Okoboji's winter recreation opportunities are diverse and plentiful!
By Greg Drees
Long known for its extensive menu of summertime activities, Okoboji has also matured into a year-round outdoor playground. Don’t let the wintry weather get you down. Opportunities abound for outdoor recreation in Okoboji.
Boji Bay Ice Arena
If you were born and raised in Iowa, ice skating was likely to have been a part of your winter recreation. The sport is alive and well at the beautiful and spacious Boji Bay Ice Arena just north of the Bedell Family YMCA in Spirit Lake. Operated by the Lakes Area Hockey Association (LAHA) and its board of directors, the arena hosts open public skating and a legion of hockey teams, leagues and tournaments.
Activities at the Boji Bay Ice Arena continue to accelerate. Learn-to-Skate programs, which teach the basics of skating for youths and adults, are available to novices. Friday and Saturday night open skate sessions draw large crowds. A roller-skating vibe rules the facility, making it a fun destination for families. Renting the facility for private parties is growing in popularity.
The hockey programs are diverse for both boys and girls in many age groups and there are even men and women pick-up hockey times available. Youth tournament hockey is exploding in popularity, and Boji Bay Ice Arena – one of the finest such facilities now in the Midwest – is abuzz with competitive events that draw teams from afar to the lakes and is becoming an economic boost to the area.
Amber Raveling, president of the LAHA board, says the arena’s impact on theIowa Great Lakes community is far-reaching. “The project is touching so many lives in a positive way,” Raveling said. “Families and the entire community come together here.”
Skating and sledding
And don’t forget about outdoor skating. The chain of lakes in Okoboji are natural public skating arenas where opportunities abound, especially if the ice-up conditions are smooth. Visit Okoboji Boat Works to rent skates and enjoy their rink outside the Fish House on West Lake Okoboji!
How about an old-fashioned ride down the hill on a sled or tube? The Dickinson County Conservation Board manages Horseshoe Bend Park in the scenic Little Sioux River valley southwest of Milford. The tubing hill there is a popular site on winter weekends, replete with a chair lift to take you back to the top.
Kabele’s Trading Post
At Kabele’s Trading Post in Spirit Lake, Tanya and Thane Johnson are the main fixtures of Ice Fishing Central. As soon as the open water season draws to a close, all summer gear is stowed away and the shop is targeted to ice anglers specifically. Shelves, walls and floor space are neatly organized with displays of ice shacks, augers, rods and reels, float suits and other ice fishing clothing and accessories.
“The ice fishing industry has exploded over the last decade, and we wanted to be on the cutting edge of things,” Tanya said. “The Iowa Great Lakes are at the southernmost edge of the ice fishing mecca in North America, and our business in winter reflects the keen interest it generates.”
Alice and Ed Kabele opened the shop in 1968 and established a following among lakes area anglers, hunters and trappers. The Johnson family owned a cabin just across the street, so Thane grew up with a firsthand appreciation of the business and the aura surrounding it. His love for the outdoors matured over the years virtually in the shadow of Kabele’s quirky shop. When the opportunity arose in 2005, Johnsons bought the iconic business. In 2010 Tanya joined the mix and the married couple set their sights on modernizing and expanding the business.
The couple began to ice fish regularly themselves to establish credibility and in general turned Kabele’s into a winter fishing headquarters. Those efforts have paid big dividends. “In January and February our business is unreal,” Tanya said. “Ice anglers are lined up at 6 a.m. to get into our shop.”
Historically a man’s endeavor, ice fishing has caught the attention of a growing legion of women participants, and Kabele’s caters to that growing population. “We have made a concentrated effort to make women feel welcome,” Tanya said. “We carry a line of women’s branded clothing, for instance, and that side of the business is growing.”
The Johnsons view ice fishing as a recreation that benefits the community and the tourism industry. “Ice angling is bringing in more and more people each winter,” Tanya said. “It means more business for hotels, restaurants and others.”
The Dickinson County SnowHawks is a club that has made the Iowa Great Lakes a snowmobiling destination. Dedicated to coordinating fun rides and promoting safety in the industry, the SnowHawks groom more than 100 miles of snowmobile trails in Dickinson County, connecting them to surrounding counties and even into Minnesota. Click here for a map of the trails.
Longtime lakes realtor Eric Hoien loves winter in Okoboji, because it harkens to cross-country skiing and ice boating. “Skiing opportunities are exceptional in the Iowa Great Lakes,” Hoien said. “We ski the Marble Lake hogsback, one of the best cross- country venues in northwest Iowa. It’s great fun and a good workout as well.” Hoien also skis at Brooks Golf Club. He and other volunteers groom the tracks at both sites for exceptional skiing.
Winter fun in Okoboji is all about getting out and about and taking advantage of the multitude of recreational offerings. Just do it!