Emerson Bay State Recreation Area is a favorite destination in the Okoboji area for countless reasons! It attracts visitors to the Iowa Great Lakes Region with its fantastic views and outdoor activities. So, whether you want to go fishing, boating, take a refreshing dip, camp under the stars, or indulge in a picnic, Emerson Bay has it all. Don’t miss out!
Table of Contents
- About Emerson Bay State Recreation Area
- A brief history of Emerson Bay
- Things to do at Emerson Bay State Recreation Area
- Emerson Bay State Recreation Area Campground
- Things to do nearby
- Visit Emerson Bay State Recreation Area today!
About Emerson Bay State Recreation Area
Emerson Bay is a 12-acre park on West Lake Okoboji’s southwest shores. Its ideal location makes it a haven for camping and water recreation and a quintessential Iowa vacation getaway!
- 82 campsites
- Boat ramp
- Modern restrooms/showers
- Observation tower
- Picnic tables and shelter
- Paved trail and hiking trail nearby
A brief history of Emerson Bay
Emerson Bay derives its name from the 19th-century homestead of Tom Emerson, which once occupied this location.
In the early 1900s, the area between Emerson Bay and Miller’s Bay became known as Lakewood Park. During that time, canals were dredged to develop waterways into an “American Venice.” The canals were dug, today known as the Canals of Wahpeton. But the intended development didn’t come to fruition.1
Around the same time, a new beach on Emerson Bay became a popular spot for visitors and locals to spend a day lakeside.
Progress continued in the 1930s when the area north of Emerson Bay was developed into Gull Point State Park. However, Emerson Bay State Recreation Area didn’t get developed until the 1970s & 80s.
The park was renovated in 2012-13 to improve water access and modernize the campground.2
Today, the park remains popular as ever, drawing thousands seasonally to the lakeshores to boat, camp, swim, fish, and more!
Things to do at Emerson Bay State Recreation Area
Emerson Bay’s campground is one of the most in-demand campgrounds around – for good reason! The modern campground is close to everything in the Okoboji area, with lake access, a beach, and more. For more details, see the campground section below!
The boat launch at Emerson Bay is a popular spot, especially during peak season! Its convenient access to West Okoboji Lake and plenty of trailer parking make it ideal for boaters.
Also, many folks launch kayaks from here and head north to access the Canals of Wahpeton.
The Iowa Great Lakes region is the most popular fishing destination in the state! Between the wide variety of fish species and pristine lake waters, it’s an excellent spot for anglers of all ages and skill levels.
And with its boat launch and shoreline access, Emerson Bay makes an excellent spot to fish by boat or shore.
• Visit the beach
The swimming beach is a popular place to spend the day cooling off in the clear lake waters of West Okoboji Lake! And several picnic tables next to the beach make the ideal place for a beachside picnic.
The beach is on the park’s northeast edge (right by the boat ramp). Please note there is no lifeguard on duty. Swim at your own risk.
A large picnic area near the beach provides fantastic lake views, a playground, and lots of green space!
And if you have a large group, consider reserving the lakeside picnic shelter at Emerson Bay Light House Point. It’s on the park’s north side next to the observation tower.
• Kayak or canoe
Launch your kayak or canoe at Emerson Bay to paddle along the shoreline of West Okoboji. Or head north along the shoreline to paddle the Canals of Wahpeton.
Access the canals at Crescent Beach Resort. Turn right to Turtle Lake, then left at Turtle Lake to paddle under a couple of bridges to the canals. You can loop around the canals or go straight into Millers Bay.
See this article for more on paddling in the Okoboji area.
• Access nearby trails
The Iowa Great Lakes Recreation Trail runs just west of the park. It’s the perfect trail for a stroll or bike ride throughout the Okoboji area. Note that it has bike lanes along the highway in some spots; see a trail map here.
And the Barney Peterson Memorial Trail is an interpretive hiking trail in Gull Point State Park, just north of Emerson Bay. The 1½ mile trail is a great place to explore the woods and see the canals.
Emerson Bay State Recreation Area Campground
Modern amenities, lake access, shade, and proximity to so many fun activities in the Okoboji area – like Arnolds Park – make the Emerson Bay campground one of the most popular in the state. Luckily, the campsites are all reservable – so book your site early and enjoy! See the campground details below.
- 82 campsites; 58 electric, 24 full hookups (all reservable)
- Gravel pads; back in
- Modern restrooms/showers
- Dump station on site
- Boat ramp
- Beach nearby
- See the campground map here.
Things to do nearby
Kayak or canoe through the Canals of Wahpeton. The canals are just north of Emerson Bay. See our article on kayaking and canoeing in Okoboji for more information.
Fishing! The Iowa Great Lakes are ideal for fishing and are considered the best in Iowa. Anglers can fish by boat or shore for many fish species, including Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Bluegill, Bullhead, Walleye, Yellow Perch, Crappie, and more!
Nearby trails include the Iowa Great Lakes Recreation Trail and Barney Peterson Memorial Trail. The paved Iowa Great Lakes Trail is just west of the park and the perfect path for a stroll or bike ride in the Okoboji area (see a trail map here). Barney Peterson Memorial Trail is a hiking trail in Gull Point State Park, just north of Emerson Bay.
Gull Point State Park is just one mile north of Emerson Bay, also on the western shore of West Okoboji Lake. Enjoy hiking, boating, camping, picnicking, and more at this scenic lakeside park.
Emerson Bay is 4.5 short miles from Arnolds Park and other Okoboji attractions! In other words, more beaches, an amusement park, restaurants, and other lakeside activities are nearby!
Other nearby parks include Pikes Point State Park, Elinor Bedell State Park, and Lower Gar State Recreation Area. And on Big Spirit Lake, check out Templar State Recreation Area, Marble Beach State Recreation Area, and Mini-Wakan State Park.
Visit Emerson Bay State Recreation Area today!
Find Emerson Bay at 3100 Emerson St, Milford, IA 51351.
1. Elston, H. P. (1933, February 9). Dream of Modern Venice on Okoboji. Arnolds Park News, 8. https://dickinson.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=lakewood%20park&i=f&d=01011870-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=spirit_lake_beacon_usa_iowa_spirit_lake_19330209_english_8&df=11&dt=20
2. Hurley, B. (2012, November 7). Renovation of Emerson Bay Campground Nears Completion. Dickinson County News, 2. https://dickinson.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=emerson%20bay%20renovation&i=f&d=01011870-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=dickinson_county_news_usa_iowa_spirit_lake_20121107_english_2&df=1&dt=10