Arnolds Park at Lake Okoboji

What could be more “summer” or more “Iowa” than a day at Arnolds Park and Lake Okoboji?

Arnolds Park is an amusement park in the town of the same name, adjacent to the lakes in northwest Iowa. It’s a little more than 3 hours from Ames (west on Hwy. 30 and north on Hwy. 71).  The amusement park, which features a roller coaster, log ride, Ferris wheel, and other carnival-type rides and games, was built in 1889.

I drove a long way to see this place and, in a way, I was disappointed. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Maybe I’m spoiled by Disney World and Coney Island, but I thought there would be, well, more atmosphere at this place. The website sure makes it look like fun – like a nostalgic trip back to the 1950s. For one thing, it surprised me that you can just park (for free) and walk into this place without paying a dime (not that I’m complaining). It’s just sort of there, next to the miniature golf course and the lakeshore.

I was there when it opened this morning (11 a.m.) and stood in a line to buy a ticket to ride the roller coaster (its unfortunate official name is the Northwest Bank Legend Roller Coaster). The park has way too many ticket choices (single day passes, ankle bands for toddlers, meal deals, family fun packs, punch cards) and I stood behind ONE family for like 20 minutes while the way-too-helpful woman in the ticket booth helped them choose their fun for the day. (Meanwhile, the other line was lapping mine.) Finally it was my turn and she sold me seven $1 tickets so I could ride the coaster.

Inside, the park was pretty dead when I first walked in. Lots of rides had no riders on them yet, and the teenage boys running the rides looked bored out of their minds. I figured I should ride the “Legend” (built in 1927 and billed as the 13th oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S.) before things started getting busy.

I was first in line for the, I think, third ride of the day – so I got the front car. Like the Cyclone at Coney Island (coincidentally built the same year), this roller coaster is a lot more fun than it looks. I thoroughly enjoyed it – but not enough to spend another $7.

After the ride, I walked around and tried to find something else fun to do at the park but, besides taking pictures, I found nothing.

I’d seen a nutty bar stand across from the ticket booth, so I went there for the famous local treat. It did not disappoint.

Okojobi looks like a fun area in the summer. It’s chock-full of summer tourists, many of whom I assume own or rent lakefront property. There’s plenty to do, with sand beaches, boat rentals, jet skis, scuba diving, glass-bottom boat excursions, and various extreme water sports. I saw plenty of good things to eat and drink. It seems like a good family-vacation spot.

Just south of the Iowa Great Lakes is the town of Spencer. I was interested in this town as I drove through, because I (like most other Iowans) know about Dewey, the famous library cat who lived in Spencer.

When I read the book about Dewey, (Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron) I envisioned Spencer as a small, very agricultural, very depressed little town. To read the book, it seemed like the town was barely breathing after a series of unfortunate incidents, including fires and the farm crisis of the 1980s. Well, I found Spencer lovely and delightful and…rich-looking. So surprising! There are flower-lined boulevards, a charming downtown, a gorgeous courthouse, and beautiful historic homes.

I hoped to visit the library, but it’s closed on Sundays. I took a picture of the outside and paid a silent tribute to Dewey, a kitty I would have liked to have known.


1 comment so far

  1. Janet Haight on

    It is usually more fun at the Park at night! But then, I am mostly remembering the 50s there. Janet Haight

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