One of Northwest Iowa’s greatest treasures is the Iowa Great Lakes area in Dickinson County in Iowa and Jackson county in Minnesota. This is a group of naturally made lakes carved out 100,000 years ago by the Wisconsin glacier and forming Big Spirit Lake (covering 3,850 acres with its deepest point at 134 ft. deep) with five additional interconnected lakes of West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, and Minnewashta lakes.
Around these lakes are 4 state parks and 1 historical site of interest – Gull Point State Park, Pikes Point State Park, Elinore Bedell State Park, Mini-Wakan State Park, and Pillsbury Point “Abbie Gardner Cabin” the beginning site of the conflict between Dakota Sioux and area settlers that became known as the “Spirit Lake Massacre.”
The tour of the state parks around the lakes can take from half a day to full day, depending on activities, and each park is set along the lakefront, making the parks some of the most scenic in Iowa.
Check Out the Iowa Great Lake State Park Tour Video
The centerpiece state park that is the focal point of the Iowa Great Lake State Parks- This park holds home to the largest State Park facility that is perfect for reunions, receptions, and other gatherings. Built originally in the 1930’s it oversees the lake at its highest point, making it one of the states finest.
Also if camping is one of your interests, the state park has one of the best campgrounds in the lakes area.
Pikes Point State Park
Across the lake from Gull Point, and nestled back in a residential area along West Okoboji is Pikes Point- State Park. It’s one of the smaller state parks but has one of the finest lakeshore beaches in the state.
This park is perfect in the Summer as a swimming pad is anchored offshore and allows for recreational swimming and great picnic and BBQ areas.
Mini-Wakan State Park
Along the northside of Big Spirit Lake (along the border of Minnesota and Iowa) sits Mini-Wakan State Park, it also has a fantastic new facility for reunions or group gatherings. – Just make sure to watch for opening and closings due to events, holidays, or other emergency closings.
If you are into fishing, this is a great area, along the north shore of Big Spirit Lake, or along the road leading into the park, there is a fish dock that is perfect for a family fishing weekend.
Elinor Bedell State Park
Iowa’s youngest state park was developed and opened in 1997 as a gift from the Bedell family (with more and more lakefront land going more private-the family wanted to gift the land to the state to make it a state park). There is more about this story online, but the couple loved the area so much that their grave is marked by a boulder overseeing a beautiful creek leading to the lake. There is a newer campground set up along the east side of the park, and offers beautiful walkways and paths through the park. Definitely worth a visit.
There is a history with this site, as it is linked and managed with Gull Point State Park, but more of a historic site and place of interest. This is the place where the Abbie Gardner Cabin rests, and the historic scenic backdrop for the conflict between Dakota Sioux and settlers in the area – resulting in the “Spirit Lake Massacre”.
When looking at a map, it appears a park runs along the lakeshore by Arnolds Park Amusement Park, however, it appears its mostly private property and hard to find direct access to the lake. However, the historic site itself sits about a block off the lakefront and covers an entire city block – with the stone memorial marker, cabin, and shop.
The cabin still stands and still has the original four corners.
The area is worth exploring and learning area history. Learn what it was like during the time period and settling in and around the lakes area!
If you are in and around the Iowa Great Lakes area, check out the state parks! Some of the most beautiful state parks in Iowa, not to mention a great place to bring your family for a vacation.
If you are from the area…it’s also a perfect place for a stay-cation!
– Dan – The Country Pilgrim