Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: not only is there a giant lake in Iowa, but there’s also a wonderful family-friendly resort along its shores. Honey Creek Resort, in southern Iowa, is a 2-hour drive from Des Moines or a 6-hour drive from Chicago. It’s middle-of-nowhereness is one of its many charms.

Honey Creek Resort in Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Honey Creek Resort in Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

The Peaceful, Easy Feeling of Honey Creek Resort

I rode my rented bike up to the banks of Rathbun Lake and stopped to stare out at the sun reflecting on the water. It was silent, except chirping birds, buzzing insects, and the water gently lapping against the rocks.  This moment of Zen was found at Honey Creek Resort, an underused gem of a family vacation spot in Iowa’s Honey Creek State Park.
New management took over in June 2016, and they’re in the process of sinking millions of dollars into the resort (#1 project: a new outdoor pool, opening in 2017).
Taking a nature hike at Honey Creek Resort in Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Taking a nature hike at Honey Creek Resort in Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

For now, anyway, the vibe at this resort is very low key with a strong eco-friendly focus. So if the goal of your family vacation is to slow down and not do 100 activities a day, you’ll want to check this place out. As one staff member so perfectly put it, Honey Creek Resort is “a decompression zone.”

Here’s my video overview:

What Works for Families:

  • You can go boating and tubing on Rathbun Lake.
The park/resort’s crown jewel is this 11,000-acre lake, which you can easily spend a day cruising around, tubing or fishing on. Pontoons (with awesome FM radios!), motor boats or jet skis can be rented by the hour or the day. We went the second-to-last week of August (when Iowa kids went back to school, but we hadn’t yet), and we had the lake all to ourselves.
They say it can be busy on weekends, but the lake is so big and the marina is so small, I’m convinced it wouldn’t be busy by my standards.
* They have spacious, updated cottages.

Here’s a video tour of our 2-bedroom cottage:

  • It’s clean, comfortable and peaceful.
  • It has an indoor water park.
For my 11- and 13-year-olds, this was their favorite part of the resort (shock!). It’s not a massive spend-the-whole-day kinda place, but fun enough for an hour or two, and longer if you have younger kids, since it’s designed for small children.
After my kids went down the water slide a half-dozen times, the whole family played 2-on-2 water basketball, and then sat in the large hot tub with a view of the lake. We also stopped at the small arcade for some air hockey and pinball.
Geocaching is a fun thing for kids do to during nature hikes at Honey Creek Resort in Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Geocaching is a fun thing for kids do to during nature hikes at Honey Creek Resort in Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

* You can go geocaching on nature hikes.

The prairie scenery along the hiking paths, while lovely, doesn’t change much. So geocaching helps make longer hikes fun.  They also have some guided hikes, for reptiles and birdwatching. While walking around the resort, we saw tons of colorful butterflies, interesting birds, enormous grasshoppers and white-tailed deer.
  • It has a nice golf course, driving range and putting green.
  • It’s an excellent Pokemon Go spot.
  • Friendly, helpful staff.
Recycling bins are one of ways Honey Creek Resort emphasizes eco-friendliness. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Recycling bins are one of ways Honey Creek Resort emphasizes eco-friendliness. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

  • An eco-friendly emphasis.

Since this resort is in a state park, there’s a heavy emphasis on nature-friendly activities and practices. Besides the large wind turbine that anchors the resort, there are bird feeders and recycling bins everywhere, and things like VIP parking for hybrid cars. It made us all conscious about our wastefulness. My kids especially liked the 5-minute timers in the showers (sand in an hourglass), which they saw as a fun challenge. I am getting one for our home shower.

  • Free WiFi.
It was nice to have this modern-day necessity in such a remote place, although the service was understandably spotty at times. Sometimes we could easily stream Netflix, sometimes we couldn’t.
  • There is not a ton to do.
For my overscheduled family, this is a pro, not a con.  Beyond boating and golf, most of the activities we did (biking, hiking, basketball, and the indoor water park) took only an hour or two. So we filled the rest of the day playing cards or board games, taking naps and reading. I can imagine that some families might be a little bored here, but this down time was a luxury to us.

