Lake Macbride State Park is Iowa’s largest state park and one of the most visited. And we understand why! This 2180-acre park has a 940-acre lake with fun outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, boating, fishing, and camping.
What’s more, Lake Macbride is next to Coralville Lake! This 5300-acre reservoir managed by the Corps of Engineers has 8+ recreation areas, three beaches, and over 500 campsites!
A Brief History of Lake Macbride
In 1931, the State of Iowa created a 25-year conservation plan. It was designed to coordinate funding for natural resources and outdoor recreation. As a result, the Mill Creek area near Iowa City and Cedar Rapids was recommended for an artificial lake in 1932.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began the construction of Lake Macbride in 1933, and it was dedicated in 1934. Finally, after much anticipation, the park opened to the public in 1937.
The state park got its name through an Iowa City Chamber of Commerce naming contest! And the winner suggested it get named after Dr. Thomas Huston Macbride. This well-known Iowa conservationist was a top proponent of the idea of creating Lake MacBride.
In 1957, when Coralville Lake was getting built, the park underwent significant changes. A new spillway created a larger, deeper lake. And a campground, boat docks, and picnic areas were constructed. These changes expanded outdoor recreation, making the park more popular than ever.
About Lake Macbride State Park
The park is divided into two separate units – the northern and southern units.
The northern unit is off County Road F-16 west of Solon. The modern campground, beach, boat rentals, boat ramps, lodge, spillway, and picnic areas are in the northern unit.
The southern unit is off County Road F-28 (Mehaffey Bridge Rd. NE) west of Solon. It has a primitive tent campground, boat ramps, and picnic areas. Also, the Iowa Raptor Center is nearby at Lake MacBride Recreation Area.
Things to do at Lake Macbride State Park
Hit the trails
There are over 15 miles of multi-use trails at Lake Macbride! So, whether you want to hike, mountain bike, or snowmobile, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
The North Shore Trail is the longest trail at Lake Macbride. It’s a 5-mile crushed limestone trail extending from the lake’s north shores to the nearby town of Solon.*
Ten miles of hiking trails also wind along the park’s lakeshores, prairies, and woodlands. And two routes are open to snowmobiles in the winter (North Snowmobile Trail and South Snowmobile Trail).
*The east end of the North Shore Trail in Solon connects to the Hoover Nature Trail. The Hoover Nature Trail runs north 6 miles to the Linn/Johnson county line from Solon. At the county line, the trail continues north as the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is 69 miles and extends through Cedar Rapids to Waterloo. The route is part limestone, part asphalt.
Spend the day at the beach
On warm Iowa summer days, the public swimming beach is one of the most popular spots at Lake Macbride!
The beach is in the park’s northern unit and is open from 8 am to 7 pm during the summer. And while you’re there, you can buy refreshments or rent a boat at the concession stand!
It can get quite busy during peak season, especially on the weekends. As a result, sometimes park officials stop entry until crowds thin out. That said, beachgoers can find more beaches nearby at Coralville Lake.
Beach notes: No lifeguard is on duty, and swimming is allowed only in the designated area. Alcohol, glass, and pets are prohibited. Check the water quality before swimming at the Iowa DNR website.
Whether fishing, cruising, sailing, or paddling, Lake Macbride is perfect for boating!
There are seven boat ramps around Lake Macbride!
Two boat ramps with access to Lake Macbride are in the northern unit. There’s also one boat ramp with access to Coralville Lake. It’s free to use, and all visitors must leave by 10:30 pm when the park closes.
The southern unit has five boat ramps with access to Lake Macbride.
Boating notes: All boats must operate at no-wake speeds (<5 mph) year-round. Between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, there is a 10-hp limit on motorboats. During the rest of the year, there is no horsepower restriction.
Pontoons, motorboats, canoes & kayaks, and paddleboats are available at concessions near the beach. Call 319-624-2315 for boat rental information.
Many anglers head to Lake Macbride to catch a Kentucky Spotted Bass, a rare find in Iowa! It’s said to be the only place in the area for this species. But there are many other types of fish to catch too! Walleye, Channel Cats, Crappie, Muskie, Largemouth Bass, and more are found in the lake.
The good news is, you can fish by boat or shore! An accessible fishing pier and over ten fishing jetties make shore fishing easy.
One area is also designated for 24-hour fishing access. See the Iowa DNR website for after-hours fishing information and locations.
A valid Iowa fishing license is required to fish. Get your license in Solon, North Liberty, Iowa City, or the Iowa DNR website. See the Iowa DNR website and sign up for their weekly Fishing Report for more on fishing at Coralville.
