Rathbun Lake

Quick Facts

Rathbun Lake

Iowa

(641) 647-2464

Map Directions

Things To Do

Overview

Over 700 campsites are available at this 11,000-acre lake in the rolling hills of southern Iowa. Excellent fishing, hunting, sailing, state fish hatchery, and Restaurant and Inn, are major attractions.

Map of Rathbun Lake

Latitude, Longitude: 40.855890, -92.930260

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Activities

  • Boating

    Whether power boating or sailing, Rathbun Lake, also known as Iowa's Ocean, has something to offer for all.

    Power boaters on Rathbun Lake will enjoy the large main body of the lake on calm days for water skiing on its glass like surface. If the wind blows too hard, the Buck Creek, Honey Creek and South Fork arms of the lake offer protection from rough water.

    Sail boaters can find plenty of room to maneuver on Rathbun Lake's nine-mile fetch of open water on the main body of the lake. The size of the lake combined with the prevailing winds make Rathbun Lake one of the best sailing lakes in Iowa.

    Marinas at both ends of the lake - Buck Creek Marina on the east end and South Fork on the west - provide fuel mooring facilities and other supplies. Day use fees are required for launching at Corps managed boat ramps.

  • Bicycling

    Please call the main phone number for more information.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Please call the main phone number for more information.

  • Camping

    Seven campgrounds are conveniently located around Rathbun Lake. The Corps manages five of these campgrounds Buck Creek, Prairie Ridge, Bridge View, Island View, and Rolling Cove Parks. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages Honey Creek campground. A private concessionaire manages the South Fork and Buck Creek Marina campgrounds.

    User fees are charged for camping in parks that the Corps of Engineers operates. The amount of the fee is based on the type of facilities provided.

    Campgrounds contain level campsites, many with electrical hookups, lantern hanging posts, picnic tables, and fire rings. Shower buildings, sanitary dump stations, playgrounds, and fish cleaning stations are located in most parks. Please click on campground specific information for a complete list of amenities and fees for each campground.

    Entrance stations are located at most campgrounds and all campgrounds are patrolled routinely by Park Rangers and Appanoose County Sheriff's Deputies.

  • Fishing

    Rathbun Lake is an 11,000-acre lake that provides a variety of fishing opportunities for any angler. This primarily includes crappie, channel catfish, walleye, and large mouth bass. The gently rolling hills of the Chariton River valley surround this southeast Iowa Lake, and provide a wide possibility of camping opportunities while visiting the area. All of the major parks offer boat ramp access to the lake with shower houses, many sites offer electricity.

    The Rathbun Fish Hatchery is located below the main dam, and is a warm-water fish hatchery. That is, the fish would grow best between 50 and 90 degrees F. The hatchery is designed to raise channel catfish, walleye, saugeye (a hybrid walleye/sauger cross) and largemouth bass. Fish produced at the Rathbun Hatchery are stocked statewide.

    Visitors are welcome at the hatchery. Tours of the visiting facilities are generally made on a self-guided basis. Employee-guided tours for large groups can be scheduled. Visiting hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Fishing for crappie is very popular on Rathbun Lake. The best time to fish for crappie is in the spring, when they become shore-bound due to spawning. Walleye fishing is at its peak from the first part of June until the end of July. Trolling artificial lures is one of the more productive methods to fish for walleye. White bass are caught on a variety of spoons, jigs and plugs. Look for large schools of these fish to break the surface when they feed. Channel catfish becomes most productive from the end of June until September and are caught through out the lake. Largemouth bass fishing is best from late April through the middle of June and again during late September and October.

  • Hiking

    Many Rathbun Lake visitors have shown a growing interest in land based recreation activities. "Off the beaten path" opportunities may be found in the designated trails located on public lands adjacent to Rathbun Lake. Rathbun North Shore Trail

    Currently under construction, the Rathbun North Shore Trail will consist of an 8.5 mile surfaced trail that will connect Prairie Ridge Park to Honey Creek Resort State Park. Designed for hiking and biking, the trail will offer vistas of the lake and tours through Southern Iowa prairie and woodlands. The trail is expected to be completed in 2011.

  • Historic Sites

    Rathbun Lake was dedicated July 31, 1971 with President Richard Nixon being the keynote speaker. Iowa Governor Robert Ray, Senator Jack Miller and Congressman John Kyl also attended the dedication.

    The construction of Rathbun Dam and Reservoir was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1954 (Public Law 83-780). Construction of the dam and embankment began in September 1964. Operation as a multi-purpose unit began November 1969 and the top of multi-purpose pool (904 msl) was reached on October 10, 1970.

    Rathbun Lake Pioneers (people who were dedicated in establishing Rathbun Dam) are honored north of the Rathbun Lake Visitor Center with stone markers and trees.

  • Hunting

    Rathbun Lake offers many opportunities for a variety of game. Deer, pheasant, quail, turkey, duck, geese, rabbit and squirrel may be found on public hunting lands.

