Lake Darling State Park is a beautiful 1400-acre park in southeast Iowa, with tons of outdoor activities for everyone! The 302-acre lake is a favorite for boating, beach-going, fishing, and hiking. But there’s so much more! From the campground and cabins to the lodge and winter activities, there’s no shortage of fun things to do.
Table of Contents
- Things To Do at Lake Darling State Park
- Lake Darling State Park Campground & Cabins
- Things to do nearby
- Visit Lake Darling State Park Today!
The person behind the park’s name
Lake Darling got its name from Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. He was an Iowa conservationist, a National Wildlife Federation founder, and a famous cartoonist!
Mr. Darling was a cartoonist for the Des Moines Register and The New York Herald. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for Editorial Cartooning (in 1924 & 1943). And he received the Audubon Medal for distinguished service in conservation in 1960.1,2
The park was dedicated during a ceremony honoring Mr. Darling in 1950.
Things To Do at Lake Darling State Park
When it comes to hiking, there’s something for everyone at Lake Darling! Several trails offer short, easy hikes to long, moderate treks.
A 1½ -mile paved trail is on the south lakeshore near the beach and fishing pier. And four soft-surfaced loop trails (.5 – 1.8 miles) are on the south and east sides of the lake.
Take the thirteen-mile loop trail surrounding the lake for an extended hiking adventure! It traverses diverse habitats, including shorelines, prairie, woodlands, and wetlands. The path is grass and gravel and also open to mountain bikes, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiles.
Bring your own boat or rent one at park concessions!* Rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and paddleboats from the boathouse near the beach.
Two boat ramps are available on the south lakeshore. One is near the fishing pier and beach, and the other is just west of the beach, near the campground and cabins.
*Personal watercraft and motorboats are allowed, but motorboats must operate at “no wake” speeds (<5mph). Concessions are open Memorial Day through Labor Day, Friday through Sunday.
Fishing is one of the top activities at this park for good reason! Easy access and many fishing spots make it the perfect place to go fishing.
Fish from shore or boat at the big lake, or head to one of twenty stocked retention ponds! Find the accessible fishing pier near the beach and several fishing jetties around the lake for easy access to the shore.
Anglers catch various fish species, from bluegill and crappie to catfish and largemouth bass, and more!
Spend a day at the beach.
Rent a boat, sunbathe, or relax and enjoy the scenic views at Lake Darling’s beach! A paved trail, playground, fishing pier, and concessions are all right there!
Go camping or rent a cabin.
Lake Darling is a great place for a getaway. And visitors have several options for overnight stays, from full hookups and tent sites to camping cabins and newer modern cabins! See the campground and cabin section below for details.
Have a picnic
Lake Darling State Park is the perfect place for a picnic, large or small! Several picnic areas are throughout the park, as well as reservable open-air picnic shelters and an event lodge!
Host an event at the park lodge.
The beautiful day-use lodge near the beach is the ideal place for an event! Scenic lake views, high beam ceilings, a fireplace, and a patio set the scene for a great event. The lodge has a capacity of 200 people and can be reserved up to a year in advance through Reserve America.
Winter activities at Lake Darling State Park
Lake Darling is the perfect park for year-round fun! So, rent a cozy cabin and head outdoors to experience an excellent Iowa winter getaway.
Six modern two-bedroom cabins are available year-round, ADA accessible, and sleep up to six guests. They’re perfect for warming up after a day on the winter trails!
Speaking of trails, the trails at Lake Darling are open to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in winter.
Map source: Iowa DNR/Lake Darling State Park
Lake Darling State Park Campground & Cabins
Lake Darling has full hookup, electric, and non-electric campsites, camping cabins, and modern cabins for rent. All overnight options are reservable through Reserve America.
- 80 campsites: 51 electric, 15 full hookups, 14 non-electric, & youth group site
- Modern restrooms/showers
- Dump station on site
- Near the boat ramp and two loop trails, and close to the lake/beach
- Five camping cabins
- Sleeps four
- Covered patio
- Heat and A/C
- Microwave and dorm fridge
- Guests supply linens and towels
- No kitchen or bathroom/shower (find bathrooms at the nearby campground)
- Six modern family cabins
- Two bedrooms; sleep up to six
- Heat and A/C
- Bathroom and full kitchen
- Guests supply linens and towels
- Large covered deck
Things to do nearby
The town of Fairfield is 16 miles south of Lake Darling and is a good place for shopping, restaurants, and more. Also, consider a stop at the Maharishi Vedic Observatory, where you can see what ancient cultures used to observe the sun, planets, and stars.
Visit Mt. Pleasant during Labor Day week for the popular Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. Also, consider a stop at several museums, like the Old Threshers Museum and the Harlan Lincoln House. Mt. Pleasant is about 30 miles southeast of Lake Darling.
Lacey Keosauqua State Park is about an hour south of Lake Darling and a beautiful park to experience! It offers miles of hiking trails, camping and cabins, and historic park structures.
Drive an hour north for plenty of fun in the Iowa City area! Find the University of Iowa, shopping, museums, and restaurants. And if you have the time, consider visiting the Amana Colonies, historic German villages full of shops, eateries, and museums.
Visit Lake Darling State Park Today!
Find Lake Darling State Park at 111 Lake Darling Rd, Brighton, IA 52540
1. (n.d.). Editorial Cartooning. The Pulitzer Prizes. https://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-category/215
2. (1962, February 13). Ding Darling, Cartoonist, Dies; Winner of Two Pulitzer Prizes. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1962/02/13/archives/ding-darling-cartoonist-dies-winner-of-two-pulitzer-prizes-retired.html