Saylorville Lake, Iowa, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Iowa - Central -

Also known as:  Saylorville Reservoir

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

Saylorville Lake Photo Gallery

Saylorville Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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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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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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