Go camping at Lake Macbride State Park
Of course, with everything to see and do at Lake MacBride, it’s easy to see why you’d want to go camping there! The good news is that the two campgrounds at Lake Macbride offer something for every camper.
A modern campground is in the northern unit. It has electric campsites, and some have water and sewer hookups. And a scenic, shady primitive campground is at the southern unit. See the campground section later in this article for details.
Find the perfect picnic spot around Lake Macbride. And whether it’s a small family picnic or a group event, you have picnicking options! Several small picnic areas are available, and three shelters and a day-use lodge.
Three lakeside open-air picnic shelters are available for reservation, and otherwise, first-come, first-serve.
The CCC enclosed stone lodge has water, electricity, restrooms, and a kitchen. It’s reservable at ReserveAmerica.com.
Lake Macbride has a diverse habitat, making it an excellent place to go birdwatching! It’s also a popular migration area, so you can also spot birds passing through in the fall and spring.
Some species to look for include Black-billed Cuckoo, Osprey, Orchard Orioles, Short-eared Owl, Cerulean Warbler, Least Tern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Peregrine Falcon, and more. Check out Iowabirds.org to see what birds are in the area.
Iowa Raptor Project
Speaking of birds, you’re guaranteed to see birds of prey at the Iowa Raptor Project! The center is operated by the University of Iowa and provides refuge and rehabilitation for injured raptors.
Visitors can learn more about birds of prey and view some of the permanent bird residents there. There’s also a bird blind with feeders nearby with even more viewing opportunities.
Find the Iowa Raptor Project at 2095 Mehaffey Bridge Rd. NE, Solon (at Macbride Nature Recreation Area). It’s open for self-guided tours from April through October from 6 am to 9 pm and from November through March from 9 am to 6 pm. See the website for more information.
Hiking trails get used for cross country skiing and snowshoeing when there’s enough snow. Plus, you can take your snowmobile to the designated trails in the northern and southern units.
Lake MacBride State Park Campgrounds
Whether you camp in an RV or tent, you can find a campsite at Lake Macbride—modern and primitive campsites are available. Most campsites are reservable through ReserveAmerica.com.
Northern Unit/Modern Campground
- 43 electric sites, some with water & full hookups
- Modern restrooms/showers
- Dump station on-site
Southern Unit/Primitive Campground
- Primitive tent sites
- Vault & flush toilets
- Water hydrants
- Shaded sites
See the Iowa DNR campground maps for more details.
Things to do nearby
Coralville Lake is right next to Lake MacBride and has excellent outdoor activities! The 23-mile-long lake has plenty of space for boats of all sizes. Also, there are three beaches, mountain bike trails, disc golf, trails, camping, and (much) more!
Take your off-road all-terrain vehicle or motorcycle to Lake View OHV Park. It’s only 3½ miles north of the park, at 3877 140th St NE, Solon, IA 52333. According to the Iowa DNR, the park has ”an “A” level motorcross practice track, a “B” level motorcross practice track, an off-road utility vehicle practice track, a pit bike track, and two kiddie tracks.”
Palisades-Kepler State Park is another excellent Iowa state park near Cedar Rapids. This scenic 840-acre park on the Cedar River offers breathtaking views, unique trails, wildlife, and more!
The Amana Colonies are about 30 minutes west of Lake Macbride. Find one-of-a-kind shops and famous homemade food in traditional German villages! And if you’re looking for a unique place to stay, check out the Hotel Millwright, Die Heimat Country Inn, and more!
The University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History is in Iowa City and has free admission. Learn about Iowa’s natural and cultural history, see the “Hall of Birds,” experience the Biosphere, and more!
Visit the Iowa Children’s Museum at Coral Ridge Mall, about 30 minutes away. Kids love the hands-on activities and programming at this fun museum.
Kent Park is a 30-minute drive southwest of the park. This 1,052-acre county park has vast swaths of native prairie, plus a lake and woodlands. It’s ideal for exploring nature, with its 27-acre lake and three ponds, 9+ miles of trails, a beach, and a nice campground!
Tour Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch. Download the exhibit app and take a self-guided tour. And have the kids do the museum scavenger hunt!
Pinicon Ridge Park is a beautiful 966-acre park about 40-minutes from Lake Macbride. It has an observation tower, wildlife area, and a picturesque 520-foot pedestrian bridge! Also, check out the camping and cabins, trails, and boat rentals.
Visit Lake Macbride State Park Today!
Lake MacBride is at 3525 Hwy 382 NE, Solon, IA 52333.