Spirit Lake, Iowa, USA

Also known as:  Big Spirit Lake

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Spirit Lake IA.

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Spirit Lake IA visitor and community guide

Lake Locations: USA - Midwest - Iowa - Northwest -

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.

Custom Spirit Lake IA house decor

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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

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Spirit Lake IA

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Spirit Lake IA 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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