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
Everyone knows the Great Lakes of the United States, but Iowa has its own set of Great Lakes in the area collectively known as Okojobi.
Okoboji (“Oh- kuh-BOW-gee”) is also a city of fewer than 1,000 people surrounded on three sides by water.
The area includes the cities of Spirit Lake and Arnolds Park.
More than a million people visit the “Great Lakes of Iowa” each year, so don’t think it is a rural region without the amenities you need.
This is the Branson of Iowa without all the crowds in one place.
The chain of lakes here was formed by glaciers in the Ice Age and now the waters span 15,000 acres.
What makes these lakes really stand out is the crystal blue water, almost reminiscent of Lake Tahoe in California.
The lakes are accommodating for families, girlfriend getaways, wedding parties, romantic retreats, and even your four-legged friends.
Be sure to search #YouMeOkoboji to see social media posts of other people vacationing here.
Okoboji is located in the far northern part of the state in the eastern half.
If you aren’t looking for it, you probably won’t even notice it on a map.
However, the secret is out among Iowans and other Midwestern states.
As far as hotels go, you have more options than you’d expect.
There are traditional hotels, cabins, campsites, bed and breakfast inns, and rentals on the lake, in the woods, at the beach, and everywhere in between.
Summer is the busiest time here, and you might run into seasonal hours or closures in the winter.
Warnings & Dangers in Okoboji
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk here with an abundance of things to do. There is a small police department in the city with four full-time officers and one part-time officer. Spirit Lake and Arnolds Park also have their own police force and the Dickinson County Sheriff handles the unincorporated areas.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There isn't a public transportation system around the lakes. You can find rentals like party buses, shuttles, and taxis. Rideshares might also be available seasonally. You should really plan to have a car so you can explore the nooks and crannies of the lake. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
In the entire county, there were just 15 thefts in 2020. That's a low risk of being pickpocketed. You should be cautious when leaving your belongings on the shore if you take a dip and always lock the car with no personal stuff inside.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This outdoor wonderland is subject to the cruel Iowa weather that's possible. There are winter storms and ice storms which can make road travel treacherous. Spring brings a tornado season with common thunderstorms that can get severe and produce torrential rain, flooding, intense lightning, and tornado spin-ups. You do have to look out for extreme temperatures in winter and summer. There's a medium risk because so many of the activities here are reliant on good weather.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of being robbed. No robberies were reported in 2020 or 2021. Don't let that make you careless. You should still use caution in any big tourist area.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. The only big threat is the weather. Terrorists probably don't even know the Great Lakes of Iowa exist.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
You should be extra careful when making reservations if you're using a third-party website. Be sure there is proof the rental representative can prove they have the permit to rent. It's safe to use the tourism website for Okoboji to find safe and reliable reservation locations.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk for women here, but you should be comfortable with outdoor risks and rewards. There are a lot of safe, well-lit places to visit. Be sure to stay on the main roads and don't go wandering around in the dark. That's a good rule of thumb for any city.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations and details how safe the water is for consumption. You can use the tap water knowing there's a low risk. If there is flooding during your visit, you should check the city website to make sure there aren't any boil orders or water risks.
Safest Places to Visit in Okoboji
Since we have other articles about Spirit Lake and Arnolds Park, I’m going to stick to Okoboji or Dickinson County attractions.
To get a full sweep of things to do in the area, read each of the other articles.
There’s just too much to talk about to fit into one article.
There are a lot of places here that have Okoboji in the name but might be in a different city.
That is because the area is known as Okoboji and the lakes have that name in it too.
Just because something says Okoboji doesn’t mean it’s located in the actual city of Okojobi.
The Higgens Museum of National Bank Notes is a random, yet fascinating, place focused on the history of banknotes and how the currency was used over the years in Iowa and the country.
This is a great educational opportunity to see how the American banking system was designed and works to this day.
The Parks Marina is a great place to shop for or admire the nicest boats available.
This is also where the Barefoot Bar is located.
This popular restaurant and bar is a top summer destination, so there might be a longer wait time to get a table.
You can learn more about this area by looking at the Marina District TV YouTube site.
Okoboji Boat Works is the place to go if you want to rent a boat for your visit.
There is also a gas pump for boats available 24 hours a day.
There’s a store at the site for all the last-minute food, beverage, clothing, or sunscreen needs.
There are boat tours you can reserve here, with some open to the public, or you can rent your own private excursion for groups of up to 135 people.
Summer theater comes to life with productions by students at Stephens College.
There’s also the Boji Bantam Children’s Theatre for the kids.
The website fishinfunokoboji.com details the variety of fishing cruises and trips you can take.
There are half-day and full-day options and the boat captain brings everything you need, down to the bait, so you just need to show up.
For the full-day trip, you’ll get to cook your fresh catch.
In West Okoboji, you can visit what’s called “The Ultimate Man Cave” at Okoboji Classic Cars.
From some of the first cars off the production lines to the hottest hot roads available, this place is sure to rev your engine.
You can even see the extensive collection of toy cars.
Now, fair warning for those of you visiting with classic car fans.
Some of these vehicles are for sale.
We claim no liability or legal responsibility for the impulse purchase of a 1962 Chevy Impala with a price tag of $185,000.
Places to Avoid in Okoboji
You can safely travel through Okoboji and the surrounding areas without fear of a dangerous part of town or bad neighborhood.
This entire region caters to tourists and the low crime numbers of Dickinson County prove that it’s a safe place to visit.
Don’t go looking for the University of Okoboji.
