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11 Ways To Enjoy Clear Lake In The Winter

There are plenty of good reasons to visit summer destinations in the off-season: Fewer crowds, short waits at popular restaurants, and just a calmer experience. Clear Lake is, without a doubt, a lively summer vacation spot, but what’s it like in the winter? Read on and I’ll share my Clear Lake winter experience with you, and offer a few ideas for making the most of it.

Disclosure: I was hosted by Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.

Sunset over the frozen Clear Lake

Why go to Clear Lake in the winter?

Great question. Clear Lake, after all, has lovely, sandy beaches and a tiki bar right on the water. It’s a fun place. We went to Clear Lake in February, though. And for good reason: Color The Wind, an annual winter kite festival is held the third weekend in February and I was determined to see it. 

2023 Color The Wind, a winter kite festival held each February in Clear Lake, Iowa

Is there a calm beauty to Clear Lake when the lake is frozen over and it’s 25 degrees out? Absolutely. 

Do I prefer Clear Lake when it’s 85 degrees out? Absolutely. 

Some people plan a winter trip to Clear Lake for concerts at the Surf Ballroom. The legendary concert venue regularly brings in touring acts, and holds the annual Winter Dance Party. Others want to spend their time outdoors, perhaps ice fishing on Clear Lake. Whatever floats your boat, so to speak.

What’s open in Clear Lake in the winter?

Clear Lake has a population of less than 8,000 people, and it’s first and foremost a summer destination. In the winter, it’s understandably a lot more quiet. Hours for businesses are reduced, and some businesses close completely for the season. 

Starboard Market, a deli in Clear Lake the closes seasonally

My favorite Clear Lake restaurant, Starboard Market, is one such seasonal eatery that is closed until spring. Another restaurant we enjoyed, GeJo’s, is only open on Friday and Saturday nights in the off-season. 

Attractions like the Firefighter Museum or Surf Ballroom have short, seasonal hours. If you plan on visiting nearby Mason City, know that their attractions, too, have reduced hours in the winter. The Meredith Willson attractions, The Music Man Square and Willson Boyhood Home, are closed all winter, for instance).

It’s not enough to check hours online before going to a shop in Clear Lake – I highly recommend calling ahead. I was disappointed more than once on our winter getaway, thinking a place would be open because it said so on Google, only to find them closed. Don’t trust Google, my friends. 

Downtown Clear Lake is a good place to stroll, though, and hopefully stumble upon businesses that are open. It’s within walking distance of the lake, so at the very least, you can walk toward the water and enjoy the icy view. 

Things to do in Clear Lake in the winter

So, now you’re probably wondering if there’s anything to do in the winter in Clear Lake. Here are a few ideas:

The Clear Lake lakefront in the winter, with icy snow patches near a bench
  • Attend a festival. I recommend Color The Wind Winter Kite Festival held the third Saturday in February.
  • Ice fish. 
  • Catch a new release at the Lake cinema located in the historic Opera House.
  • Try a flight of beer at Lake Time Brewery.
  • Get souvenirs at Larson’s Mercantile.
  • Browse art at the Art Center. 
  • Watch the sunset over Clear Lake.
  • Bundle up for a winter hike or snowshoe at Clear Lake State Park or McIntosh Woods State Park.
  • Play a board game and enjoy a mixed drink at 723 Distillery.
  • Get a treat at Cookies Etc., Charlie’s Soda Fountain, Chris’ Kettle Corn, or South Shore Donuts. 
  • Browse boutiques like Nash & Ivy or White Barn Picket Fence.
The Clear Lake Opera House turned movie theater, The Lake

Good places to stay in the winter in Clear Lake

The great things about going to Clear Lake in the off-season is that prices will typically be lower for hotels and rental homes, and there is better availability (unless you go the weekend of the kite festival – it was a bit busy at our hotel at least!). So, determine what you want most for your winter getaway and then book it:

Clear Lake Winter getaway with a hot tub

Clear Lake Winter getaway with a pool

Clear Lake Winter getaway with a lake view

Clear Lake Winter getaway for a group

Frequently asked questions about Clear Lake

The view from the stage inside Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa

What is Clear Lake, Iowa known for? 

Clear Lake, Iowa, is known for its connection to a rock tragedy. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played their last concert at the town’s Surf Ballroom on Feb. 3, 1959; their small plane crashed in a field outside of Clear Lake later that night. 

You can visit the Surf Ballroom, and even see a show there if it times out well. The crash site is also marked and music fans make the trek to pay homage to the music greats that lost their lives that night.

How much snow does Clear Lake, Iowa get annually?

Clear Lake, Iowa, averages about 38 inches of snow each year, well above the nationwide average of snowfall. 

What are winters like in Northern Iowa?

The average high temperature in Northern Iowa in the winter months is below freezing – hovering around 25 degrees in January and 29 degrees in February, if you’re lucky. The average low is in the single digits in January and about 12 degrees in February. Precipitation and snowfall is above average. It gets cold enough for most of Clear Lake to freeze over, which is why they’re able to have a huge winter kite festival on it each February. 

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