Located in the middle of the Iowa Great Lakes area, Emerson Bay State Recreation Area is the perfect RV camping retreat for hot summer days. You’ll have direct access to scenic West Lake Okoboji, where you can cruise on a sailboat, kayak, canoe, and water ski. You’ll also find some of the best fishing in the Midwest. The waters are teeming with crappie, walleye, perch, catfish, and bullhead.
Once you’re off the lake, you’ll find a number of trails that take you through the wildflower-packed fields surrounding the water. You’ll also be able to spot some of Iowa’s most famous birds, including the American goldfinch. The park connects to the Iowa Great Lakes Bike Trail, giving you hundreds of miles of ground to cover by bike. You can also hike up to the Emerson Bay Lighthouse for some of the best views of the lake.
The campground located in the park has over 80 sites for your RV, all of which have electrical hookups. You’ll also be right on the shore of West Lake Okoboji, which has some of the clearest waters of any lake in the state.
Located in northwestern Iowa, Emerson Bay State Recreation Area can be reached from Des Moines, as well as major cities such as Minneapolis and Omaha. The park is a few minutes from IA-86, making it easy to access. The park is well developed, with wide paved roads, so you can get large RVs to the campground without any problems.
If you are driving from Des Moines, take I-35 north from the city and you will reach the park in around three and a half hours. Driving from Minneapolis, take US-169 and MN-60 to arrive at the park in around three hours. From Omaha, take US-71 north from the city and you will get to the park in just over three hours.
The park doesn’t have any winding roads or narrow turns to reach the campgrounds. However, there is occasional flooding after heavy raining. The roads also tend to get a bit icy during the winter. Although you should have few problems, you may want to bring snow chains if there is a storm during your visit.
All of the sites in the campground have 50 watt electrical hookups, and some of the sites also have water and sewer hookups. You’ll have access to modern restrooms with flush toilets as well as showers, as well as a dump station on the edge of the campground. There is access to drinking water within the campground, although the water lines may be turned off during the winter. Pets are allowed at all sites, but make sure to keep dogs on a leash.
The boat ramps are located just outside of the campground. There’s also a playground located in the campground. All of the sites can be booked online from May through September. You’ll need to reserve your spot at least two days in advance, and you can book your site up to three months before you arrive.
The campground is open year round. But from November through March all of the campsites are first-come, first-served. There are usually spots open during off peak months, but you can call the park before you arrive to ask about availability at the campground.
Emerson Bay State Recreation Area is also a great spot for birdwatching. There are dozens of species that visit the park throughout the year, and the multiple lakes surrounding the park are popular resting points.
The best time to visit for birdwatching is in spring and fall, when birds are migrating to and from Canada. You’ll be able to see species such as the American white pelican, as well as other Iowa highlights such as the American goldfinch and northern bobwhite.
Check with local birdwatching groups to find more information on species in the area. You can also ask park officials for bird checklists.
The park is a great destination for RV campers who want great biking. The network of trails that leads along the edge of West Lake Okoboji gives you beautiful rides. You’ll see the park’s wildflowers, as well as many of the bird species that populate the park.
You’re also a short ride away from the Iowa Great Lakes Bike Trail, an extensive network of biking trails that circumnavigate the lakes in the area. You’ll have hundreds of miles of trails to explore, with a variety of terrain to keep bikers of all skill levels happy. The park does not rent bikes, so you’ll need to bring all the equipment you need, or visit a local bike shop.
RV campers interested in hiking will also find plenty of trails near and around the park. Explore the shores of the West Lake Okoboji and hike up to Emerson Bay Lighthouse for an incredible panoramic view of the Iowa Great Lakes region.
You’re also a short hike from the Barney Peterson Nature Trail at Gull Point State Park. The trail is well maintained, and offers a wealth of information on local wildlife. The hiking is best in spring, when the local wildflowers bloom and the area around the lakes comes to life.
If you want to explore Lake Okoboji, you can also take a boat out onto the water. Sailboats are popular in the summer, as winds blow across the lake. You can also use motorized boats on the lake, so water and jet skiing is allowed. There is a boat launch located near the campground, and you can access multiple lakes in the Iowa Great Lakes area. Boats are not rented at the park, although there are a number of local boat rental businesses.
The lake is a popular fishing area so don't forget your rod and reel in your campervan or trailer. Anglers will find fish species ranging from northern pike and walleye to white bass and catfish. West Lake Okoboji is excellent for fishing just about any time of the year, but really shines it late spring. Motorized boats are allowed on the lake, and you can easily get large vessels out onto the water with the wide boat launch located not far from the campgrounds.
Lake Okoboji is the perfect summertime swimming destination, with beautiful sandy beaches where you can stretch out and enjoy the sun. The waters of the lake are some of the clearest in the state, making for relaxing swims.
You’ll also find an open field recreation area next to the swimming beach, as well as a playground. There is also a picnic shelter near the beach that is perfect for group gatherings or family reunions. The picnic shelter can be reserved in advance.