8 Kayaking Destinations Around Iowa

By Jessica Graham

Arguably one of the most underestimated and tranquil ways to enjoy the beauty of Iowa is kayaking. Kayaking can take you through some winding rivers in Northern Iowa or allow you to explore hidden coves of lakes. All parts of the state offer bodies of water for users to enjoy.

Northern Iowa
Iowa’s first whitewater park opened in Charles City in 2011.Offering challenges to kayakers of all skill levels, the park offers amenities for all water enthusiasts including fisherman. Located on the Cedar River, the city of Charles City has committed to developing the riverfront into a premier recreational destination for Iowans to enjoy. The park provides challenging chutes for experts and gentle rapids for beginners making Charles City an exceptional destination for kayakers of all skill sets. Consider traveling to Charles City for the annual Charles City Challenge or this June, the Iowa Games.

If you are around the Sumner or Waverly area, you should spend some time around Sweet Marsh Wildlife area. Meandering streams connect with a calm marsh and is an ideal place for those new to Kayaking. For those wanting to learn safety and kayaking basics, CrawDaddy Outdoors, located in Waverly offers expertise to get users set up with a kayak best suited for them or their family. CrawDaddy Outdoors teaches classes on falling out of a kayak as well as kayak basics. They also take clients on a guided 2 hour kayak float in the Sweet Marsh area.

Not only is Sweet Marsh a tranquil place for kayakers, but wildlife also frequent the area. During the spring, migratory birds travel through Sumner and can be seen around open water. Nature lovers, photographers, and kids are all drawn to the wildlife supported by Sweet Marsh area. It is perfect for families and those wanting to enjoy nature on the water.

If you are a little farther south, near Cedar Falls, you should check out Maxx Rentals located on Big Woods Lake. Maxx Rentals helps equip customers with different kayaks for their needs. Owned by a water-loving fanatic, Maxx Rentals is passionate about getting people out on the water. Large kayaks can accommodate 4 individuals, making it perfect for a group of friends to chat while enjoying the water. Maxx Rentals even offers night floats with led lights. During the night floats fish often get curious and come up to check out the lighted vessels.

For families and friends seeking a fast-paced adventure, the Iowa Great Lakes in the northwest part the state offers a vast array of tourist attractions while off the water, and expansive lakes to enjoy with large groups of families. Kayakers need to use some caution while in this area as there are many motor boats and jet skis on the water. Early mornings provide ample opportunities for peaceful kayaking adventures.

Central Iowa
If your adventures take you through the Des Moines metro area, one of the most visited lakes for kayakers is Gray’s Lake. The lake is large enough you can get away from other kayakers, but small enough you seldom have to worry about choppy water and thrashing waves. Gray’s Lake is an oasis in the Des Moines area. For this reason, it is often busy when the weather is nice, but is perfect for an afternoon kayak trip with a friend.

Another river that is perfect for a day long kayak trip is Middle Raccoon River near Adel, IA. If you drop a vehicle off down river and take kayaks up river you can float down the river towards your vehicle. It makes for a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon. Rivers offer different scenery than lakes. High rolling banks and rocky bluffs make you feel like you are some place other than Iowa. Darrin Siefken from CrawDaddy Outdoors advises kayakers to check the water levels. Different obstacles are revealed at differing water levels. Different water levels will also produce different currents. Caution should be exercised while paddling in rivers.

Southern Iowa
The second largest lake in Iowa, Lake Rathbun is a popular area for boaters and water lovers. However, the water can also be rough on the large lake, making it difficult to navigate your vessel. When kayaking a large lake, it is crucial to be safe and to find a kayak with a wide base for balance.

Mike’s Outdoors in Clive can help set you up with a kayak suitable for larger lakes like Lake Rathbun. Mike specializes in Nucano braded kayaks. Nucano kayaks are created for those wanting to fish out of a kayak. In fact, these kayaks are often seen in kayak fishing tournaments.

Fishing out of a kayak allows the user to get closer to shore and navigate around easily around obstacles. When someone wants to fish a large lake, like Lake Rathbun, they need a stable bigger kayak. The kayak is 41 inches wide and some models support up to 640 lbs., aiding in the stability and safety of the boat. The kayaks are also adaptable to add motors for large lakes. Jeremiah Schwake from Maxx Rentals reminds kayakers that “water is fun but unforgiving”. It is important to keep a personal flotation device near should you need it, especially when you are a long way from shore.

Fishermen will also enjoy Lake Sugema near Keosauqua, IA. The lake has standing timber that makes lots of great fish habitat and a kayak offers a huge advantage when it comes to navigating around these trees and stumps. The lake is stocked with bass, blugill, crappie, saugeye, walleye, and channel catfish, so there are ample opportunities for anglers to catch a variety of fish. Sugema is a no wake lake, so fishermen and kayakers are naturally drawn to the quiet serenity the lake offers.

Iowa offers a vast array of bodies of water for us to explore and enjoy. It is important to be safe, follow the laws, and to have a life preserver nearby, and always wear a personal flotation device.. Whether you are in the north, south, or central part of Iowa, there is a kayaking opportunity for you to explore. Almost all of these have or are near campsites, so you can stay longer and enjoy early morning or late evening views on the water.