You’ll see a lot of swag with the emblem and name on it and you might even hear people joke about their “undefeated” sports teams called the Fighting Phantoms.
There’s a campus radio and a calendar of campus events.
The only problem?
The university doesn’t exist.
It’s a joke created by a couple of guys in the 70s and the locals have joined in on the jokes and fun.
By the end of your trip, you’ll be making University of Okoboji jokes as well.
Avoid exploring the lakes without knowing the details of each one.
Okoboji, the city, is nestled between East Okoboji Lake and West Okoboji Lake.
Minnewashta Lake, Center Lake, and Lower Great Lake are to the south.
The northern lakes are anchored by Big Spirit Lake, with West Hottes Lake, East Hottes Lake, and Marble Lake rounding out that area.
Little Spirit Lake and Govers Lake are north too, and those each cross over the Minnesota state line.
Further north in Minnesota, you’ll find Rush Lake, Pearl Lake, Chandler Lake, and Loon Lake.
They DO have a lot of Great Lakes here!
Boaters should be mindful that you can’t take a boat through the waterway that connects Spirit Lake to East Okoboji Lake.
Don’t try or you could get fined and banned from the water.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Okoboji
- I think this is a first for me – the police department has a phone number listed for “if no answer on the other line”. Here are the phone numbers you need to contact the police there. (712)332-7845. “If no one answers,” call (712)336-2525. You should always call 911 for emergencies and you’ll be immediately connected. You can also email email@example.com.
- There’s a booklet about boating rights and responsibilities in Okoboji. Anyone who wants to boat here should review this document to make sure they know the laws of the state. There’s an online course you’ll need to take before you can drive a boat.
- There isn’t a beach in Okojobi, the city. The closest beaches are Pikes Point State Beach, about 10 minutes north, and Orleans Beach, about 15 minutes north. Okoboji has more boating than beaching. Keep that in mind when booking your place to stay.
- If you plan to swim outside the designated swimming areas, you need a permit from the park staff. There’s a form online at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). There are plenty of shoreline swimming holes, so there’s not really a reason to swim the entire lake span.
- While you’re on the DNR website, anglers need to be sure to get a non-resident fishing license. Your home license won’t suffice here. Some of the charter boats offer fishing license purchases too but check before you book the trip.
- The Okoboji area has activities throughout the year. Check out the Visitor’s Guide from the tourism bureau to see the options for all seasons. Winter leads to ice fishing, ice rinks opening, winter Olympics in cooperation with the “University of Okoboji”, and even frozen lake yoga. Be sure to dress in plenty of layers and bring hand warmers because it can get bitterly cold here.
- If you are using a personal watercraft during your visit, you must be wearing a personal flotation device at all times on the water. You can get stopped by water police and ticketed.
- The Water Safety Council of Iowa has a great website with a lot of safety tips. There are videos of cold water immersion and how to protect yourself if you accidentally fall in. Most of the lakes are frozen over by December 1, but some can be as late as mid-January. Even in the winter, you should wear a personal flotation device on top of your winter clothing, just in case.
- If there is flash flooding during your visit, follow the saying “Turn Around. Don’t Drown.” Cars can be swept away in just six inches of water. Even if you see other people driving through the water, don’t follow their lead. Just wait until the water recedes or find an alternate route.
- In case you believe in urban legends or folklore, it’s important to know that there’s a reason Big Spirit Lake has that name. There was a belief by Native American tribes that this lake is guarded by an evil spirit. They wouldn’t even get their canoes near this beautiful lake because of fear. There is also a legend of the Lake Okoboji Monster in the other two large lakes, so pick your predator, I suppose.
So... How Safe Is Okoboji Really?
In 2020, all of Dickinson County, with its 17,000 residents and 1,000,000 tourists, had 80 crimes – in total.
Crime here is very low and there are a variety of law enforcement agencies across the lake making sure it stays that way.
The real risks of this area come with the weather and natural hazards of lake life.
A day of severe thunderstorms can shut down lake activities.
A winter storm could make the roads hard to navigate.
Flash flooding could cause detours or delays to popular spots.
Given that this area is used for a lot of partying and celebrations, there’s a risk of mixing alcohol with water-related activities, which exponentially raises the risk level.
You still need all the basic safety prevention you’d use in any city.
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.
How Does Okoboji Compare?
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- Visas - You will only need your U.S. visa when arriving in the country and when departing the country. You shouldn't carry it with you as you travel around the Great Lakes. Be sure to store it in a safe spot.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. There are a lot of places with reservations online, so payment can be made ahead of time. You might want some cash for tipping or snack bars, but don't carry a lot of it with you.
- Weather - Warm layers are essential to enjoying all the winter activities here. The wind can add a dangerous level to cold temperatures, so a full-face winter mask or thick hat with earmuffs is going to go a long way here. You should invest in sturdy, insulated gloves. Spring and fall bring a variety of temperatures, so dress in layers. Summers will be hot and humid during the day, and you'll want a few different swimsuit options so you aren't putting on a damp suit from the day before and risk the bacteria that could be growing on it.
- Airports - The Sioux Falls, South Dakota airport is going to be the closest to Okoboji. That's about a 90-minute drive. Bigger airports are in Des Moines and Minneapolis/St. Paul, but those are each three and a half hour drives in opposite directions.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is a great idea and make sure you explore the insurance rules for boating, rental cars, and personal watercraft. Some of the rental places might have you sign an insurance waiver ahead of time, so read the fine print before you sign away your safety rights.
Okoboji Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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