One of the best things about living in a big state like Iowa is that there is always something to discover! Some of the state’s best treasures are hidden in our small towns, and these 11 are the perfect example of charming, rural Iowa life. How many have you visited?
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
There are fewer than 9,000 people in Decorah, but every one of them is lucky to call this charming town their home. The town's famous Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum is one of the best museums in the country, and downtown you'll find all sorts of historic landmarks, charming shops and cafes, and the friendliest people. Check out the nearby Decorah Ice Cave and enjoy a glass of local wine at the Winneshiek Wildberry Winery.
Remember growing up with Dutch letters from Jaarsma Bakery? Pella is an Iowa favorite — and just about 10,000 people live here. This Dutch town is absolutely dripping with charm, from the canals to the Vermeer Windmill, which is open for tours.
3. The Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies were established by the Pennsylvania Dutch, who were looking to get a little more rural. The seven villages include Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. The famous General Store draws people from all over the state, and the Woolen Mill is the place to get handwoven blankets and clothing.
Le Claire is one of my favorite Iowa towns. Enjoy the restaurants, art galleries, historic districts, antique shops, and be sure to grab a drink at the Mississippi River Distillery. The Buffalo Bill museum is a great collection that shows off midwestern history as well as any other spot in the region.
5. Orange City
Orange City is another wonderfully charming Dutch town. Visit for the tulip festival and spot the charming windmills. The Sioux County Historical Museum is a popular spot for visitors to learn about the area, and during December, thousands flock to this town for their extraordinary Sinterklaas Day celebration!
6. Mount Vernon
This sleepy town is home to Cornell College, which is one of the most historic colleges in the country. Nearby Palisades-Kepler State Park is one of the best places for hiking and exploring in Iowa. Visit in early May to enjoy their incredible Chalk the Walk festival, which draws artists from all over the state.
Elkader is located on the beautiful Turkey River, and is home to some amazing restaurants and parks! If you really want a unique experience, stay the night at the Elkader Jail House Inn, in a renovated jail cell! In the morning, dine in the old prison mess hall before exploring this charming, historic town.
Winterset is the county seat of Madison County and is surrounded by the famous covered bridges. You can visit John Wayne's birthplace in this town, or just enjoy the square courtyard by the Courthouse, where you can picnic and watch the day go by.
9. Villages of Van Buren County
The Villages of Van Buren County are fascinating! There are 12 of them scatted throughout the county, and each has a small population. There are general stores, historic markers, charming shops and boutiques, local artisans, and fresh food served at family-owned cafes. Visit as many as you can in one day, and then stay overnight at the haunted Mason House Inn — if you dare.
McGregor is a typical Iowa river town but on a small scale. With fewer than 1,000 people inhabiting this town, you'll be quite taken by its charm! Many visitors stop into town after hiking in Pikes Peak State Park, or for the riverboat tours of Spook Cave.
11. Elk Horn
Elk Horn is another tiny European town hiding right in Iowa. This Danish-influenced town is home to the only working Danish windmill outside of Denmark! You can visit the Museum of Danish America and dine in nearby cafes for authentic Danish cuisine.