by Diana Lambdin Meyer
Honey Creek Resort, which opened in September 2008, is the first destination lodge built and operated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Located in south central Iowa, about 90 minutes from Des Moines, Honey Creek Lodge is the only property with waterfront access to 11,000-acre Rathbun Lake, the second largest lake in Iowa and a jewel of the state park system. The lake is popular for sailing, skiing, fishing and canoeing, and the resort has 50 boat slips, along with rental boats for family use.
The rustic north woods decor that carries throughout the lodge is most pronounced in the three-story lobby and its 60-foot-tall natural stone fireplace and ceiling-to-floor windows overlooking the lake and beachfront. The spacious and well-shaded patio is a great place to relax, to enjoy a meal or simply reconnect with the family after a fun day of activities around the area.
Prior to building Honey Creek Resort, the Department of Natural Resources conducted a five-year study on the wildlife habitat and patterns of the area in order to design a resort that accommodated the needs of nature’s residents as well as human guests. Two DNR naturalists on staff offer daily programs in the lobby as well as guided walks and talks throughout the property. The education center, designed by the Solar Decathlon Team from the University of Iowa’s School of Engineering, provides hands on opportunities for families to learn about the plant life, animals and natural environment of south central Iowa.
The resort and its 105 guest rooms in the lodge and 28 geothermal cabins were designed with numerous environmentally sensitive amenities, such as motion sensors to turn the lights off in the room when the kids fail to do so.
More than 10 miles of hiking trails throughout the resort property provide opportunities to watch for birds, identify plant life or simply inhale the freshest air in the country. Two viewing stands are perfect for watching for wildlife, such as bobcat, deer and wild turkey.
Our Editor Loves
- Buccaneer Bay Indoor Waterpark
- Bike rentals and family movie nights
- Evening campfires and sing-a-longs
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The lodge has 105 guest rooms, including 22 suites on the third floor. Fourteen rooms are ground level with a patio and view of the lake. The basic guestrooms are 290 square feet with a choice of one king or two queen beds. Both have 32-inch flat-screen TVs, an oversized chair and ottoman, and shower/tub combinations. The suites are 340 square feet with the same offerings as well as an alcove with a round table and four chairs.
In addition, the property has 28 cottages that are ideal for large family groups. Options range from a one bedroom and loft, and two- and four-bedroom cottages that sleep up to 12.
One-bedroom cottages are 550 square feet; two bedrooms are 600 square feet; four bedrooms are 760 square feet. There are no three-bedroom cottages. All are equipped with laundry facilities, a full kitchen, indoor fireplaces and outdoor grills, fire rings, and picnic tables, and daily housekeeping is provided. Pets are welcomed in some of the cottages for an additional $50.
There is a $10 daily charge for cribs in the lodge and cottages. High chairs are not provided at the cottages. WiFi is available throughout the 830-acre property.
Families with motor homes may also enjoy the waterfront Lakeside Campground with facilities for 20 RVs and access to all of the amenities of guests in the lodge and cottages.
We have stayed at Honey Creek three times now, and the Resort keeps getting better. The lake, view from our room, walking trail, and bike trail were spectacular as always. The buffet breakfast was quite a bit better than the last time we visited. I appreciated the room cleanliness and the newly-added motion-detector night light in the bathroom. Would definitely recommend Honey Creek as a family-friendly site or as a romantic getaway.
by Emily C
We had a wonderful time at Honey Creek Resort over Labor Day weekend. My young kiddos loved the playground and indoor water park! We played golf and the course is beautiful. Hotel was clean, very well kept, rooms were quiet, and staff were all friendly and helpful. They had a free concert (live band) on the lawn Sunday night which was really fun for families and adults! Our only complaint was the restaurant only offered buffets the entire time we were there. The room was huge and had a fridge, so I wish I would have planned ahead with some food to have other meal options than buffets. But, the food was really good and waiters were helpful and responsive.
Water is the star attraction at Honey Creek Resort, both indoors and out. The Buccaneer Bay Waterpark, anchored by a massive pirate ship to climb on, features slides, a lazy river, zero depth entry, a hot tub and a number of innovative ways to get wet all year long.
