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Hot Weather Means Crowded Lakes and Rivers
Posted: 08/28/2013
Hot weather and a three day weekend is a recipe for busy rivers and lakes and Labor Day weekend 2013 is expected to be no different.

But this year, low water in most interior rivers will require paddlers and tubers on all but the largest streams to do some walking as water levels are nearly identical as during last year’s drought.

Todd Robertson, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Water Trails program, said paddlers and tubers should check stream flows before heading out to avoid trouble while on the water.

“If they are not going locally, they should either check the USGS site ( for stream flows or call the county conservation board where they’re planning to float,” Robertson said. “We don’t want people to get in to trouble because the water can’t support a canoe, kayak or tube and they have to walk, turning a six hour trip in to a 10 to 12 hour trip.”

Robertson expects to see more paddlers concentrating on lakes, the larger border rivers and in stream impoundments.

“It’s going to be busy because it’s going to be hot and it’s a holiday weekend,” he said. “Unfortunately when it’s hot, paddlers tend to avoid wearing lifejackets, which is a mistake. Lifejackets don’t work if you don’t wear them.”

He said paddlers shouldn’t have a false sense of safety just because the rivers are low.

“Hazards can be around the next bend and if they’re drinking alcohol, the combination of heat and sun can impair their decision making and motor skills, putting them at unnecessary risk,” Robertson said. “Instead, I would recommend drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and save the celebrating for when you get home.”

The additional people on the rivers and lakes mean everyone needs to have patience and be courteous to one another, he advised.

“Pick up after yourself, watch your behavior and language and respect private property,” Robertson said. “These resources are for everyone to enjoy.”

The Iowa DNR will be increasing its law enforcement presence on certain interior rivers as part of its “Keep it Clean, Keep it Fun for Everyone,” campaign to remind river users that their behavior affects other people, including neighboring landowners.

“We need all of our users to respect the resource and take out what they bring in,” Robertson said. “Respect the private property rights of landowners living along the river, including the sandbars and riverbanks. Nearly all of Iowa’s river bottoms are privately owned.”


The splash of the water, scenic views, and wildlife viewing from the water greet paddlers winding through Iowa’s rivers, rapids and streams. Iowa’s paddling experts have selected streams with different degrees of difficulty for paddlers with different skill sets to try.

Lizard Creek, just west of Fort Dodge in Webster County, offers paddlers an intimate paddle through an enchanting valley of woods and prairie and scenic clay cliff views. Lizard Creek is a designated water trail, and good boat control skills are needed on this paddling course. Small rapids occur at proper water levels at Lizard Creek.

Chichaqua Bottoms, in Polk County, is a non-challenging paddling though the oxbows of the Skunk River. Chichaqua Bottoms is great spot for new paddlers with large amounts of wildlife, including river otters and an array of birds. Boat rentals are available on site. Check out Chichaqua Bottoms – it’s a great area to explore.

East Nishnabota River the area between Lewis and Griswold is a perfect example of western Iowa prairie stream. Lewis and Griswold provide a historic background for small town Iowa. In this area there is a special spot called the Nishnabotna Rock Cut, which is a river wide outcropping that produces sets of small rapids.

Lake Odessa, in Louisa County, is a large lake/backwater area off the Mississippi River. Large amounts of wildlife including migratory birds and eagles nest along the water trails. Lake Odessa provides easy paddling for novice paddlers; more experienced paddlers can paddle into the Mississippi River with caution.

Winnebago River Water Trail near Forest City in northern Iowa is great for all types of paddlers. Paddling can start near the headwaters of the Winnebago River, taking paddlers through beautiful wetlands with scenic wetland and wildlife views. This trail can be challenging at higher levels once past the headlands.

Find more out of the way places online at the DNR’s Healthy & Happy Outdoors (H2O) page. Go to and search an interactive map loaded with more than 1,600 locations and outdoor activities. 

Participants who register for H2O and log activities will automatically be entered for prize drawings.  The more activities logged, the more entries submitted.