There is a legend about how the Lake of 3 Fires got its name. The legend says that the “Fire Nation”, which was a local Pottawatomi tribe, lived in the area around Southwest Iowa. Later 2 other tribes decided to join the “Fire Nation” and the 3 became known as “Three Fires”. The Tribes burned 3 fires atop hills to signify that as long as the 3 fires were burning the tribes were together. Now on the spot where the fires burned, is said to be the Iowa State Park “Lake of 3 Fires”
Located in Southwest Iowa just north of the county seat of Bedford Iowa, is a little hidden treasure for outdoor enthusiasts and campers. When looking for a campground everyone has an opinion on what amenities and activities they want- fishing, hiking, boating, and horseback riding are some of the more popular choices and the Lake of Three Fires has all these and more. The actual lake is only 85 acres but has excellent fishing and is surrounded by 691 acres of beautiful trees with hiking and equestrian trails, fishing jetties and a sandy beach.
For those who are planning more than a day trip to the Lake of 3 Fires there are several options available. Located only a very short walk from the Lake are two modern campgrounds nestled in trees. There are over 100 site options for campers. For the RV or trailer enthusiasts there are 24 standard electric sites and 63 non-electric sites, plus 3 buddy sites. In addition, there are 23 equestrian sites (some electrical) and 1 equestrian buddy site along with plenty of holding stalls and tie outs for horses. They are located just east of the main camping grounds but still close enough to walk down to the lake. There are nice clean restroom and shower facilities, children’s play areas and a trailer dump station. Some of the campsites have also been made handicap accessible.
For those families who don’t have a camper or RV but want to experience camping at the Lake of 3 fires there are 6 family cabins which can accommodate 4- 6 people. They are heated and cooled with the basic essentials- stove, microwave and refrigerator. There are also open shelters and a youth group area that offer a place to rent for large group gatherings. There are picnic areas available that are first come first serve. There are plenty of tables and grills if you are just making a day trip but camping is the way to go at the Lake of 3 Fires so you have time to experience everything.
Many of the camp sites, cabins and shelters are available to reserve online at the Department of Natural Resources website- however there are some that are first come first serve. It is very convenient and easy to reserve your spot online. Highly recommended if you plan on traveling any distance- a guaranteed spot of your choice is worth the few minutes it takes to go online and reserve. You can even look at a map of the campsites and pick where you want your site to be. You can see not only where your site will be but it tells you the electrical voltage, the length and other important information about the site you are choosing.
The camp sites are kept clean, well maintained and are big enough you don’t feel like you are right on top of your neighbor. The bathhouses are centrally located in the campground and offer clean bathroom and shower facilities for campers.
Once you have your camper set and are ready to enjoy your weekend it will be hard to decide where to start. The Lake itself offers many activities. There are 2 boat ramps if you want to go out on the ‘no wake” lake. There are plenty of fish to be caught including bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish. If you don’t have a license to fish you can run into town and pick one up at the courthouse or the Bedford Country Store located right on Hwy 2, very easy to find! There is a dock where you can fish and it also has a cleaning station also available. There are several fishing jetties where you can take a chair and set up to find the perfect spot. From your spot on the lake you might catch a glimpse of some people enjoying a beautiful day on the lake on their canoes or kayaks.
For the hunters, there is a 220 acre public hunting ground to the north and 160 acres to the south. You would of course want to check with the DNR for hunting and gaming regulations.
Not into hunting and fishing? Prefer something a bit more relaxing? Well head down to the beach area which is just a short walk from the camp grounds. There you find a small but very nice beach area for swimming. Not in the mood to swim? Then grab some friends for a game of sand volleyball or perhaps pitch horseshoes. The beach area is perfect place to relax with a good book or play some games with friends. The best part is to get there from the campgrounds you take a beautiful short scenic walk.
Perhaps one of the best parts about the Lake of 3 Fires is the 10 miles of trails the intertwine around the entire Lake. There are some specific trails for hiking but some others that offer horseback riders an amazing view of the lake. The great thing about the trails is how they snake around each other- you could discover a new path every time you go. The trials are nicely marked with “you are here “maps so you don’t get lost. There are beautiful views of the Lake from the far side where you can see clear across to the campgrounds. In the winter after a good snow, they say snow mobiles can also use the trails.
Bedford is only a few miles away so you can run into the local Hy-Vee for Groceries or stop by Dollar General if you forgot something. There are 2 gas stations in town as well that both have pizza, drinks and snacks if you need to stock up.
Getting to the Lake of 3 Fires isn’t hard at all From Bedford just go east out of town for about 1/2 mile on Hwy 2. Then turn north on Lake Road, keep going for about 3 miles and Lake of Three Fires is located on the west side. The roads are a bit windy but everything is paved including the main roads of the park. For a short weekend getaway of a weeklong camping adventure, the Lake of 3 Fires has plenty to offer everyone in your camping group.
This is one of our favorite campgrounds in Iowa. It has a good sized lake for fishing and kayaking, but not to big for large speed boats. It has miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It has a great frisbee golf course that my boys loved playing. The beach sandy and clean for a refreshing dip on a hot afternoon.
We love this campground for the large trees and shade they provide in the summer. Our only complaint is the lack of weather warning system in the area. The park rangers came around to warn campers of possible severe storms coming through the area, but if a tornado warning happened, we would have no notification.
Gorgeous terrain, lake is perfect for canoeing and fishing, overall nice place
We had problems with the rv hookups, immediately a park worker came to help. It was quiet and beautiful. The fishing was great, cleaning stations on the docks, frisby golf and a super nice beach! several boat ramps.
Nice rolling hills. Some easy and moderate hiking trails, horses welcome, most of the activity is out on the lake so if you don’t have a boat you’ll be sad. Also learn about some of the Native American history of the area.
Yay: shady and private sites, all pretty close to the lake, lots of trails, some cabins (would be great for family reunions).
Nay: middle of nowhere and not really worth a detour, but if you’re near Bedford it’s a great little place.
Surprise: there is hunting open to the public so enjoy and/or be careful!