Outdoors, the 11,000 acres of Rathbun Lake has it all - fishing, canoeing and kayaking, sailing, waterskiing and anything else that can be done in a massive freshwater lake. The resort has an expanding list of watercraft to rent and slips for those who bring their own boats. The beach is outfitted with lounge chairs for sunning and picnic tables for treats.
The massive playground takes playing in the sand to a whole new level. Mini-sized cranes allow kids to operate the controls while sitting in the driver's seat, moving sand from one pile to another. Toddlers have their own area with an oversized tic-tac-toe board, slide and climbing area. Older kids love their area with a slide that's more like sliding down the banister rail at home, a fire pole that wiggles and twirls, and series of climbing tubes that bring out the monkey in all kids.
Honey Creek Resort is ideal for bike riding with miles of paved trails as well as wide sidewalks and limited traffic on the spacious roadways. Rentals include mountain, street and tandem bikes, an electric bike, as well as kiddie carts, baby seats and helmets. Rentals in winter months include sleds, cross-country skis and snow shoes.
Other resort amenities include an archery range, hiking trails, basketball and volleyball courts, and horseshoes pits.
The resort staff, with the assistance of the DNR naturalists, coordinates star gazing programs, Dutch oven cooking, photography hikes and any number of activities to engage families in the outdoors. It's not unusual to walk into the lobby to find naturalists holding live snakes, falcons or other wild creatures of the region.
There are also family movie nights, scavenger hunts and evening sing-a-longs around the campfire. Around the holidays, a number of craft projects keep kids entertained and creative.
A snack bar in the Buccaneer Bay Water Park offers fruit juices, ice cream, cookies and other snacks throughout the day.
The Lakeshore Grille is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and includes a kid's menu complete with pirate ship for coloring. Breakfast for kids includes S'mores pancakes and "eggs in a frame." Lunch and dinner include the expected hamburgers and chicken fingers, but also healthier choices such a grilled chicken breast and fruit cups. The BYOP (build your own pizza) is popular with older kids, and the Sunday brunch buffet is a hit with the entire family.
With a few hours advance notice, the kitchen staff will pack a picnic basket customized to individual needs to be enjoyed on the beach, in a boat on the lake, or anywhere on the grounds or the adjacent Honey Creek State Park.
The gift shop carries a few snacks, but otherwise, the closest grocery store for purchasing treats for picky eaters is about 20 miles away in Exline.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Watch for Buzz the Bee, a friendly, costumed character that wanders the property, primarily around the lodge, most mornings looking for children to infect with his sunny outlook. It's a memorable photo opp. Buzz personifies the nature of Honey Creek Resort to accommodate children's interests. From finger painting on trees to yarn crafts to creating a sculpture out of salt dough, the staff at Honey Creek engages kids in an effortless, but educational style.
A spa offering mani/pedi packages along with a limited massage menu is available on weekends. The 750-square-foot fitness center offers treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and a universal gym. Yoga and aerobic classes may be offered for large family gatherings upon request.
The Art of Smart Timing
Summer is obviously the busy time at Honey Creek Resort, but there are unexpected pleasures in all seasons. Quail, deer and turkey season brings hunters to south central Iowa in the autumn months. School holidays and spring break may be crowded, but special priced packages are available. Therefore, the best bargain time at Honey Creek is January and February.
Honey Creek Resort is located in south central Iowa near the Missouri border, a very rural area, which is a part of its appeal. Des Moines International Airport is 90 minutes away. Amtrak has service to nearby Ottumwa, Iowa (where Radar O'Reilly from MASH was from) about 30 miles away. However, private automobile is necessary to reach Honey Creek Resort. The resort does not offer transportation of any kind.
For Mom and Dad
The first Thursday of each month, Honey Creek offers a Wine and Dine event that features a one-time evening menu designed by Chef Patrick Koffman to complement the pre-selected wines of the evening. Mom and Dad may also enjoy a glass of wine during a twilight tour of the lake on a houseboat and the entertainment that comes with occasional special events, such as the October Bluegrass Festival and a seasonal event called All That Wine, Jazz, Blues & Brews.