    The north side of Rathbun Lake has more wooded areas and blocks of timber than the south side. The oak-hickory stands of the north side provide excellent habitat for turkey, deer and squirrel. The south shore of the lake has more areas of warm season grass and smaller woodlots. Upland species such as pheasant and quail are hunted here.

    Waterfowl hunters can take advantage of the six marshes located on the two forks of the lake. Consult the Rathbun Lake brochure for hunting and refuge areas.

    Most hunting accidents occur because of improper gun handling. Hunters swinging on game and hunters mistaken for game are two of the most common accidents. The wearing of blaze orange and Hunter Education training can reduce the chances of being involved in an accident.

    Iowa law requires that any hunter born after January 1, 1972 must complete a Hunter Education course before they can obtain an Iowa hunting license.

  • Off Highway Vehicles

    Rathbun Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Park

    Rathbun Lake has Southern Iowa's only Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Park. Access to the area is approximately 3 miles south of Bridge View Park on Highway S70. Located on the south bank of the South Fork Chariton River, the area encompasses nearly 125 acres in an abandoned rock quarry on government land.

    The Rathbun OHV Park is maintained by the volunteers of the South Central Dirt Riders ATV club. The Iowa DNR provides financial support through the disbursement of ATV Registration fees to the club.

    The area is open to the public year round. Vehicles are limited to motorcycles and small all-terrain vehicles. Full size vehicles are prohibited on the trails.

    Regulations require helmets, mufflers, and current Iowa ORV registration. ORV registration can be obtained at county recorder's offices.

    Iowa law states a person under eighteen years of age shall not operate an all-terrain vehicle on public land or land purchased with all-terrain vehicle registration funds in this state without obtaining a valid safety certificate issued by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and having the certificate in the person's possession.

    To check on park open/closed status go to the Iowa OHV Website at: www.iowaohv.com . For additional information, please go to the IOWA DNR ATV Website

  • Picnicking

    The picnic shelters in the parks surrounding Rathbun Lake are available on a first come first serve basis. However, these shelters can be reserved for that family reunion or large group outing. In addition to picnic shelters group camp areas can also be reserved.

    Individual picnic area sites are also available through out Rathbun Lake parks on a first come first serve basis.

    The Corps of Engineers Park shelters can be reserved by going to www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.

    Reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance.

    The three picnic shelters in Honey Creek State Park may also be reserved by calling 1-877-iaparks (877-427-2757) or on the web at: www.reserveiaparks.com.

  • RVing

    Seven campgrounds are conveniently located around Rathbun Lake. The Corps manages five of these campgrounds Buck Creek, Prairie Ridge, Bridge View, Island View, and Rolling Cove Parks. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages Honey Creek campground. A private concessionaire manages the South Fork and Buck Creek Marina campgrounds.

    User fees are charged for camping in parks that the Corps of Engineers operates. The amount of the fee is based on the type of facilities provided.

    Campgrounds contain level campsites, many with electrical hookups, lantern hanging posts, picnic tables, and fire rings. Shower buildings, sanitary dump stations, playgrounds, and fish cleaning stations are located in most parks. Please click on campground specific information for a complete list of amenities and fees for each campground.

    Entrance stations are located at most campgrounds and all campgrounds are patrolled routinely by Park Rangers and Appanoose County Sheriff's Deputies.

  • Water Sports

    The safest places to swim at Rathbun Lake are designated swimming beaches. There are three designated swimming beaches located at Rathbun Lake. Two are located in Buck Creek Park, and one is located in Island View Park. Designated beaches are designed and constructed to eliminate hazards and underwater obstructions. These beaches are buoyed each summer to delineate the usable portion and to exclude boats. These beaches also have parking, change houses and vault toilets. The Island View 5 beach has a volleyball net for beach users.

    At Rathbun Lake, day user fees are charged at all three designated swimming beaches maintained by the Corps of Engineers. Several areas at Rathbun Lake are permanently closed to swimming because of their inherent risks. The whirlpool in front of Rathbun's control tower and the heavy boat traffic at the boat ramps, courtesy docks, and the marina boat mooring facilities make those areas too hazardous for safe swimming.

  • Winter Sports

    Snowmobile Trail

    Thirty-five miles of varied terrain of the lake's north shore is available for snowmobile use. The trail includes bridges across draws and access to the project's natural areas. The trail is mown once per year in the fall. Trail-heads are in Buck Creek and Honey Creek State Park with other access points along the way.

    The Rathbun snowmobile trail is maintained by the volunteers of the Rathbun Snow Riders snowmobile club. For trail conditions, contact their website at: http://www.rathbunsnowriders.com/home.html. The Iowa DNR provides financial support through the disbursement of snowmobile registration fees.

Directions

Driving

From Des Moines, 85 mi SE on IA 5.

Phone Numbers

Primary

(641) 647-2464

Links