Rathbun Lake, Iowa, USA

Also known as:  Lake Rathbun

Welcome to the ultimate guide to Rathbun Lake — things to do, where to stay, fun facts, history, stats and more. Let’s dive in!

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All About Rathbun Lake

Lake Locations: USA - US Midwest Region - Iowa - South Central Iowa -

One of the largest lakes in the state of Iowa, Rathbun Lake is located in Appanoose County and is a perfect place to enjoy water sports, fishing, and outdoor activities of all kinds. This beautiful lake in south-central Iowa has not always existed, though; it is a man-made reservoir, constructed in the 1960’s for drinking water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, flood damage reduction, downstream water quality improvement, and storage for supplementing navigational flows.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam spanning the Chariton River to create a reservoir for flood control, recreation, and a variety of other purposes – and thus, Rathbun Lake was formed. The lake is expansive, covering an area of 11,000 acres, and is popular for recreation. Due to nutrient and sediment runoff, Rathbun Lake is on Iowa’s list of impaired waters. However, organizations such as the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance have been formed to improve water quality and prevent runoff problems.

There are lots of ways to have fun on Rathbun Lake. Fishing, of course, is always popular, and anglers of all ages will enjoy relaxing in a boat as they reel in fish of various species. Some of the common fish in Rathbun Lake are crappie, walleye, channel catfish, and largemouth bass. Rathbun Lake has the largest warm-water fish hatchery in the state, and the hatchery produces a variety of fish such as channel catfish, walleye, saugeye, and largemouth bass. The hatchery is located below the dam, and interested visitors are free to take a self-guided tour of the operation.

There are so many great ways to enjoy Rathbun Lake. Exploring by boat is always fun, and Rathbun Lake has many conveniences for boaters, including a couple marinas and several boat ramps. Other popular activities on the lake are water skiing, windsurfing, and sailing. Rathbun Lake is an especially windy lake, and it is said to be one of the best lakes in the state for sailing.

There are many places to enjoy Rathbun Lake and the land surrounding it. The Army Corps of Engineers operates 8 recreation areas with a variety of amenities to make every visitor’s stay enjoyable. Honey Creek State Park, managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is one of the parks near the lake. With nearly 150 camp sites, plus picnic areas, hiking trails, and boat ramps, it’s a fantastic place to stay for awhile and enjoy some outdoor fun.

Hikers will find miles of multi-use trails and the Woodland Interpretive Trail. The interpretive trail provides displays about the history of Honey Creek and the early American Indians who inhabited the area. Birdwatchers can observe a variety of birds in the area, including the bald eagle. Hunting is also a popular activity, and there is variety of game available including deer, turkey, pheasants, ducks, geese, and more. When winter comes, there’s still lots to do on and around the lake, whether it’s ice fishing for crappie or snowmobiling on snow-covered trails.

With its vast expanse of wind-tossed water, Rathbun Lake well deserves its nickname, “Little Ocean.” Residents of Iowa and first-time visitors alike will appreciate the calming beauty, enjoyable activities, and relaxing atmosphere of this lake.

Things to Do at Rathbun Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish Species Found at Rathbun Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Saugeye Perch
  • Walleye

Find Places to Stay at Rathbun Lake

If you’re considering a Rathbun Lake lake house rental or hotel, we’ve made it super easy to find the best rates and compare vacation accommodations at a glance. Save time using this interactive map below.

Recommended Sites to Book a Rathbun Lake Vacation

If you want to take a deeper dive to find waterfront lake cabins, cottages, condos, hotels or resorts, check out our favorite Rathbun Lake lodging partners.

  • VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
  • Booking.com – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, Booking.com connects travelers to everything from cozy B&Bs to luxury resorts.
  • Expedia – Expedia is a popular online travel agency with more than 140,000 lodging properties worldwide.
  • Hotels.com – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, Hotels.com is an industry leader in online accommodations.
  • TripAdvisor – Read traveler reviews and compare prices on hotels, vacation rentals and more at TripAdvisor.
  • Trivago – Trivago helps travelers compare deals for hotels and other accommodations from a variety of booking sites.
  • KAYAK – KAYAK scours hundreds of other travel websites at once to find the best deals on hotels and other travel-related services.
  • RVshare –RVshare connects travelers interested in renting a motorhome with owners who have RVs to rent.
  • CampSpot – Campspot offers premier RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins and glamping options across North America.

Note: These are affiliate links so we may earn a small commission if you book through them. While there is no extra cost to you, it helps provide resources to keep our site running (thank you)! You can read our full disclosure policy here.

Rathbun Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Surface Area: 11,013 acres

Shoreline Length: 155 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 904 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 940 feet

Average Depth: 50 feet

Water Volume: 205,359 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1972

Drainage Area: 549 sq. miles

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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