The Lady of the Lake:
Celebrating 35 years in Clear Lake


Looking across the water on a sunny, summer day in Clear Lake, there’s a chance you will see one of the most iconic sights in the area – The Lady of the Lake.

The beautiful paddlewheel ferry was built in 1960. Its original use was to transport passengers across the Missouri River, a service offered back before full-scale bridges had been built.

Today, the Lady of the Lake makes her home in Clear Lake at the sea wall during the peak season of use. Her story, however, of how she became a premier tourist attraction in North Iowa is rather interesting.


The Lady of the Lake’s beginning as a ferry boat.

In 1985, Gary Geist stopped at a bar on his way home from work one day. The only other person in the bar was his banker so he sat down and struck up a conversation. The banker began to tell Gary all about this paddleboat ferry he’d found that was in bad shape. He thought Gary needed to buy the boat to save it from its inevitable demise.

Gary remembers laughing at the guy, thinking he was ridiculous for even suggesting such a thing.  “I said to the guy, do you have any idea how much money that will cost me to renovate?”

The banker looked Gary right in the eye and replied, “Gary, all I got is money.”

And so, he couldn’t resist.

Gary and his wife, Karen, purchased the Lady in 1985 and began renovations while the boat was still in Yankton, South Dakota.  They added the top deck and refurbished much of the interior before it was moved to southern Iowa.

Once there, preparations began for the final transport to Clear Lake.

“The Clear Lake Chamber wanted it to be out on the lake,” he said. “I just wanted to promote tourism to that part of Iowa, and they were all for it.”

It wasn’t an easy feat, that’s for sure.  It cost approximately $47,000 to tear it down, transport, and then put back together.

“We went to Des Moines to get permission to move it up to North Iowa,” Gary recalled.  “It was over 100 tons on that trailer, so we had to have every bridge inspected before and after it was crossed.”  Thankfully, the gaming commission and the State of Iowa saw how much something like the Lady could positively impact North Iowa and provided police escorts and permits for the Lady to be transported across all 37 counties.

Once she made it to her permanent home in Clear Lake, Gary and Karen began operating the tourist attraction.  “We ran it for 20 years,” Gary said. “My wife and I figured it out one time, and we put in about 28,000 nautical miles doing tours across Clear Lake.”

When Gary and Karen decided to hang up their captain’s hats, it wasn’t the end of the Lady’s story. There have been a handful of owners throughout the years, each with their own special memories and contributions to what she is today.

“My best memory is how much I enjoyed the people,” recalled previous owner, Steve Ward. “The evening cruises as the captain were my favorite.”

Under Steve’s ownership, the Lady received an upgrade to the interior, the electronics on board, and a whole new bottom.

Roger Nordman took possession next, adding a more efficient drive system, and replacing all the old vinyl siding with new. “We were constantly doing upgrades to the boat,” Roger commented.

His best memory runs along the same lines… the people. “I was in an airport once in Omaha and a lady approached me, stating she knew me. I laughed, thinking it couldn’t be possible, but then she showed me a picture of us together. Her family had been up to Clear Lake that summer and she said her favorite part was going for a cruise on the Lady of the Lake.”

Roger sold the Lady to Jon Berhow, who operated the attraction for a short time before it changed hands again, coming under the ownership of Scott and Niki Monson who still run the Lady today.

Even now, 35 years later, the Lady of the Lake is a centerpiece in the Clear Lake community.

A sign of changing seasons when she’s brought out each spring and put away in the late fall.  Her public cruises are a hit during our peak tourist season, offering a daily 90-minute narrated tour around Clear Lake for the public, as well as accommodating various special events. The double-decker boat features tables for guests to sit back and relax. Snacks and drinks are available for purchase at the bar.

And, for those who don’t quite have their sea legs, the Lady of the Lake offers dockside night on Wednesday evening’s during the summer. Often hosting live music or a DJ, it’s an enjoyable evening of food, drinks, and fun.

Sitting down with current owner, Scott, he recalls the best part of his stint in ownership. “Taking kids for rides is a major highlight,” he said. “When they honk the horn, it just lights up their day… well, either that or it scares them!”

Preparations are in the works to acknowledge the 35th year of the Lady of the Lake running on Clear Lake. At the time of print, nothing has been made official, but keep an eye on their Facebook page (@cruiseclearlake) for updates and announcements on special events.

“Buying that boat was one of the best things I ever did,” Gary recalls, a bit of nostalgia in his voice.

And we’re sure glad he did, too.

The Lady of the Lake represents the heart and soul of what makes Clear Lake such a special place to live, work and play. We are proud to have her on our lake for the past 35 years and look forward to many more years of operation for the community.

She’s majestic and grand, a true gem in the heart of Clear Lake.

Click here for the Cruise Schedule.

The Lady of the Lake is a great place for a wedding, family reunion, and is a must for your group tour itinerary. Check out our planning resources here.