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Saylorville Lake is a man-made reservoir located on the Des Moines River bordering the town of Polk City, about 11 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa. The reservoir was completed in 1977 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a flood control project for an area that had seen five major floods in the previous hundred years. Today, 5,950-acre Saylorville Lake is a popular destination for fishing, camping, hiking, birdwatching, and many other recreational activities.
Anglers can enjoy year-round fishing at Saylorville Reservoir. Many come on the hunt for bass, as the reservoir is home to hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, and white bass. The largemouth bass population has done especially well at the lake, with occasional supplemental stocking by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The reservoir is also home to bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, and walleye. Because the reservoir is used for flood control, the water levels can change dramatically, posing a challenge to anglers who must constantly change strategies to find the current fishing hot spots.
Boat access is plentiful at Saylorville Lake, with a total of six boat launches in various locations around the lake. There are no horsepower restrictions on the reservoir, making it ideal for a variety of water sports. Boating is not recommended north of Mile Long Bridge, however, and other spots in the reservoir are sometimes too shallow for boating. Be sure to check current lake levels before planning your trip to the lake.
With a total of twenty-four recreation areas, visitors to Saylorville have plenty of options for enjoying some fun in the sun. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a day of swimming at Sandpiper Recreation Area or Oak Grove Beach. Or, plan an overnight stay at one of the four Army Corps campgrounds: Acorn Valley, Bob Shetler, Cherry Glen, and Prairie Flower. All four campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and playgrounds--all the amenities you need to make a home away from home just steps from the lake shore. Jester Park, operated by the Polk County Conservation Board and located on the western shore of Saylorville Lake, is another popular destination. This 1,834 acre park has boat launches, 252 campsites, eight miles of hiking trail, and even a championship golf course.
Landlubbers can find plenty to love at Saylorville Lake, too. Enjoy a day of nature watching at the lake by starting your trip at the Saylorville Lake Visitor's Center, where you can view educational exhibits and find maps and brochures to plan the rest of your visit. Then, hit the twenty-six mile Neal Smith Trail, a fully paved multi-purpose trail stretching from Big Creek State Park at the northern tip of the lake south to Des Moines. This trail winds along the shores of Saylorville Reservoir, providing a perfect spot for hiking, cycling, rollerblading, and enjoying the scenery of this peaceful area. Finally, finish your day with some birdwatching. Saylorville Lake often rewards visitors with a glimpse of some unique birds, such as the black-tailed gull (normally seen in China, Korea, or Japan), the Pacific loon, the black vulture, and the bald eagle. If you time your trip right, you could attend the annual Pelican Festival held each September, when as many as 10,000 pelicans can be seen stopping at the lake as they migrate south for the winter.
With so many options for recreation, it is easy to see why Saylorville Lake is so popular. Don't pass up a chance to visit this Midwestern oasis.
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