We may not be known for our magnificent waterfalls, but Iowa still has a few beautiful little falls hiding across the state! We’ve put together an easy going weekend waterfall trip to guide you to some of Iowa’s most beautiful spillways and give you plenty of time to explore each one! This trip begins in Des Moines; however, it is a loop route, so you can jump in at any point to make your way to Iowa’s waterfalls!
If you tried to do the whole trip in one shot, it would take about 10 hours - with no stops - which is hardly an ideal way to see our waterfalls!
Source Image via Google Maps
Begin your journey on Saturday morning. We're using Des Moines as our start/end point. Head East on 1-80 toward MacBride Falls!
1. MacBride Falls
The drive from Des Moines to McBride Falls takes about two hours, so you'll arrive mid- to late-morning, depending on how long you slept in!
MacBride Falls may be man-made, but it is definitely unique and more beautiful than your average spillway. The rocky formations in the river create rapids and currents that actually appear somewhat natural, and the area, as a whole, is quite lovely. You can reach MacBride Falls via an easy hike, and it is located between Lake MacBride and the Coralville Reservoir, both of which offer tons of additional water-based recreational activities.
The beach at Lake MacBride is a popular spot to come cool off during the warm summer months. Make sure you dive on in and enjoy your visit while you're there! We suggest eating lunch in the area before continuing on to your next wonderful waterfall destination.
2. Wapsipinicon Dam Spillway
The drive between MacBride Falls and Wapsipinicon State Park takes about 40 minutes.
Wapsipinicon State Park is one of the oldest in the state and offers several cool features to check out, including a dam spillway that you can see from above by walking out on a cool old trestle bridge.
If you are up for a hike, there are several mixed-use trails in the park, but you may want to adjust your morning at Lake MacBride to make sure you save some extra time to explore.
Leave Wapsipinicon State Park mid-afternoon. We know it's nearly impossible to tear yourself away from such a lovely spot, but dinner will be worth it... but it's still an hour away and you need to get there early if you want to snag a table!
3. Bluff Lake Catfish Farm
We simply love this out-of-the-way restaurant (they serve up some of the best fish fry on weekends), but one perk of this special place is that there is an amazing waterfall right in the back yard! The drive between Wapsipinicon and Maquoketa takes about 50 minutes, and we suggest scheduling your day to get here around 4 p.m.
Facebook / Bluff Lake Catfish Farm
It's quite a popular spot, so if you don't get there early, you will definitely be waiting for a table, but it's hard to complain when you get to kick back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful waterfall right on site!
By this time, you're probably getting worn out from the day's adventures (and an incredible meal), but it's time to hop on the road for one last leg up to Dundee (a little over an hour), so that you have plenty of time to pack in a second day of adventures as soon as you wake up in the morning!
4. Backbone State Park Spillway & Richmond Springs
Rise and shine! If you stayed overnight in Dundee, you are super close to your first stop on your Day 2 Waterfall Weekend adventure!
Backbone State Park is definitely one of our favorites in the state, and there are few cool little waterfalls to see here. The Backbone State Park Spillway is accessible from the West Lake Trail, but you can also see it on a quick drive through the park on 129th street to catch a view as you pass by.
Another favorite spot to visit in this park is Richmond Springs, which may be even more impressive that the actual spillway. The clear, beautiful spring water flows up from deep underground wells, creating a lovely little pool at the northern end of the park.
Hikers love Backbone State Park for its network of trails that crisscross this beautiful area. We kept this in mind, so you should have a few hours to explore in the morning. When you're ready to head out, you're next two sites can be found in McGregor!
5. Beulah Spring Falls
The drive from Dundee to McGregor takes about 50 minutes. Once you're there, head over to Beulah Springs Falls! It's not a tall falls, but it’s still worth a visit! The falls spills out from a cave in the rocks and rolls down a mossy incline. It's located in Clayton County, so you also have the option to stop and take the Spook Cave Tour while you are in the area; you can float a small boat down the river that has flooded a narrow cave!
6. Bridal Veil Falls / Pikes Peak State Park
Also in McGregor, Bridal Veil Falls in Pikes Peak State Park can run a little dry in the off seasons, but when it is flowing, it’s beautiful! A quick and easy 1-mile hike takes you from the parking lot to the falls.
If you happen to visit on a day when Bridal Veil just isn’t flowing, fear not; there is still tons to see and do at Pikes Peak State Park. Head over to the overlook platform for some of the most incredible panoramic views of the Mississippi River in the entire state!
After you've filled up on beautiful Mississippi River views, head the road and head to Decorah. It takes about an hour, but there are three awesome falls waiting for you!
7. Malanaphy Falls
Malanaphy Springs State Preserve is absolutely lovely! It’s located a bit north of Decorah and it’s only a quick 2-mile hike to reach Malanaphy Spring Falls, a spring-fed little spillover into the Upper Iowa River.
As Malanaphy Falls spills right into the river, you can turn this outing into a day on the water by renting kayaks or canoes and paddle up the river route to where the falls spills out!
Malanaphy Falls is located at 2820 Bluffton Road, Decorah, IA
8. Siewers Springs Falls
Siewers Springs is only steps away from Dennings State Park in Decorah. It’s a man-made spillway, but it’s still quite a lovely spot to kick back and relax. The Decorah Fish Hatchery is also located in the park, and it’s pretty cool to check out the fish as they grow and mature and are eventually released back into the local waters. It’s definitely a fun activity if you have kids!
9. Dunning’s Spring Falls
Perhaps the most famous in the state, this stunning 200-foot waterfall is located in Dunnings Spring Park and is easily walkable from the downtown area. Malanaphy, Siewers, and Dunning's Falls are all super close to each other, so you will definitely find an epic waterfall afternoon in Decorah!
We love Decorah- it’s such a fun little town and offers tons of unique shops to poke around in, beautiful parks for picnicking, and trails to explore; however, this is the last waterfall stop on this Weekend Waterfall Itinerary. If you are lucky enough to have a 3-day weekend in front of you, you should definitely spend some extra time in Decorah! Otherwise, grab a snack and hit the road on the final 3.5 hour leg of your adventure, which will take you back to Des Moines.
Are you itching to get on the road yet? We can’t wait for the weather to warm up so we can see all of these stunning falls in full glory! We built a
Waterfall Weekend Map with turn-by-turn directions to guide you along on this adventure. Have fun!