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Six Local State Parks, Lakes, & Forests to Explore

Lake Rathbun

The Iowa South region is proud to be home to five state parks and one state forest, all with lake access for summer fun and winter adventures. Which will you visit first?

Honey Creek State Park/Lake Rathbun

Honest Creek State Park is located on Lake Rathburn, making it an ideal summertime destination. The 828-acre park features camping (RV and tent), cabin rentals, trails, and picnicking spots. Lake activities include sailboating, power boating, water skiing, and fishing. The lake is home to crappie, walleye, and channel catfish. 

If camping and cabin rentals aren’t quite your thing, Honey Creek Resort is not far from the park and offers lodging via guest rooms and luxury cottages.

Lacey Keosauqua State Park

Lacey Keosauqua State Park offers locals and visitors a wide range of outdoor activities. The lake is open for swimming, boating (limited to electric motors only), and fishing. Fishing can also be done in the Des Moines River which borders the park to the north.

Park activities include camping (RV and tent), cabin rentals, hiking, and wildlife observing. The park is home to deer, raccoons, opossums, foxes, and a variety of birds. Bring a camera and practice your nature photography on the trail!

The park is also home to a Scenic Drive Festival that occurs the second weekend of October, celebrating its beautiful fall colors and white oak forest.

History enthusiasts will want to visit to see a Woodland Culture Indian sacred location of 19 burial mounds overlooking the Des Moines River. Learn more on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

Lake Keomah State Park

Deer can be spotted at Lake Keomah State Park

Just outside Oskaloosa is Lake Keomah State Park. The lake is home to crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, and channel catfish making it popular with fishermen throughout the spring and summer and even in the winter for ice fishing. Summer activities include relaxing and playing at the park’s swimming beach and boating (electric motors only). 

Locals and visitors can enjoy the park’s grounds with picnics, camping (RV and tent), hiking, and snowmobiling in the winter. Bird watchers can enjoy moments with blue herons and quail.

Lake Wapello State Park

The Iowa DNR refers to Lake Wapello as one of “southern Iowa’s best-kept secrets.” We couldn’t agree more. The park offers a quieter and more relaxing atmosphere than some of the other state parks. 

The lake is mainly used for swimming and paddling activities. While motorboats are allowed at any size, they cannot exceed 5 mph on the lake which may not be ideal for some boaters but offers a more peaceful park experience for those looking for it.

During the summer, the Lake Wapello Baithouse is open for paddleboat, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and john boat rentals. Fishing supplies, beach games, food, and drinks are also available making this a great spot to spend a day in the sun, especially with kids.

In addition to lake activities, the park offers picnicking, camping (RV and tent), cabin rentals, hiking, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling.

Red Haw State Park

In Chariton, Red Haw State Park sits scenically around Red Haw Lake. The lake offers swimming, boating (only electric trolling motors), and fishing opportunities. The lake is known as one of the state’s “premier panfish lakes,” home to bluegills, crappies, catfish, and bass. 

This state park is open for hunting with a separate 229 acres of the park dedicated to the sport. Other activities include camping (RV and tent), hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and picnicking. The park is popular with bird watchers, with 228 species identified, including warblers and loons.

Visitors will want to check out the park's stone shelter, complete with a fireplace, built by Civilian Conservation Corps nearly 100 years ago.

Local Tip: Lyle Asell, chair of Tourism Lucas County, recommends visiting the park in the springtime. "The redbuds wait all winter to put on a spectacular show each spring at Red Haw State Park," he says. "The pink blooms, reflecting off of the 70-acre lake, are a crowd favorite." Lyle encourages visitors and residents to also explore city-owned lakes in the region such as Morris Lake, Ellis Lake, and Lake Sugema. To learn more about recreation in Lucas County specifically, visit the Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street website and view their tourism guide.

Shimek State Forest

The only state forest on the list, Shimek is 9,448 acres made up of five forest units: Lick Creek, Farmington, Donnelson, Croton, and Keosauqua.

Across the five units, locals and visitors can enjoy horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, camping, picnicking, fishing, and hunting thanks to 60 miles of trails and four small lakes. In the lakes, bluegill, channel catfish, bass, and redear sunfish can be found.

Regardless of your chosen activity, be on the lookout for the wildlife that calls the forest home, including deer, foxes, beavers, a wide variety of birds, and more. Snap a photo if you’re quick enough but remember to always stay a respectful distance away from native wildlife.

Time to Get Outdoors

While many of these parks offer similar activities, each one offers a unique feel and experience. With so much space to explore, you’re sure to have a different adventure every time you visit a park, from sailboating on Lake Rathbun to ice fishing on Lake Keomah to bird watching at Red Haw. Happy exploring!

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Featured Counties

Appanoose, Lucas, Mahaska, Van Buren, Wapello

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