Spirit Lake, Iowa, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Iowa - Northwest -

Also known as:  Big Spirit Lake

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 IA

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

Fish species found at Spirit Lake IA

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

Spirit Lake IA Photo Gallery

Spirit Lake IA Statistics & Helpful Links

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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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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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