Spirit Lake, Iowa, USA

Also known as:  Big Spirit Lake

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

Topics we cover in this article:

Looking for Spirit Lake cabins or other accommodations? Save time and use this interactive map to find, compare and book at the best rates. Or explore our comprehensive list of favorite travel partners.

All About Spirit Lake

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

Spirit Lake is one of a chain of lakes known as Iowa’s Great Lakes. Also called Big Spirit Lake, this natural body of water was named by the Dakota Native Americans who believed the lake was guarded by evil spirits. Because of this legend, the Dakota did not cross Big Spirit Lake in canoes, and early settlers to the area found no evidence of Native American canoes around the lake. The lake was named “Minnewaukon” by Native Americans and Lac D’Esprit by French explorers, both translating to “Lake of Spirits.”

Spirit Lake is Iowa’s largest natural lake and is a remnant of the most recent ice age about 13,000 years ago. The lake covers a surface area of 5,684 acres with 16 miles of shoreline. It has an average depth of 17 feet, reaching only 24 feet at its deepest, perfect for swimming, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. The waters of Big Spirit Lake flow over a spillway into the upper end of East Okoboji Lake.

Spirit Lake, nestled in Dickinson County in northwest Iowa, holds treasures for all with camping, fishing, swimming, and hiking. Savor the beauty of Spirit Lake and its surrounding nature from any one of the swimming beaches along the meandering shore line, or from any fishing boat, canoe or hiking trail. The lake offers boat ramps for fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, etc.

With over 40 species of fish, 13 of which are sport fish, fishing can be enjoyed from the beach, from the boat, or even through the ice in winter. Spirit Lake’s abundant population of fish, including Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Walleye and Yellow Perch among many others, attracts many anglers every year. The Iowa state fish hatchery is located nearby and regularly supplies the lake with a variety of fish, helping to make fishing one of Spirit Lake’s biggest attractions all year long. Make sure that you are familiar with lake fishing regulations before dropping in your hook. There have been two Iowa All-Time Record fish caught at Spirit Lake: Freshwater Drum weighing in at 46 pounds with a length of 38.5 inches, as well as Muskellunge weighing in at 50 lbs 6 ounces with a length of 52 inches!

Spirit Lake can be reached from one of the many surrounding towns or cities, three of which are Orleans, Milford and Spencer. It is located 15 miles from I-90 which runs along southern Minnesota near the Iowa border. If traveling on 1-90, it is worth the detour even if Spirit Lake isn’t your final destination. For visitors traveling longer distances, the nearest large airport is in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The water isn’t the only thing to be enjoyed at Spirit Lake; the area offers a wealth of outdoor activities. The more adventurous will enjoy one of four campgrounds within five miles. Additionally, three hiking trails nearby offer miles of winding trails with numerous beautiful views of the lake. The trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to difficult, accommodate all ranges of hikers. There are two scenic routes that surround much of the lake, so the lake may be enjoyed from the comfort of your own vehicle. There are also three golf courses within three miles offering the ultimate in relaxation for any vacation. If you’re there for the ice fishing in the winter, you can also take advantage of the Riverside Hills Ski Resort nearby.

Spirit Lake is an ideal living location for those retiring, looking for a second home or just for vacationing. Its remote location offers privacy and relaxation. There is beauty in abundance to be experienced at Spirit Lake, a sensational adventure not to be missed. The opportunities it offers year round are countless. You won’t be disappointed.

Things to Do at Spirit Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking

Fish Species Found at Spirit Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Freshwater Drum
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Perch

Find Places to Stay at Spirit Lake

If you’re considering a Spirit 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 Spirit Lake Vacation

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

Spirit Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Iowa Dept.of Natural Resources & US Army Corps of Engineers

Surface Area: 5,684 acres

Shoreline Length: 15 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,401 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,394 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,406 feet

Average Depth: 17 feet

Maximum Depth: 24 feet

Water Volume: 94,153 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 76 sq. miles

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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On Lake Time Custom Coffee Mug – 11oz or 15oz


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