Lost Island Beach at Huston Park
Lost Island Lake – A Quiet Getaway
One thing that was for certain in 2020, the pandemic made us think twice, about our travel plans. For some, it was travel and tourism as usual, but for many, it was an abrupt adjustment to our style and our travel goals. 2020 (in my opinion) saw a resurge and return to the “Great American Road Trip”. One perfect way to do this was to take notice of our scenic-byways (both nationally and by state). Yet, another perfect way to enjoy travel was to adjust the trip to a more “socially-distant friendly” vacation. 2021 might be on the way to recovering some of those travel plans – but searching for the perfect, socially-distant, and quiet trip might be exactly what’s best. We might need more time to adjust and feel safe enough to travel to a larger more populated area’s OR maybe we surprisingly discover our best vacation is located in a place like N.W. Iowa! Specifically, north of Ruthven, Iowa, in a place called Lost Island Lake.
Three Big things to do at Lost Island
- Hike Lost Island Lake County Park
If you love nature, you can never get enough hiking and exploring our local state and county parks! They offer a variety of activities and opportunities to be outside and take in the beauty of the world around us. Lost Island Lake County Park is no exception to that rule and sits nearby several campgrounds in the area – and nestles itself along the eastern shore of Lost Island Lake. The area isn’t gigantic, so finding the park on a GPS mapping system or simply exploring the area will have you running into the park quickly.
The park offers two separate trails for difficulty, a paved hiking/biking trail, and a more difficult rock and dirt trail that leads you closer to the lake (Both hikes are featured in the above video). The county park also offers plenty of places to picnic with shelter houses and restrooms and runs against the Nature Center and Huston Park (which leads to the Lost Island Beach on the northside).
2. Check out Lost Island Nature Center/Palo Alto County
The nature center is not to be missed! Hours are April – December: Wednesday, Thursday & Friday, 9 am – 4 pm, Saturday & Sunday 1-4 pm.
You are greeted to this nature center by a beautiful log-cabin style building that overlooks the lake and sits near the county and Huston parks! Also, the paved hiking/biking trails run right next to it as it wraps around the lakeshore. The site is home to different exhibits including a history lesson of the area and conservation and appreciation of the wetlands. Sitting directly behind the building is Dewey’s Pasture and Bird Conservation Area (at the 2:54 mark on the video above). If you are a nature enthusiast the bird-watching area is a nice peaceful place to observe the local wildlife.
3. Playing at the beach
Lost Island Lake is like a hidden secret. It sits off of Highway 18 a few miles to the north, and you don’t see it until you are practically on top of the lake. Not only that, but it gets overshadowed by some of the bigger more popular lakes around the Iowa Great Lakes region (which is only a 30-minute drive away). However, what Lost Island DOES provide is the exact opposite – peaceful, quiet, relaxing, fewer people, fewer crowds, and a great atmosphere around the 6th largest natural lake in Iowa!
The beach is fairly large and offers plenty of time to swim, kayak, or just simply wade along the shore and put your feet in the water. It’s a natural lake, carved out from the Wisconsin Glacier approximately 12,000 years ago – so the water is cold, but offers a refreshing escape from the summer heat.
The area used to have a larger lake which was home to “Anthony’s Island”, but due to a stagecoach company’s heavy traffic to the area, the low spots were eventually filled in with road causing the island to essentially be lost – and giving the name to Lost Island Lake.
The history of the area also plays into folklore with stories of The Jesse James Gang hiding out in the area and buying eggs from local farmers around Ruthven.
Along the south side of the lake – there is a street that runs east and west called “electric park” and this was the area of the historic park that ran along the lakeshore and attracted visitors from all over to stay at the lakes hotels and resorts. The park was named Electric Park because developer Frank Tishenbanner placed several cement poles and supports along the southern waterfront and strung electric lights along the shore. Electric lights at the turn of the 20th century were an attraction onto themselves and made the park a popular tourist attraction.
But the thing that grabbed my attention to the area’s history was a local blarney stone which sat near electric park on the south side of the island. The rich Irish heritage around the Lost Island Lake region gave significance to the blarney stone – which replicated the famous “kissing blarney stone” in Ireland. People would drive hundreds of miles to simply kiss the blarney stone for eloquence and persuasiveness (an Irish tradition). However, when I was shooting the video of the area – I couldn’t find the stone. Several locals I interviewed were completely unaware of its existence! Yet, some of the old history tales tell a story of the stone and how it was used to help anchor steamers that would tour the lake and make frequent stops at the famous Baldwin Hotel.
The Search Begins…
I have started gathering research for this “Lost Blarney Stone” and have a 2nd episode for a video and blog coming. Watch for the second part of this series as we explore history around the Ruthven, Iowa area and Lost Island Lake.