Lady of the Lake: Cruising Clear Lake

When a city bears the same name of the lake it’s located on, you can bet the lake is a big part of the city’s culture. Clear Lake, Iowa, is one of those cities. The Clear Lake population is 7,777 (based on the 2010 census), but in the summer months it isn’t unusual to have more than double that in the city, especially on the weekends, as visitors throng to Clear Lake to enjoy recreational activities and attractions. One of those attractions is the Lady of the Lake cruise ship, which offers narrated public cruises all season long.

Lady of the LakeI took the 90-minute cruise on the 3,684 acre lake last summer, splitting my time between soaking up the sun on the open-air upper deck and sitting in the enclosed lower level. A bar on the lower-level serves cocktails and soft drinks.

paddlewheelThe cruise took us past houses on the shoreline, each with its own dock.

Home along Clear LakeI was surprised by the number of fishing boats on the lake on a weekday morning. According to the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, a dredging project at the west end of the lake in 2009 improved water depth, making for improved fishing.

Fishing on Clear LakeA 900-foot sandy beach on the southeast shore of Clear Lake is part of the Clear Lake State Park, a popular tourist destination either for a day trip or camping.

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The narration told about bits of Clear Lake’s history, like the 1931 tornado that devastated the town, and the Surf Ballroom that at one time was located on the lake. Following a 1947 fire, the ballroom was rebuilt across the street. You may recognize the Surf Ballroom name as the last venue where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played together before they were killed in a 1959 plane crash.

Besides regular public cruises scheduled Thursday through Tuesday from Memorial Day through the end of September, the Lady of the Lake also offers a handful of special events, including the popular Fireworks Cruise on the 4th of July. Clear Lake has, arguably, one of the best fireworks shows in the Midwest. The display, held in conjunction with a weekend-long festival, lasts about 45 minutes and attracts 50,000 people. The fireworks are launched over the lake, so what better vantage point to view them than from right on the lake?

Reservations are required for Lady of the Lake special events but not for regular public cruises if you have fewer than ten in your party. The cost is $14 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under, and free for children 2 and under. They accept cash only, no credit or debit cards. The boat is docked at the City Seawall in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa, at North Lake View Drive. Clear Lake is located in North Central Iowa, a short distance from I-35 and I-90. Check the Lady of the Lake web site for further details, including cruise times.

Disclosure: My visit to Clear Lake was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office and my cruise was complimentary, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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