Saylorville Lake, Iowa, USA

Also known as:  Saylorville Reservoir

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

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All About Saylorville Lake

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

Saylorville Lake is a man-made reservoir located on the Des Moines River bordering the town of Polk City, about 11 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa. The reservoir was completed in 1977 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a flood control project for an area that had seen five major floods in the previous hundred years. Today, 5,950-acre Saylorville Lake is a popular destination for fishing, camping, hiking, birdwatching, and many other recreational activities.

Anglers can enjoy year-round fishing at Saylorville Reservoir. Many come on the hunt for bass, as the reservoir is home to hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, and white bass. The largemouth bass population has done especially well at the lake, with occasional supplemental stocking by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The reservoir is also home to bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, and walleye. Because the reservoir is used for flood control, the water levels can change dramatically, posing a challenge to anglers who must constantly change strategies to find the current fishing hot spots.

Boat access is plentiful at Saylorville Lake, with a total of six boat launches in various locations around the lake. There are no horsepower restrictions on the reservoir, making it ideal for a variety of water sports. Boating is not recommended north of Mile Long Bridge, however, and other spots in the reservoir are sometimes too shallow for boating. Be sure to check current lake levels before planning your trip to the lake.

With a total of twenty-four recreation areas, visitors to Saylorville have plenty of options for enjoying some fun in the sun. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a day of swimming at Sandpiper Recreation Area or Oak Grove Beach. Or, plan an overnight stay at one of the four Army Corps campgrounds: Acorn Valley, Bob Shetler, Cherry Glen, and Prairie Flower. All four campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and playgrounds–all the amenities you need to make a home away from home just steps from the lake shore. Jester Park, operated by the Polk County Conservation Board and located on the western shore of Saylorville Lake, is another popular destination. This 1,834 acre park has boat launches, 252 campsites, eight miles of hiking trail, and even a championship golf course.

Landlubbers can find plenty to love at Saylorville Lake, too. Enjoy a day of nature watching at the lake by starting your trip at the Saylorville Lake Visitor’s Center, where you can view educational exhibits and find maps and brochures to plan the rest of your visit. Then, hit the twenty-six mile Neal Smith Trail, a fully paved multi-purpose trail stretching from Big Creek State Park at the northern tip of the lake south to Des Moines. This trail winds along the shores of Saylorville Reservoir, providing a perfect spot for hiking, cycling, rollerblading, and enjoying the scenery of this peaceful area. Finally, finish your day with some birdwatching. Saylorville Lake often rewards visitors with a glimpse of some unique birds, such as the black-tailed gull (normally seen in China, Korea, or Japan), the Pacific loon, the black vulture, and the bald eagle. If you time your trip right, you could attend the annual Pelican Festival held each September, when as many as 10,000 pelicans can be seen stopping at the lake as they migrate south for the winter.

With so many options for recreation, it is easy to see why Saylorville Lake is so popular. Don’t pass up a chance to visit this Midwestern oasis.

Things to Do at Saylorville Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Hunting
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Playground

Fish Species Found at Saylorville Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Striped Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Find Places to Stay at Saylorville Lake

If you’re considering a Saylorville 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 Saylorville Lake Vacation

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

  • VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
  • – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, 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.
  • – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, 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.

Saylorville Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: US Army Corps of Engineers

Surface Area: 5,950 acres

Shoreline Length: 39 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 836 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 890 feet

Maximum Depth: 37 feet

Water Volume: 73,659 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1977

Drainage Area: 5,823 sq. miles

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