The parking lot outside Honey Creek Resort State Park teems with minivans long before the trees ringing Rathbun Lake show any hint of green. The early-season draw is Buccaneer Bay water park, where babies sit in a zero-depth pool and stare at kids dangling from monkey-bar-style ropes while moms float along the lazy river.
Buccaneer Bay doesn’t rival a megapark, but it has just enough to entertain families who balance time in the pool with a daily roster busy with activities: learning about animal tracks, taking kayaking lessons, riding bikes, following naturalists on woodsy hikes and geocaching.
Opened in 2008, the lodge has 105 plush guest rooms and 28 cottages along an 18-hole golf course. Its remote location near bitty-town Moravia (85 miles southeast of Des Moines) means visitors spend pretty much all of their time on-property, eating three meals a day at Rathbun Lakeshore Grille. A generously stocked breakfast gives way to lunches of kid-friendly options like burgers and macaroni and cheese topped with Goldfish crackers. Dinnertime brings sophisticated entrees including seafood and ricotta cannelloni.
The naturalists at Honey Creek couldn’t be prouder of this ecofriendly vacation spot, especially its Audubon-certified golf course. Where else in Iowa, they argue, can families take free kayaking lessons and sleep in such an elegant room? Young families happy to park their cars in one spot for the weekend agree. Many troll the property, smartphones in hand, looking for hidden geocaches. “I think it’s in there,” a little boy says, pointing to a thin grove of trees within shouting distance of Honey Creek’s front door. He trots down a slope and, sure enough, finds a poster tube stuffed into a hollow tree trunk.
Turns out it’s just one of many welcome rewards at this rural Iowa oasis.
While you’re there ...
1 To see the most of Rathbun Lake, Iowa’s second-largest, consider renting a pontoon boat or personal watercraft from Honey Creek’s seasonal marina.
2 Want to improve your score on the par-72, links-style golf course? Certified PGA professionals teach lessons.
3 To appreciate the park’s prairie landscape, consider renting a bike. The staff will help you choose between road bikes for paved trails and mountain bikes (pull-along kiddie carts and helmets are available, too).
To plan your trip: (877) 677-3344; honeycreekresort.com
Read about more favorite state park stays: