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’re on the doorstep of Saylorville Lake when you visit Polk City, Iowa.
You’ll be so immersed in nature it’s hard to believe that the big city of Des Moines is just 25 minutes away.
Saylorville Lake spans 26,000 acres and the slender outline of the lakefront makes it a great place to spread out and avoid crowds.
You’re going to need to like the outdoors here because Polk City has just one hotel.
It’s a very nice hotel and it’s on the same property as a golf course.
Otherwise, you’re going to be looking for rental homes or exploring a baffling number of campgrounds around the lake.
Polk City is 10 miles from Ankeny, a northern suburb of Des Moines.
That’s where all the big shopping centers are, but in Polk City, you’ll just have some mom-and-pop shops and lakefront dinners waiting for you.
This is a small town of 5,500 people.
You’ll be able to get groceries and necessities, but think of Polk City as the last stop for supplies to gas up and get drinks before you hit the lakefront.
Once you’re near the lake, you can go in any direction and hit the shore and another park, campground, or marina.
There are some sandy beaches along this lake, giving a beach vibe in the middle of the Midwest.
I got a little nervous when the standout fact about Polk City was that it has the only town square in Polk County, Iowa.
I got even more nervous when I looked at the Google Map version of Town Square.
You’re really going to need to like the outdoors to enjoy your time here.
Wait, did I already say that?
Warnings & Dangers in Polk City
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk here. There was one violent crime in 2021. That's not a typo. One. That crime was a sexual assault, so there were no murders, robberies, or aggravated assaults. One of the "big events" detailed in the 2021 Annual Police Report was when two officers responded to a call to find a woman in labor and they had to deliver the baby in her apartment.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
You'll need a car here or a bicycle and strong legs. The public transportation system of Des Moines doesn't go this far into the woods. You can call a taxi or rideshare, but having your own car is going to be much easier and probably much more affordable. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of traditional pickpocketing, but you should watch your personal stuff and car at campsites. There was a case of a car being broken into and a credit card found in the car being used for a shopping spree in Des Moines.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
You'll need to keep a close eye on the weather when you visit here since so much of this area is built around outdoor activities. There are risks of lake flooding, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes in the warmer months. The lake is open in the winter, but you'll have to navigate potentially icy and snowy roads. There's a medium risk due to the outdoor nature of this area and the year-round risks.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's a low risk. There has been a rise in drug crimes from 2020 to 2021, which could lead to robberies, but for the past two years, there haven't been any.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
Since this is close to Des Moines, which is a large metro area, we have to give it a medium risk. Of course, there might be a chance someone would target the water of Saylorvile Lake as it provides drinking water for half a million people. Polk City itself wouldn't be a target.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The most prominent scam is fake calls demanding money or else the caller will go to jail. Those are targeted at residents of the area. With any popular tourist spot, there's a risk of getting scammed when renting a place to stay. The hallmark of that scam is asking people to wire money to reserve the house. Don't fall for that and you'll have a low risk of any other scam here.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
There was one sexual assault I mentioned earlier, but other than that there's no reason to worry about visiting this area. You should be comfortable navigating the outdoors and preparing for associated risks.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The water here is safe to drink and has a low risk of any contaminants in it. The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations and all required tests and optional tests were below the required limits.
Safest Places to Visit in Polk City
The Tournament Club of Iowa is the big golf and social gathering spot in Polk City.
You can play rounds of golf and it is open for tourists.
There’s also the Copper Oak Restaurant, open for dinner and Sunday brunch.
The Qube Hotel is right next to the golf course.
Saylorville Lake Marina is where you can go to rent a boat that fits up to 14 passengers.
You can rent a boat for four hours for less than $500.
The lowest price is around $300 for four hours.
Stop by Fleetwood at Saylorville for a lakefront meal and live music.
The whole restaurant is on a floating dock (the “only one” in Iowa) and it’s open for all three meals.
This is a place that looks to get lively, and even breakfast comes with bottomless mimosas.
Try the Pirate Bites or Titanic Poutine Burger and let us know how it tastes.
From here, you have a decision to make.
You can go west to Saylorville Lake and the surrounding parks and beaches, or you can go north to Big Creek Lake, which connects to Saylorville Lake but has its own beaches and parks.
The Neil Smith Trail runs from Des Moines, through this area, up to the north end of Big Creek Lake.
It’s 27 miles long, but there’s a trail bridge over the Big Creek Spillway with amazing views of the lake.
Parks & Beaches in the Polk City Area:
- Big Creek State Park: Just north of Polk City
- Big Creek Beach: Far north end of Big Creek Lake
- Red Feather Prairie: South end just east of the lake
- Jester Park: Northwest side of Saylorville Lake
It’s worth noting there’s a nature center at Jester Park that is a stunning landscape with a dozen outdoor activities to do, including bison and elk watching.
This is a safe, more controlled, outdoor environment for all seasons with plenty of skiing and snow-shoeing trails in the winter.
Nine miles northeast of Polk City, you’ll find the Hindu Temple & Cultural Center of Iowa in Madrid.
The temple and center are open to tourists, but you’ll need to follow the etiquette rules detailed on the website.
This isn’t a great place to bring noisy children as there are a lot of “quiet” rules here.
