Lake Wapello State Park is a scenic gem and one of the top parks in the Iowa State Park system. Its rolling hills, spectacular lake, and appealing amenities make it one of the best in Iowa.
So, if you’re looking for a place to experience nature’s finest in southern Iowa, put Lake Wapello on your list! You’ll enjoy the 1100+-acre park and its clean 289-acre lake with a beach, trails, boat rentals, campground & cabins, and more!
A Brief History of Lake Wapello State Park
The park got its name from Chief Wapello, a respected Meskwaki leader who died in 1842 while hunting near Ottumwa.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed the construction of the park structures and lake. And Lake Wapello became Iowa’s first artificial lake in 1932.
The CCC built a one-of-a-kind stone boat and bathhouse with a beach along the lakeshores. The park opened to the public in 1936 to be the “finest fishing lake in the country.”1 It was an instant hit, especially among anglers.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the lake underwent work to improve water quality and add fishing piers, jetties, and shoreline access.
Things To Do at Lake Wapello State Park
The clean waters and underwater reefs, trees, and spawning beds make Lake Wapello ideal fish habitat. It’s one of the best lakes for Black Crappie, Redear Sunfish, Bluegill, Channel Cats, and Largemouth Bass (bass are catch & release only).
Accessible fishing piers, well-designed jetties, and other shoreline access make shore fishing enjoyable. You can also fish by boat – motorboats are allowed at wake speeds only (<5 mph).
Plus, it’s super-convenient to stop at the Lake Wapello Bait Shop for bait and other fishing needs and rent a boat!
There are two boat ramps at the park, one at the campground and one near the beach house.
Hike the trails
Lakeshore Trail is a seven-mile scenic loop trail around Lake Wapello. It’s perfect for a short, leisurely walk near the beach and campground. But it’s also great if you want a longer hike around the lake and through the woods. The trail can get muddy in spots, so good hiking shoes are recommended.
The Campground Trail is a short (.4-mile) nature trail on the campground’s north side. It connects to the Lakeshore Trail on the west.
See the trail map for details.
Spend a day at the beach
Lake Wapello’s beach is one of the top beaches in Iowa! The unique, historic beach house provides a spot to change after a day at the beach. Plus, concessions offer boat rentals, snacks, drinks, and ice cream!
- No lifeguards on duty.
- Check for safe water conditions. Find beach monitoring status here.
Rent a boat
Visit the concession store at the beach house to rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddleboats, and johnboats.
Have a picnic
There’s no such thing as a lousy picnic spot at Lake Wapello; wherever you stop to eat, there’s a scenic spot.
The beach area is a favorite picnic spot for many—the outdoor patio can accommodate 50 and is first-come, first-serve. On the lake’s south side, Smith Knoll is another popular area for a picnic.
Lake Side Shelter is a small picnic shelter on the lake’s north shore (near a fishing pier). It’s reservable and otherwise available first-come, first-serve.
Hosting an event? The reservable day-use lodge at the beach house accommodates up to 60 people indoors.
Go camping (or rent a cabin)
Whether you’re looking for a family cabin, full hookup, or primitive tent campsite, Lake Wapello has it all! The great news is that many spots have scenic lake views. (More on the campgrounds and cabins below.)
Break out the cross country skis and snowshoes and head to Lake Wapello this winter. The seven-mile multi-use Lakeshore Trail is a favorite.
Snowmobiling is allowed in on some multi-use trails.
Campground & Cabins
The Lake Wapello State Park campground and cabins allow visitors to retreat to nature and explore all the park offers.
The beautiful campground has over 70 campsites for any camper! Best of all, it’s right on the lakeshore and close to everything. Below are some campground details:
- Seventy-three campsites; 15 full hookups, 34 electric, 23 non-electric tent sites, and a youth tent site.
- Many sites are reservable at Reserve America, but some are first-come, first-serve.
- Modern restrooms/showers
- Dump station
- Lakeside sites available
- See the campground map here
Thirteen cedar cabins are nestled on a hillside overlooking Lake Wapello! Below are some details about the cabins:
- Most cabins are available from April to October, but two are available year-round.
- You must rent cabins by the week during the peak summer season. At other times, they’re available for two-day rentals.
- Make reservations up to a year in advance at Reserve America.
- Twelve family cabins sleep up to six people & one ADA accessible cabin sleeps up to 10
- Modern restroom and shower
- Sink, stove, oven, microwave, and refrigerator.
- Patio, fire ring, and grill.
- Guests provide their own bedding, pillows, towels, toiletries, cookware, and dishware.
Things to do nearby
Pioneer Ridge Nature Center is about 18 miles northeast of the park. Explore the interpretive displays, take in a program, picnic, or stay at a cabin or the campground.
Shop locally for handcrafted items and unique goods. The Fabric Hut, Golden Acres Greenhouse, Dutch County General Store, and Yoder’s Kountry Korner are a few to check out.
Sharon Bluffs State Park is a 30-minute drive southeast of the park. Check out the wildlife enclosures, hike the trails, and go camping there.
Twenty miles north in Ottumwa, you can get a bite to eat or go shopping, swimming, golfing, paddling, and more!
Rathbun Lake is 45 minutes west of the park. Also called Iowa’s Ocean, the 11,000-acre lake has 155 miles of shoreline for adventures on and off the water. Honey Creek State Park and Honey Creek Resort are both on the lake’s north side, where there’s more hiking, boating, swimming, camping, and more!
Visit Lake Wapello State Park Today!
Find Lake Wapello State Park at 15248 Campground Rd, Drakesville, IA 52552. It’s south of Ottumwa, six miles west of Drakesville, Iowa.
1. Iowa’s State Parks and Preserves: State Conservation Commission. State of Iowa. June 1937. http://publications.iowa.gov/21694/1/Iowas%20State%20Parks%20and%20Preserves%201937.pdf