Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Okoboji, IA

  • Published 2023/02/27

Okoboji is known throughout Iowa as an excellent summer vacation destination.

There are tons of reasons for people to come back to this small lakeside city in Dickinson County, mainly its natural sceneries and outdoor activities.

This small city on the shores of West Okoboji Lake is a popular tourist destination in Iowa that would make for a perfect short vacation.

Besides being adjacent to West Okoboji Lake, this city is gaining popularity mainly because of its vintage-style attractions, including its old amusement park and classic comfort food.

It also embraces trendy activities for the current generation.

Okoboji is full of surprises, awaiting many visitors who decide to vacation there.

Of course, its main attractions are the majestic glacier-carved lakes full of outdoor recreation.

To give you a broader idea of what awaits you in this small city in Iowa, here are the 20 best things to do in Okoboji, IA:

Witness the Beauty of the West Okoboji Lake

Beautiful sunset over West Okoboji Lake

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West Okoboji Lake spans more than 3,800 acres of 15.57 square kilometers.

This vast natural body of water is one of the most famous destinations in Iowa because of its pristine blue waters and outdoor recreation.

West Okoboji Lake is part of the Iowa Great Lakes and was once the home of the Dakota Sioux or the Santee people.

Upon arriving at Okoboji, you should first head to the West Okoboji Lake and marvel at its majesty.

A dock at West Okoboji Lake

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Because of its natural beauty, this lake has appeared in various myths as one of the world’s three blue water lakes.

The others are Lake Louise in Canada and Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

Aside from its beauty, West Okoboji Lake is famous for swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and water skiing.

If you’re a seasoned angler, you’ll surely get the catch of a lifetime, thanks to the abundance of fish in this lake.

West Okoboji Lake is abundant in bluegill, yellow perch, and walleye.

Sunset at West Okoboji Lake

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Explore the Charming East Okoboji Lake

Your itinerary in Okoboji will involve lots of lakes.

One of the best lakes you need to visit is the East Okoboji Lake which spans more than 1,800 acres and is also a part of the Iowa Great Lakes.

Similar to West Okoboji Lake, this one also became the home of the Eastern Dakota Sioux or the Santee people back in the day.

Compared to West Okoboji Lake, this one offers a more tranquil experience since it is less crowded than the former.

In addition, it’s also one of the most preferred residential areas in Okoboji, so expect a mixture of commercial and residential properties there.

Besides its tranquil ambiance, East Okoboji Lake is also an excellent place for outdoor activities like boating, swimming, and fishing.

See the Pearson Lakes Art Center

The Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji is a magnificent place to visit.

This remarkable place features five galleries, an outdoor sculpture trail, and a 288-seat theatre.

Not to mention, Pearson Lakes Art Center is a place of learning.

It is equipped with multiple classrooms, a culinary arts kitchen, and a clay room for those who want to hone their craft.

If you’re looking for a place to witness the local arts scene of Okoboji, head to Pearson Lakes Art Center.

There are numerous art exhibits, events, and live performances regularly happening at this place which are genuinely worthwhile.

So, add this art center to your itinerary in Okoboji.

Swim at Pikes Point State Park

If you’re searching for another excellent swimming spot in West Okoboji Lake, just head to Pikes Point State Park.

This attraction has a trendy swim platform within the beach’s swimming area, where most people love to jump on.

Besides its famous beach, Pikes Point State Park offers many outdoor recreation opportunities.

Aside from swimming, people also camp there while others head to the Gull Point Lodge to have a more comfortable stay.

In addition, hiking is a trendy outdoor activity that you mustn’t miss.

It boasts more than two miles of trail meandering through the West Okoboji Lake.

Visit the Dickinson County Nature Center

The Dickenson County Nature Center is a spectacular place to visit in Okoboji if you’re fascinated with its history and local flora and fauna.

The nature center features year-round educational programs for the environment, where visitors follow various trails featuring the local wildlife of Dickinson County.

During your tour, you’ll come across an osprey nest cam, a butterfly house, an indoor beehive, and native gardens.

In addition, the Dickinson County Nature Center has an art gallery featuring the beautiful artworks of Okoboji’s local artists.

It also has a kids’ play area with a science theme, where they can play their hearts out while learning something.

Hike or Bike along Okoboji’s Lakes

View of lake okoboji from Gull Point State Park

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One of the best ways to experience Okoboji’s natural beauty is to go out and explore it either on foot or on a bike.

You should include hiking or biking on your itinerary and explore more than 60 miles of scenic trails along the shores of Okoboji’s famous lakes.

Besides passing through these lakes, you’ll also traverse gorgeous parks, making your outdoor adventure more worthwhile.