It’s a unique experience and a great thing to do on a rainy day.
Places to Avoid in Polk City
You don’t have to worry about accidentally going into a bad neighborhood in Polk City.
The streets are fairly easy to navigate, but there are some hills and winding roads.
You should keep your GPS on when driving around.
Polk City is touted as a “City for All Seasons,” so there isn’t going to be a time of year that’s uneventful here and in the surrounding lakes.
Summer does get very crowded, so you might have to travel farther around the edge of the lake to find a more quiet spot from June through August.
Avoid visiting here in the winter if you don’t have an all-wheel drive or a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The roads can get snow-covered and slippy.
You can use tire chains or studded tires from October through April in Iowa.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Polk City
- While researching this story, I found a report of a man who had drowned in the past week at Saylorville Lake. This was a man who knew how to swim and there was no concern about him being in the water. Park officials said there are sometimes branches bunched up under the water that can pull people under in the current. It is strongly recommended you wear a life vest even if you’re just wading in the water.
- Lock your car and roll up the windows when you park. Don’t leave anything in plain sight inside the car. In the summer of 2021, there was a rash of car break-ins. One of the victim’s credit cards was used in Des Moines. Make sure you know all of your credit card numbers in case you need to report them being stolen.
- If you want to go fishing at any of the lakes in this area, you’ll need a fishing license from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). You can buy that online but be sure to get a non-resident license.
- Anyone visiting the lake areas should visit the DNR website daily. There is a list of all the lakes and rivers with water quality and flood level information. You can also check for any fish consumption warnings.
- If you are camping here but run into extreme temperatures, there are “Extreme Temperature Centers” in Polk County. The location in Polk City is 309 Van Dorn St., Polk City, IA 50226. That’s the City Community Safety Building. Especially in the summer, the heat and humidity can become almost suffocating, and sometimes you just need a few hours in air-conditioning to cool your body down.
- Do a full-body scan each day you’ve spent outdoors to check for ticks on your body. They like to find dark, moist areas, so check your genitals and armpits especially. If you find a tick, be sure to pull it out – by the head – with tweezers, then disinfect that area of skin.
- Mosquitos can carry the West Nile Virus, so be sure to wear bug spray with Deet in it. Re-apply often, especially after swimming.
- You should know how to identify poison ivy in the wilderness. It can be hard to spot with plants and weeds growing everywhere. Poison Ivy is technically one leaf that blossoms in thirds. The leaves are two to five inches long and can be matte or shiny in presentation. When in doubt, don’t touch any plants. Stay on the trails. 85% of people who come in contact with poison ivy will have a reaction to it either the first time or second time. Bring cortisone cream or calamine lotion to help with the rash poison ivy leaves behind.
- Most of the notable crimes from 2021 in Polk City were drug-related. If you suspect or have seen people use illegal drugs during your visit, call the police. Iowa as a whole has a growing drug problem and it takes help from the community to keep crime numbers down. The non-emergency number for Polk City Police is (515) 984-6565. During non-business hours, call the Polk County Dispatch at (515)-286-3333.
- There have been coyote sightings in Polk City and the lake areas. If you see a coyote, you should make as much noise as possible and throw whatever you have in the direction of the coyote. This will scare the animal off. Coyotes aren’t predatory towards humans, but they will look for opportunities to splurge on your picnic basket. I’ve done a lot of hiking all over this country, and I always have a bear-proof container for my food because it keeps out all of the animals.
So... How Safe Is Polk City Really?
The highest crime categories in Polk City were drug crimes and thefts, but even those numbers weren’t that high.
There were 23 thefts and 40 drug crimes.
While that might seem like a lot in a city of 5,500 people, you need to remember how many people come here from the Des Moines area and around the country to visit.
The real safety risks here involve the weather.
You shouldn’t be outdoors when there is lightning.
If it’s close enough to see it, it can be close enough to strike.
Stay out of the water until 30 minutes after the last thunder.
When driving in the winter, bring blankets in the car with you in case of a breakdown.
Have an emergency number to call if you need assistance and keep your mobile device charged.
If there is a snowstorm coming, head to Des Moines until the roads around the lake can be cleared.
How Does Polk City Compare?
- Visas - The process to get a U.S. Visa can take up to four months. Start planning early and be prepared for paperwork, an in-person interview, and a list of all the social media accounts you've used for the past five years. You will only need your visa at the airports, not to get around the different Iowa cities.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. There are places to get currency exchanged in Des Moines, but don't wait until you get to Polk City as options are limited.
- Weather - Layer up in the winter. The wind chill here can get dangerously cold and the valleys of the lakes can make it feel like you're in Alaska. Spring and fall can have cold mornings and evenings, so bring layers of clothing to adapt as the temperatures rise and fall. Be sure you have sturdy hiking boots and plenty of electrolytes for your water in the summer. You will sweat a lot here. You might want some cleansing wipes too, so you can clean up after being in lake water if a shower isn't available.
- Airports - Des Moines International Airport is 20 miles south of Polk City. It should take about 35 minutes to get there, but that's without traffic. Plan for an hour just to be safe.
- Travel Insurance - It's a smart idea to get travel insurance for your trip and your rental car to protect against severe weather and unexpected issues on the road.
Polk City Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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