A charming and scenic small town in Madison County, Winterset has a population of 5,190. Madison County was, of course, the inspiration for the setting of the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, “The Bridges of Madison County.” Winterset was used not only as the shooting location for “The Bridges of Madison County,” movie, it was also the shooting place for the films “Cold Turkey” and “The Crazies.”
Winterset is probably most well known for its historic covered bridges. There are a total of six 130-year-old covered bridges in Madison County: Cedar Bridge, Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, Hogback Covered Bridge, Holliwell Bridge, Imes Bridge and Roseman Covered Bridge.
Every year, the town hosts the Covered Bridge Festival. This year, the festival will take place on October 8th and 9th. There will be many sights and activities, including guided bus tours of the bridges, quilt and car shows, a Covered Bridge Festival Parade, artisans, delicious food and more.
While you’re in Winterset, you’ll definitely also want to visit the city park. In the park, you can climb to Clark Tower, a castle-style tower that offers panoramic views of the Middle River Valley.
The park also features a beautiful hedge maze where you can wander to the center and find the sundial in the middle.
Downtown Winterset is also a fun place to spend some time, with plenty of shopping and restaurants, like the historic Northside Cafe, an old-fashioned cafe with classic comfort food like burgers, hot beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy and coconut cake.
No trip to Winterset would be complete without a visit to the legendary John Wayne’s Birthplace & Museum. This is the only museum in the world dedicated to John Wayne, with plenty of exhibits and artifacts like original movie posters and film wardrobe. You can tour the modest four-room home that was restored to reflect the way it looked in 1907, the year of his birth. There’s also a movie theater where you can watch a documentary about the Duke’s amazing career in film.
Finally, for a fall visit, a perfect spot to end the day is the Winterset Cidery. The cidery is adjacent to an apple orchard, and there’s a large tasting room where you can sample the hard ciders made onsite from their multiple varieties of apples, with flavors like ginger and mulled spice.