What Doesn’t Work for Families:

* No outdoor pool.

Plans are in the works for a beautiful new outdoor pool, but in the meantime, there is no pool. Just the indoor water park, which is great, but doesn’t have any deep water or lap-swimming space.

* Limited food options.

There is only one restaurant on the resort, and it’s a somewhat pricey sit-down place. There are no grab-and-go food options, except for a very limited selection of candy and ice cream bars in the gift shop. The next closest restaurant is about a 30-minute drive. So I recommend staying in the cabins, where you can bring in and cook your own food.

* The beach is not really a swimming beach.

The resort has a small beach, with a cordoned-off swimming area, a volleyball net, and a launching area for kayaks and paddleboards. The water is clean and warm, and my kids splashed around for a while. But its mucky, clay-like bottom  feels like icky quick-sand. You couldn’t really stand in the water and throw a ball or frisbie around. Also, parts of the beach were very hard to walk on from dried clay/mud. Definitely bring water shoes or Keens. A better way to enjoy the water is to jump in off a boat.

Prices start at:

During peak season (May-Oct), lodge rooms are $159-219/night and the cottages are $269-$509/night. Off-peak season (Nov-April) lodges rooms are $109-$179, and the cottages are $189-$359.

The Hotel:

The main lodge is lovely, with high ceilings, a prairie-styled lobby, a bar and restaurant with lots of outdoor seating, and nicely landscaped walking paths to the beach and lakefront.
Honey Creek Resort is a 2-hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa, and six hours from Chicago. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Honey Creek Resort is a 2-hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa, and six hours from Chicago. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

The Rooms:

You have two options here: stay in the lodge (hotel rooms), or in one of their two dozen cottages. For families, I recommend the cottages. Our 2-bedroom cottage was perfect for a family of four. The cottages were built in 2006, but they seem much newer. They feel homey, with high ceilings, lots of windows, fully equipped kitchens, a fireplace, prairie-styled furnishings and an outdoor fire pit. I especially liked the extra large dining table, which seated 8, giving us plenty of room to spread out while playing games.

Dining:

The resort’s one restaurant/bar serves pretty good food. We particularly liked the homemade chicken pot pie and blueberry pie a la mode. With a soft buttery crust and warm filling, I’d rank it among some of the best blueberry pie I’ve ever had.But if you’re staying at the lodge, eating three meals a day here might get tiresome and expensive. The new management plans to expand the food offerings, and that will be a good thing.

Chicken pot pie, with homemade crust, is one of the best things on the menu at the Honey Creek Resort's restaurant.. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Chicken pot pie, with homemade crust, is one of the best things on the menu at the Honey Creek Resort’s restaurant. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Another option is to dine out in the nearby towns of Centerville or Albia (a 20- to 30-minute drive).

We liked The Garage, in Centerville. Located in the town square, the exterior has a car’s bumper sticking out, so you can’t miss it. The interior is covered in automotive memorabilia. The service is super-friendly, and the food is solid. We quickly emptied a basket of their famous “Garachos” – nachos smothered in shredded pork, white Blue Moon Beer cheese, and tomatoes. They’re also known for their Fat Boy sandwich, which is for serious meat lovers only.  The breaded pork patty is a sandwich within itself. But then it’s piled with smoked pork, bacon, and cheese. Wear your stretchy pants.

Since we stayed in a cottage, we ate in a lot. While there’s a HyVee grocery store in Centerville, you’ll have a much better selection at the massive Wal-Mart Superstore a few miles farther down the road.
The Garage, in Centerville's town square, is near Honey Creek Resort in Monrovia, Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

The Garage, in Centerville’s town square, is near Honey Creek Resort in Monrovia, Iowa. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom