Iowa : Safety by City
- Arnolds Park
- Cedar Falls
- Cedar Rapids
- Clear Lake
- Council Bluffs
- Des Moines
- Fort Dodge
- Fort Madison
- Iowa City
- Mason City
- North Liberty
- Pleasant Hill
- Polk City
- Sioux City
- Spirit Lake
- Storm Lake
- The Amana Colonies
- West Des Moines
You might think you’ve never heard of Clear Lake, Iowa, but you have.
“The Day The Music Died” was after a day in Clear Lake when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (aka “The Big Bopper”) all died in a plane crash north of the city.
The celebrity tragedy is still a musical melody that fills this small Iowa town of 7,700 people.
The Surf Ballroom, where Holly’s final show was performed, is still a lively venue, bringing Iowans out to rock ‘n’ roll.
Clear Lake – the actual lake – is the most popular outdoor spot for miles around.
The lake is actually the western border of the city, so you don’t have to go for a long drive to get there.
Beaches abound in the summer and some of the finest fish you can find in Iowa await under the waters of this natural lake.
What I love about small-town Iowa is that every city has its own slice of Americana.
Clear Lake has a “freedom rock” photo op and a Guardian Angel chapel beckoning tourists on the road.
Tourists have several hotel options here along I-35 for the traditional experience.
There are also cabins and campsites along the water’s edge of the lake seasonally.
Clear Lake is less than two hours north of Des Moines and 10 miles west of the bigger Mason City.
This isn’t a “blink and you’ll miss it” town.
This is a “blink and you’ll miss a lot” kind of town.
Warnings & Dangers in Clear Lake
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk, even when you figure out the crime rate per 100,000, as the FBI prefers for crime data. With that note, remember that in a city this small, a few crimes one way or the other can skew the "per 100,000 results," so we're going to stick to raw 2021 data that was just released.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
You aren't going to get a lot of taxis or rideshares here, but the town is pretty walkable. Bicycling in Iowa is very popular, so you can rent a bike and ride around this easy-to-navigate city. The risk is low, even on a bike, as drivers are used to seeing cyclists on the road.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here of being pickpockets, but the theft was the largest per-crime category in the 2021 report with 118 thefts. That leads to a one in 65 risks of being a victim. Especially during popular events, you should navigate the crowds with your wallet hidden in a jacket pocket or front pants pocket and carry a small purse with only necessities.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk of severe weather throughout the year. Iowa gets thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail storms, and flooding during the warmer months. Winter brings snowstorms, ice storms, and extreme cold temperatures. Iowa was also hit by a derecho in 2020, which is a thunderstorm with prolonged extreme winds that were strong enough to flatten entire cornfields.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
No robberies were reported in 2021. That's about as low of a risk as you can get. There is a growing drug problem across Iowa, so you still shouldn't let your guard down, as desperate drug users could resort to violence to feed their addiction. The Iowa Department of Health has an extensive plan to help addicts seeking help and help educate people about the dangers associated with the nationwide opioid crisis.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. It's too small and too far from a big city to even register on any terrorist target list.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Clear Lake Bank & Trust offers a list of the common scams happening in the city and across Iowa. Most are the common phishing or scare-tactics scams that aren't unique to this area. The best advice I saw offered was "never pay upfront for a promise." That's the first sign you are about to be scammed.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women should feel safe traveling here with low risk. There were five sexual assaults, which is a concerning number for a city this small. However, when visiting, you should know all the best ways to stay safe, like avoiding walking around at night.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations and all water meets or exceeds the required standards. The only time you should worry about the water quality is if there is a flood happening while you are there.
Safest Places to Visit in Clear Lake
Clear Lake, the lake, is one of the most popular lakes in all of Iowa for summer tourists.
There are beaches, fishing shops, boats for rent, windsurfers, and even an island that holds secrets from the past that break every stereotype you might have of Iowa being “boring.”
Cabins and campsites are available around the lake and anglers will love the amenities for fishing, including a fishing pier, a cleaning station, and showers. Woodford Island is seen from just about everywhere on the lake, and this three-mile stretch of land is open to tourists.
Just don’t expect to see much more than nature.
This island was once a playground for the elite, with hotels and attractions.
The last surviving member of the family who owned the land gifted it to Iowa as long as it was kept a natural island and had no development.
The Lady of the Lake is a steamboat that takes tours on the water seasonally.
It’s the second in the series of boats that offered tours on the water, as the first one sank.
If you want to ride this steamboat, you can’t make reservations and can only pay cash or check – no credit cards.
You can visit the plane crash site where “the music died” anytime.
The exact latitude and longitude of the crash site is N 43 13′ 12”, W 93 23′ 0”.
It’s not an easy place to find if you aren’t looking for it, but here’s a list of directions from the good folks in Clear Lake.
From Highway 18, go north on N 8th St for 4.7 miles.
Turn right (east) on 310th St, then turn left (north) on Gull Ave.
Go 1/2 mile to the trail marker.
Walk west along 1/ 2 mile of the fence.
There are trinkets and sculptures there, so you’ll be able to identify them.
There is no charge for access or anything, just be respectful and don’t take anything that was left in tribute.
The Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel is along South 24th Street.
A cross forms a window on the front of the church, which is said to be a sign to road trippers to stop and have a peaceful moment.
It’s a small church, with pews for just 25 people or so.
The Central Gardens of North Iowa is another peaceful stop in Clear Lake.
This is a garden shop with multiple garden views and tranquil spaces.
There’s also a Native American circle spot where people can gather in circles and pray, meditate, or discuss whatever they’d like.
At Main and 8th Street in Clear Lake, you’ll see a giant rock with an intricate painting on it.
This is “freedom rock”, honoring the only soldier from this county ever awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor.
I don’t want to give away the full story, but that’s the headline of this Instagram-worthy moment.
Places to Avoid in Clear Lake
There aren’t bad neighborhoods or dangerous streets in Clear Lake.
You can travel freely without worry, but you should still stick to well-lit streets and main roads as much as possible.
Outside of Clear Lake, there is a lot of farmland.
While it looks like endless miles of places to stop and stretch your legs or let the dogs go for a run, don’t ever go onto private property.
Those corn and soybean fields are cared for tenderly and you don’t want to risk damaging a crop or upsetting a farmer.
If you are visiting during harvest season, which is late summer to early fall, you’ll most likely end up sharing the road with a tractor or a combine.
This is completely normal.
There’s also traffic like this expected during the spring planting season.
Just be patient if you’re behind one of these vehicles and don’t tailgate.
I’ve had a few full cornstalks come flying at my windshield behind one of those tractors.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Clear Lake
- There is a full-time police department in Clear Lake, so you don’t have to rely on county deputies to respond to calls. You should use 911 for emergencies or (641)357-2186 for non-emergencies, crime tips, and any safety questions.
- The Clear Lake Police Department has a “Crime Reports” section on its website, but this isn’t for reporting crimes. This is an interactive map where you can search for crimes near where you’ll be staying. Crime trends can quickly change, so use this as a reference.
- If you need to call 911 using a cell phone, be quick and complete with the information you provide. Cell phone service here can be spotty, and you’ll be in a new area, so you might not know good directions. Be sure to state your name, the emergency, the best report of your location, and your mobile number immediately in case the call gets disconnected. You cannot text 911 here.
- You should always have at least half a tank of gas when visiting a rural area. If severe weather happens and you need to escape, you might be miles from the nearest gas station. Stop and get gas wherever you can as you move through northern Iowa.
- UTVs and golf carts are allowed on the streets of Clear Lake under specific circumstances. You should know this because it’s another safety risk on the roads since those vehicles generally go slower than cars. Only traditional vehicles are allowed on Highway 18 and Highway 122.
- There are no lifeguards at the swimming beaches along Clear Lake. You swim at your own risk and should use flotation devices on all children. It’s a good idea for adults to start with a life vest until they are acclimated to the water. If you notice any boats in the swimming area, call the park patrol immediately at (641)357-5000. The water is generally no more than 10 feet deep.
- There are a lot of angled parking spots in Clear Lake. You cannot back into one of these spots and you must park within the lines of the angled parking space.
- Visit the Iowa Department of Transportation for a bicycle trail and road map. This will show you all the safe routes for bicycle riders throughout every part of the state. Clear Lake has many places bicyclists can safely ride. You don’t have to wear a helmet, by law, but it’s best practice for bicycle safety.
- Anglers need a fishing license from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. You can purchase this online or in town. You can also download the “Go Outdoors” app to learn more about the best outdoor locations for fish or additional activities.
- Clear Lake is very busy in the summer, but during the winter there are a lot of attractions and businesses closed or with very reduced hours. Check the schedule before you come to see if you’ll be able to visit the place you want to in the winter.
So... How Safe Is Clear Lake Really?
Clear Lake is a safe place and the residents work hard to keep it that way.
When visiting in the summer, the population of the city can double or triple at times.
Be sure to respect the safety rules of this region and report anything suspicious you see.
Here are the raw crime numbers that might be of interest to a first-time visitor:
- Violent Crimes: 21
- Sexual Assault: 5
- Robbery: 0
- Theft: 118
- Motor Vehicle Theft: 29
- Drug Violations: 71
- Fraud Offenses: 31
One of the best parts of visiting Clear Lake is that I haven’t even been able to tell you about the attractions in the city in this summary article.
There’s a children’s museum, the Pioneer Museum, a fire department museum, and ongoing bands at the famous Surf Ballroom.
You can really park it here for a few days or a week and not run out of things to do.
How Does Clear Lake Compare?
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- Visas - You'll just need to show your visa when you go through Customs at the airport. You won't need to use it to travel between the cities of Iowa.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar (USD) is the only currency accepted here, and you'll need to bring some cash because some of the amenities, like that steamboat, are cash-only. Be sure to keep your cash in a safe spot until you need it, and try to avoid keeping it in all one place. A rubber band around your wallet can help avoid being pickpocketed due to the tension the band creates when it's being pulled out.
- Weather - Winter weather doesn't stop Iowans from enjoying the outdoors, but you'll need to pack warm layers as if you were going to Alaska. It can just get that cold. Snowboots are a good idea too, but there won't be snow on the ground all winter long here. Summers will be hot and humid, and the bugs will be extensive in this lake town. Bring bug spray and re-apply often. Avoid flowery perfume that will attract bugs. A citrus-scented perfume or body wash helps keep bugs away too.
- Airports - There is a small municipal airport in Mason City, which is actually closer to Clear Lake than Mason City. There are limited commercial flights here, but United is the airline that serves here. Both the Des Moines airport (DSM) and the Minneapolis St. Paul airport (MSP) are two hours away, with MSP being the larger of the two. There aren't shuttle services from Clear Lake, so you'll need a ride from a friend or a rental car.
- Travel Insurance - It's smart to get travel insurance since the Midwest can get unpredictable weather. Just the other night, I watched a clear sky turn into a monster of a storm, halting air traffic here in Nebraksa, within an hour.
Clear Lake Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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