When you think about leisurely flying a kite, what images come to mind? Sunny skies with a nice breeze? Traipsing through an open field or perhaps on a beach? What about bundled up in winter gear on a frozen lake in Middle America? That last scenario seems a bit out of the ordinary, would you agree? What if I told you that, every winter, the Color the Wind Kite Festival takes place in Clear Lake, Iowa, ON frozen Clear Lake?
Larry and Kay Day are the husband-and-wife team behind Color the Wind. They both are kite enthusiasts and have lived in Clear Lake, Iowa, since 1969. They wanted to give back to the community they care so much about, so the idea for the Color the Wind Kite Festival was born.
About Clear Lake, Iowa
The town of Clear Lake is in North Iowa, approximately 25 miles south of the Minnesota border. Clear Lake sits almost exactly halfway between Minneapolis and Des Moines along I-35. The town surrounds a natural, spring-fed lake of the same name. The lake is approximately 3,700 acres in size, making it a popular Midwest fishing, boating, and overall holiday destination.
Many outside of the Upper Midwest probably are unfamiliar with Clear Lake. Long-term residents and those with summer homes on the lake, one would guess, would like to keep it that way. But word is getting out. Clear Lake has received high accolades in recent years from the likes of Midwest Living (“A Top Vacation Spot”) and USA Today (one of “51 Great American Beaches”). With its small-town charm, abundant outdoor recreation, and 28 miles of shoreline, such notoriety should come as no surprise to those familiar with Clear Lake. For those who are unfamiliar, it is time to start thinking about a visit. Plan your visit at the Clear Lake Chamber’s website and via their free Apple and Android app.
Color the Wind Kite Festival
The first Color the Wind Kite Festival took place in 2001. It was intended to be an annual event but sometimes Mother Nature does not cooperate. Luckily for my family and me, this year’s conditions were favorable and we were able to experience the colorful festival. The fun began on Friday evening, February 16th, with the Meet the Kite Flyers Reception at Clear Lake Arts Center. The event was open to the public and allowed organizers, participants, and spectators to mingle and create more excitement for the next day’s festivities. There was even more buzz in the crowd this year as the CBS Sunday Morning team, including correspondent Lee Cowan, was in attendance. They were there to cover Color the Wind for a piece that is scheduled to air on CBS Sunday Morning on March 25th. (See? Word really is getting out about Clear Lake!)
Before the festival officially began on Saturday morning, the Clear Lake Arts Center held a kids’ kite-making workshop. Participating children designed and colored their very own kites to fly along with the experts down at the lake. My kids were so excited and all of the kids really did an awesome job. The workshop volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful. It was such a lovely experience for my family and me.
From the Arts Center, we walked down to the lake as the festival was getting started. As we turned a corner toward the breakwall, the dozens of kites came into view. It was seriously jaw-dropping. The splashes of color high in the sky were in stark contrast to the gray-white background. From our vantage point, the cables and anchors keeping the kites afloat were not visible, so such a sight – the kites seemingly suspended in midair – was slightly eerie but definitely fascinating.
My kids were anxious to get down on the frozen lake and fly their own kites. They both did very well until my son (who’s only 4) accidentally let go of his kite and it flew away. His disappointment didn’t last long, though, as all the colorful kites and excitement on the lake distracted him. We traversed the frozen lake for some time to get up close and under all the kites. With approximately 50 kite flyers and kite choreographers from around the U.S., and an estimated 10,000 spectators, there was so much to take in!
Tips for attending Color the Wind Kite Festival
- Be prepared for cold weather and dress accordingly. Yes, it’s winter. Yes, it’s cold. But if you’re properly bundled-up, the weather will not impede the fun. I recommend a well-insulated coat atop a layer or two of thinner clothing; snow pants or bibs; and warm socks and boots.
- Consider ice grips for your shoes/boots. Walking on an icy, frozen lake can be challenging so you’ll be thankful for the additional traction. I managed to stay upright without the cleats but still wished I’d had a pair.
- Bring a sled or wagon for the kids. I saw so many families towing their kids in sleds and wagons. I was disappointed that I hadn’t thought of it, especially when my son started moaning that he was tired and didn’t want to walk anymore.
More on visiting Clear Lake, Iowa
- With two state parks on the lake (McIntosh Woods State Park and Clear Lake State Park), there is no shortage of camping and hiking opportunities, beachfront, and other water-based activities.
- The town is home to the Surf Ballroom. It’s where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper played their last shows before being killed in an airplane crash shortly after taking off from Clear Lake. Surf Ballroom still serves as a concert venue and event space.
- Spend some time at the Clear Lake Arts Center. Browse works created by local artists and shop for handmade and original goods forged by area artisans. (I could have spent some serious money there.)
Clear Lake certainly surprised me. It felt similar to some of the well-known beach towns in Wisconsin and Michigan. Color the Wind Kite Festival was the perfect introduction to Clear Lake. I’d love to return in summer with the whole family to camp at one of the state parks.
Thank you to AmericInn & Suites for hosting my family and me, and to Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce for providing additional compensation. All words and opinions, as always, are 100% my own.