In today’s increasingly complex and busy world, it’s nice to know that there are still small towns that are charming, welcoming and hearken back to a simpler time. Iowa is chock full of charming small towns where everyone still knows each other, everyone waves and smiles, and slower-paced living is embraced.
This is a long road trip, winding around much of the width and length of the state. Whether you have time for the whole trip or just want to explore a segment of the state at a time, we think you’ll enjoy exploring these 10 picturesque small towns. You can find a Google Map of the route
Decorah’s population is 8,127, and in bluff country, it is in an area of striking natural beauty. It’s a center for Norwegian-American culture and is home to Luther College. While you’re there, visit the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, explore the Ice Cave and have some delicious pizza at Mabe’s, a Decorah institution.
This tiny, beautiful town has a population of 375 and is located on the Mississippi River. After exploring the town, you can check out the Effigy National Monument and go explore the Yellow River State Forest.
McGregor is also situated along the Mississippi River town with a population of 870 people. Near Pikes Peak State Park, you can enjoy a day of hiking and breathtaking river views. Another interesting activity is taking a boat tour of Spook Cave.
With a population of around 1273, Elkader is known as the home of Keystone Bridge, the largest stone arch bridge west of the Mississippi, which stretches over the Turkey River. There are plenty of interesting shops to browse through as you wander through downtown Elkader, as well.
5. Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon is a quaint and scenic little town with a population of about 4,506. It’s filled with friendly people and charming and historic Victorian architecture, and it hosts all kinds of local festivals, like the annual Chalk the Walk and Chocolate Festivals. If you’re hungry for dinner, stop by the Palisades Cafe, a cozy restaurant serving up unique weekly specials made with local, fresh ingredients and then have a night cap at the Lincoln Wine Bar.
6. Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies consists of seven villages and has a total population of about 1200 people. Originally settled by German pietists, the Amanas will truly transport you back in time, with shops selling handmade goods, furnitures, arts and crafts. There are also plenty of great places to eat, most serving a variety of American and German fare.
With a population of 10,352, Pella is oozing with Dutch charm. Its Dutch heritage is reflected in its architecture and town square, and they even hold an annual Tulip Festival in May. Some of the local sights are the Vermeer Windmill, the largest Dutch windmill in Iowa, and the Van Wijk Winery in nearby Sully.
Winterset, population 5,190, is the birthplace of John Wayne and is home to the famed covered bridges of Madison County. After touring John Wayne’s Birthplace & Museum and taking a tour of the bridges, stroll through downtown and go shopping in the town’s quaint shops, or go wine tasting in the wineries nearby.
9. Elk Horn
Elk Horn has a population of around 662 and is one of the largest rural Danish settlements in the U.S. Its Danish heritage makes it an interesting place to explore. Elk Horn is home to the only working Danish windmill outside of Denmark, as well as the Museum of Danish America.
Boone has a population of roughly 12,629. While you’re there, visit the downtown shops, book a train ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, and, if you’re feeling outdoorsy, check out nearby Ledges State Park to explore its unusual landscape. The sandstone cliffs were remnants of a prehistoric sea that covered the Midwest 300 million years ago.