A dock at Gull Point State Park

Jacob Boomsma /

Some of the parks you’ll pass through are Elinor Bedell State Park, Gull Point State Park, Venue Park, etc.

While getting there, you can rest and appreciate their natural beauty before continuing your journey.

Of course, there are more hidden gems in Okoboji along the way waiting to be discovered.

Lakeshore at Okoboji

David S Mohn /

Join a Boat Cruise at the Okoboji Boat Works Marina Boating

For a memorable experience during your visit to Okoboji, hop on a boat and cruise through the sparkling waters of the West Okoboji Lake.

If you find this experience worthwhile, head to the Original Okoboji Boat Works marina and join other tourists on a boat cruise through the West Okoboji Lake.

This company is famous throughout Dickinson County for boat rentals, boat tours, and extreme water sports rentals.

You can rent various water vessels such as kayaks, paddle boats, water skis, wave runners, and jet skis if you want more adventure.

The Okoboji Boat Works Marina is the only remaining marina in West Lake Okoboji.

It started in 1890 and still operates up to this day, featuring seasonal and daily boat slip rentals.

Play Mini Golf at the Ranch Okoboji

The Ranch Okoboji features old-style wholesome entertainment for the family.

Around three acres, its entire vicinity is home to a famous 18-hole outdoor miniature golf course that has a “Wizard of Oz” theme.

Ranch Okoboji is the best place to go if you’re searching for wholesome entertainment in Okoboji.

Besides its outdoor miniature golf course, Ranch Okoboji also features a sand volleyball court, horseshoe court, bocce ball court, and a kid’s playground.

After a tiring but enjoyable experience playing miniature golf, head to the ranch’s clubhouse and treat yourself or your family to delicious food on its menu.

Unwind at the Famous Barefoot Bar at Okoboji

Before you return home, make sure to unwind at the Barefoot Bar at Okoboji.

Okoboji, in general, has many excellent restaurants and bars to unwind.

However, Barefoot Bar is an exceptional place you shouldn’t miss visiting.

This famous bar in Okoboji is on the Parks Marine, beside the lake.

It offers guests a cozy atmosphere paired with good music, delicious food, and refreshing cocktails.

If you have kids with you, don’t worry, you can drop them off at the kids’ playground while you unwind at the restaurant.

Get Challenged at Okoboji Gold Disc Golf Course

Okoboji Gold Disc Golf Course is one of the most interesting disc golf courses in Iowa, boasting unique landscaping that makes it both challenging and fun.

In particular, the disc golf course has varying distances that can reach almost 1000 feet, making this a must-try for avid disc golfers.

With so many long holes to experience, this can easily take up your whole day, which is not a bad thing given the amazing scenery you’ll see along the way.

Okoboji Gold Disc Golf Course is also a great place to do picnics and strolling, making it a great all-rounder if you’re visiting with non-disc golfers.

Visit the Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes

Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes is an interesting attraction in Okoboji that deserves a spot in your itinerary, especially if you’re an avid fan of history.

Open since 1978, this museum is named after William R. Higgins who was an avid collector of currency, ranging from crowns to paper money that made him one of the most prominent currency collectors.

As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated for commemorative paper money that pays tribute all the way to the landing of Christopher Columbus.

There are also illustrations you can see here that depict the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Known as the museum with the largest collection of national bank note issues, this is a great addition to your itinerary.

Find it along Sanborn Avenue.

Play Sports at Speier Park

Also located along Sanborn Avenue lies Speier Park, one of the best places to play sports in Okoboji.

They have a ton of great facilities here, most prominently tennis courts, basketball courts, and playgrounds.

Locals actually utilize Speier Park to play tournaments in these sports, so it’s a great place to catch a game.

Even if you’re not into sports, this is also a popular park for picnics and letting kids enjoy the fun playgrounds.

Speier Park is one of the oldest parks in Okoboji, so give this icon a visit if you have spare time.

Have a Scenic Time with Your Family at Hattie Elston State Park

If you’re looking for a lakeside park to spend some quality time with your family, you can’t go wrong at Hattie Elston State Park.

It’s a little open area where you can experience the eastern side of Okoboji Lake, complete with amenities that are geared towards families with young children.

There’s a unique play structure here that’s sure to keep toddlers occupied, and there’s plenty of benches and walking trails as well.

Hattie Elston State Park also doubles as a boat ramp, so it’s a great place to launch your canoe or kayak if you brought one along with you.

You can access this picturesque spot at the end of Sanborn Avenue.

Hunt for Unique Items at Antiques of Okoboji

Antiques of Okoboji Antiques is a perfect place to hunt for gifts and souvenirs.

It’s a small antique store that’s brimming with all sorts of things that you can imagine, most of which are vintage that date back to the 19th and 20th Century.

