Paddling Lake Okoboji: Once Considered One of Only Three Blue Lakes in the World


(Arnold’s Park; Set on Flickr)

West Okoboji Lake is located to the south and west of the City of Okoboji and northwest of the City of Arnold’s Park in northwest Iowa. Last week I was able to paddle some of my favorite areas of the lake where we frequently vacation with my husband’s family.

Vacation Okoboji Magazine 2011 claims that Arnold’s Park‘s wooden coaster, located near Pillsbury Point State Park, is in its element today (pictured). Owner Wesley Arnold’s granddaughter, Caroline Anderson Moyer, who lives in St. Charles, Illinois, just visited last year. She was never allowed to ride the roller coaster because her parents thought it was too dangerous–at that time, kids would try to stand on the seats during parts of the ride…

I rode the roller coaster for my first time in the summer of ’83 when I was kidnapped from my wedding reception by the groomsmen and put on it in my wedding dress… I’m not kidding. It was our anniversary this past weekend and we were able to visit with two of the groomsmen who both remember “the adventure.”

In 1946, Arrow Development was started by four men who previously worked together at Hendy Iron Works–Bill Hardiman, Angus Anderson (of Arnold’s Park), Karl Bacon, and Ed Morgan. All four men were instrumental in the start up and development of Arrow along with designing/building the rides for Disneyland when it opened in 1955.

West Okoboji Lake is about seven miles long and up to two miles in width and it is the largest of a chain of five connecting lakes, which is considered part of Iowa’s Great Lakes.
The lake is a glacial pothole with curved, boulder-strewn shores surrounded by clusters of knobby hills, smaller lakes and bogs, and abundant sand and gravel deposits.It was once promoted as one of only three lakes in the world that are considered to be a blue water lake with the other two being Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Canada’s Lake Loiuse because these lakes are fed by cool, fresh, subterranean springs.  But more recently, July (2017), the Iowa DNR reported that this has been merely a myth and that the term “blue water lake” is not scientific and caries no real definition..

Just around the bend from Arnold’s Park is Pillsbury Point State Park. Mike Koppert, operates the Abbie Gardner cabin, and massacre monument which are located there.

Mike has created a film, which he shares, depicting the history of the site where, on March 8, 1857, a small band of Wahpekute Dakota warriors led by Inkpaduta began attacking white settlements on the Okoboji lakes. An interesting note, there are claims that, about twenty years later, in 1876, it was one of Inkpaduta’s sons who may well have killed Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.


Ideally, I should have had my boater’s registration sticker on my kayak but I don’t have all of the paperwork from last fall’s purchase of the used boat that is required for the process.

I’ve been lucky with my few excursions away from my Wisconsin home base where I am not required to have my kayak registered. My boat travels to Maine next month and I will luck out again as Maine still does not require non-motorized boats to be registered–negative public response appeared to work in that state. When it comes to non-motorized boats, only Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa (boats over 15′), Minnesota (boats over 9′), and Pennsylvania (if used at a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission [PFBC] lake or area, or at a Pennsylvania State Park lake), require registration fees.

After non-motorized boat users complained in droves, the registration fees in Alaska were eventually dropped from the law. In 2000, in Arizona the annual registration fee was also dropped due in part to high administration costs that were exceeding the revenues that were being collected and an ineffective ability to return services to the public.

When it comes to paddle boats, not only is there is a higher rate of turnover which makes for more paperwork, but many paddlers tend to own more than a single canoe or kayak and when it comes to registration, this makes what their share of what they pay in boating fees disproportionate compared to the owners of single, more expensive powerboats.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars go into creating bike trails without requiring bicycles to be registered like cars and in the same way it makes sense that paddle boats ought to be separated from motor boats. All power-boats are registered just like cars for a good reason. The money is used to support investments in channel marking and provides for law enforcement in heavily used oceans and lakes.

American Whitewater reports that registration fees have rarely been used to benefit paddlesports, but tend to be diverted for motor-boat launch sites and programs that benefit fishermen, but unlike hunters and fishermen, paddlers take nothing from the environment. Registration laws also increase the operating costs for church organizations, university programs, and commercial angling outfitters and whitewater outfitters.

Since Illinois requires all boats to be registered in the state, if you are coming from another state that does not require kayaks to be registered, as most do not, you will have to purchase a license in your state or from Illinois. The initial fee for registration in Illinois currently is $13.00 for 3 years (for each boat). Renewal is then $6 (for 3 years).

Out-of-state boaters can stay up to 60 days in Illinois if they are registered in their state but since only a few states currently require canoe and kayak owners to register or pay special taxes on their boats, this creates an inconvenience to out-of-state paddlers visiting that have not been required to register their boats.

Out-of-state boaters can stay up to 60 days in Illinois if they are registered in their state but since only a few states currently require canoe and kayak owners to register or pay special taxes on their boats, this creates an inconvenience to out-of-state paddlers visiting that have not been required to register their boats.


Heading back to the Crescent Beach Resort…   Time to get out the jet skis and stand-up paddle board…  Life’s good.

3 thoughts on “Paddling Lake Okoboji: Once Considered One of Only Three Blue Lakes in the World

  1. Hello!

    I enjoyed your post about kayaking in Okaboji. A friend of mine and I are planning to meet in Okaboji one weekend in September to do some kayaking. She has two kayaks, so we won’t have to rent. Do you have any suggestions of where to stay or where to start our kayaking trip?


  2. Hi.
    I’m not sure exactly which criteria you used to make your list of blue lakes but I would think that the Blue Lake in Australia (Mount Gambier, South Australia) warrants a mention here. It certainly appears to be more bluer (during the summer months its mid blue colour appears almost luminous) and I would wager more spectacular than those you have listed and shown images of. 🙂

    1. Just last August the Iowa DNR reported that the the term “blue water” lake was unscientific. I have just listed the link to the DNR report in my article where I mention the old thoughts about the lake that have been promoted in the area and online.

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