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Clear Lake State Park
Clear Lake, Iowa
David H. Jones

Clear Lake, Iowa is charming town. Located just west of I-35 on Highway 18 in northern Iowa, the town is on the eastern shore of Clear Lake (the lake!) In town you'll find many delightful antique shops, galleries, restaurants, parks, and other fun places to visit. Clear Lake is also the home of the famous Surf Ballroom. Rock 'n' Roll fans will remember the Surf as the venue for the last concert played by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper before their awful plane crash on that fateful night so long ago.

The city is also a favorite destination for sailors. Most summer weekends you'll find the lake dotted with dozens of sailboats as various groups offer sailboat races and regattas.

During one July weekend every summer, the air is filled with Dixieland jazz. The town hosts Dixiefest, a marvelous weekend of free concerts at the bandshell located on the lakeshore. Top Dixieland bands from throughout the world have been featured along with top bands from Iowa and the Midwest region. For more information call the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce at 515-357-2159 or visit the Clear Lake Iowa Chamber of Commerce website.

Clear Lake State Park a smallish 55-acre tract, is located about two miles from downtown on the southeastern side of the lake. The park has 215 campsites, 95 of them are electric sites. No water is available at the individual campsites. Fresh water is available at water stations located throughout the park and there is an RV dump station as well.

There's a nice sandy beach and swimming area. The lake, however, is very green, due in large part to the agricultural fertilizer run-off over the years. The water will turn the lining of your swimming suit green. (A quick rinse or wash of your suit will get it clean.) The park's nicest feature is a roomy, wooded picnic area near the beach. It would be a great spot for a family cookout or a great place to stop for a long lunch if you're just passing through.

The Jones' VillaWe arrived on a Thursday afternoon at the campground. There is a simple self-registration and payment system at the entrance to the campground. No advance reservations are taken. We found a site near a big tree that offered some nice morning shade. We paid $12 per night for our electric site (07/00). Non-electric sites are $9. Thursday night was okay, not great, just okay, as the park was not too crowded. Even on Thursday night, the shower and restroom facilities seemed inadequate for the number of campers and campsites.

On Friday night we went out for a drive and dinner at about 5 p.m. (a fabulous fish-fry at Rich's Muskie Lounge in nearby Ventura, Iowa) and returned about 9 p.m. We were shocked! The campground was absolutely packed! Have you seen Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath? Can you say "shanty-town?!" Clear Lake State Park has small-sized campsites to begin with. Many pull-through sites are only 5 or 6 paces apart. But packed into many of theses spaces were an RV, 2 tents, an SUV, and a boat trailer! Many folks also had a screen house or an awning that was only inches away from their neighbor!

My parents took our family camping to a campground for the first time in 1966. And in the subsequent years I have never seen a campground so crowded (excluding the film footage I've seen of Woodstock.)

I guess it's a testament to the charm of the town of Clear Lake and environs that brings so many people there. That can be the only possible reason campers would endure such uncomfortable conditions. (Or insert your favorite Iowa joke here.) On Friday night, from about from about 10 p.m. to midnight, the restrooms had people lined up like it was half-time at a football game.

This is not a place that SavvyCampers will put on their list of desired destinations. But oddly enough, I think it might not be too bad for a night during the off-season (spring or fall) for a RV-er who is just passing through northern Iowa. I went through the park in October a couple of years ago, and it actually seemed quite lovely when it was not so crowded. But in the summer, no way. From the Clear Lake exit, it's only about 25 miles to Minnesota. Make a run for the border.

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