It’s a fun experience rummaging through their overflowing displays, each offering a unique aesthetic that might fit your tastes as a gift.

If you’re looking for a rustic indoor spot to take photos of, Antiques of Okoboji also has a nice ambiance for photography.

Just a stone’s throw away from Hattie Elston State Park, this is a fun little activity that you can add to your itinerary.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Spend Your Day at Arnold’s Amusement Park

Aerial view of Arnold's Amusement Park

Jacob Boomsma /

Arnold’s Amusement Park is the only amusement park in Okoboji.

However, it’s more than just your typical amusement park.

The amusement park has restaurants, museums, miniature golf courses, shops, and a farmer’s market.

It’s like a town of its own where everyone can enjoy a magical experience.

Rides at Arnold's Amusement Park

Jacob Boomsma /

Kids and adults can enjoy more than 30 rides, including the famous vintage wooden roller coaster named “Legend.”

Those who want a more relaxing experience should head to the farmer’s market, where they can purchase local produce, artisanal food, and gift items.

Arnold’s Amusement Park truly offers an unforgettable experience that you shouldn’t miss in Okoboji.

This amusement park is along Lake St, Arnolds Park.

A girl posing in front of the games at Arnold's Amusement Park

Jacob Boomsma /

Dive into the Crystal-Clear Waters of the Gull Point State Park & Beach

Welcome sign of Gull Point State Park & Beach

Jacob Boomsma /

If you’re yearning to have a worthwhile swim, head to the Gull Point State Park & Beach on the shores of West Okoboji Lake.

It has a unique setting of a charming crystal-clear lake, which offers a beautiful outdoor recreation for everyone.

This famous outdoor attraction in Okoboji is in Harpen St, Milford.

The waters of Gull Point State Park & Beach

Jacob Boomsma /

It boasts an excellent place for everyone to have a quality sunbathing and swimming experience.

Besides its top-notch swimming experience, people love to visit Gull Point State Park and Beach because of its excellent fishing opportunity.

On the other hand, boating and other water sports activities are very famous in this attraction.

In addition, you can also camp there for the night or traverse its 1.3-kilometer scenic trail, where you’ll come across various local wildlife.

Step Back in Time at Arnold’s Park Museum

Arnold’s Park Museum is famous for its unique history featuring old school toys and rides.

This museum within Arnold’s Amusement Park features old funhouse toys and school rides such as the sugar bowl, barrel rides, etc.

Likewise, it features vintage pinball machines and other interactive activities that highlight what the toys and fun rides back in the day were.

Overall, it offers a wholesome experience for your loved ones or perhaps your travel buddies.

Take a Dip in the Boji Splash Indoor Waterpark

Boji Splash Indoor Water Park is a trendy indoor attraction in Arnolds Park.

Take your travel buddies or family with you to visit Boji Splash Indoor Water Park and enjoy its incredible water features: a massive swimming pool, lazy river, slides, splash pads, etc.

Your kids will indeed have fun because of its pirate-themed features, equipped with water cannons, which will keep them occupied the entire day.

Boji Splash Indoor Water Park is an excellent place to visit if you’re not in the mood to go outdoors.

So, don’t forget to check out this indoor water park when you’re in Okoboji.

Explore the Maritime Museum

Vintage motor collection in Maritime Museum

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Inside Arnold’s Amusement Park, the Maritime Museum is a fascinating place to learn history in Okoboji.

It features rare artifacts used in the Iowa Great Lakes maritime industry back in the day.

A motor displayed in Maritime Museum

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While exploring this museum, you’ll come across a rare collection of vintage maritime equipment, antique wooden boats, and other fascinating stuff.

Whether you’re a history buff or an average visitor, the Maritime Museum in Arnold’s Amusement Park offers a genuine experience for everyone.

Enjoy a Wonderful Picnic at the Emerson Bay State Park

Another outdoor attraction you don’t want to miss in Okoboji is the Emerson Bay State Park in Wahpeton.

It is the top-notch camping and picnic area in Dickinson County, accessible to other outdoor attractions.

You don’t need to go to other places because Emerson Bay State Park has everything you want.

Emerson Bay State Park has a sandy beach with crystal clear waters of the West Okoboji Lake.

In addition, it has a vast recreation area, a picnic ground, and a playground.

You and your loved ones will surely enjoy spending a day or two at this camping ground while being mesmerized by the spectacular scenery at West Okoboji Lake.

Final Thoughts

Okoboji is popular throughout Iowa because of its majestic lakes, but its shoreside communities feature a unique travel experience for everyone.

Okoboji is full of surprises, especially for those who love the outdoors.

However, there are also exciting things and places to visit for those who want a more relaxing experience in this famous vacation destination in Iowa.

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