad, parks, museums, fish hatchery, Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, church camps, and golf courses…all-in-all, the Iowa Great Lakes has something for everyone in your family.


From camping sites to resorts and everything in between, there’s a place for your family to rest after days in the hot summer sun. Topping my list for lodging would be Fillenworth Beach or Bridges Bay Resort. But you can’t really go wrong, because lake life is the best life!

One thing is for certain: we always seem to run out of time, and don’t get to everything on our list! Luckily, The Iowa Great Lakes region is a short drive and can be made multiple times throughout the summer…although, you may be subject to road construction along the way. Fear not, the destination is definitely worth the drive! Come and see for yourself!


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