Life in The Hawkeye State is pretty peachy, especially if you find yourself enchanted by the charms of small communities where everyone knows your name. Our state may be listed among the safest places to live in the nation, but our small towns will steal your heart in an instant. The best small towns in Iowa to visit in the winter are those overflowing with history, as their snow-covered landscapes are dreamy and their indoor attractions are oh so cozy. Prepare for a road trip, because you won’t be able to resist the allure of these marvelous little communities.
1. Nevada, Story County
Nevada, the county seat of Story County, has a notable claim to fame: it's consistently recognized as one of the best small towns in the nation! This ranking makes it a particular joy to visit, even in the winter. This community of just under 7,000 has been populated since the 1850s, and today some of its finest attractions are among its oldest. Briggs Terrace (a.ka. Evergreen Lane) is incredible in the winter, and visitors indulge in pastimes like fishing to this very day at Hickory Grove Park. The architecture amidst Nevada's historic streets is straight out of a Hallmark movie when coated in a blanket of snow.
2. Decorah, Winneshiek County
This unique small town has a history that's truly unexpected. It rests on the remnants of an ancient crater, which is, unfortunately, not visible. Nonetheless, this city speaks for itself. Its earliest residents arrived around 1840, and the culture that flourished in the area over the years led to it being the location of Nordic Fest. Though it is the largest community in the county, it has a mere 8,127 residents. Even in the absence of snow, this town is cozy and welcoming enough to keep you warm on a brisk winter day.
3. LeClaire, Scott County
Though it's fairly fast growing for a small town, Le Claire's circa 4,000 residents adore its small town atmosphere. The city is officially known as LeClaire, although it is often styled as Le Claire and has been since it was incorporated in 1855. This unique small town is best known historically as Buffalo Bill Cody's birthplace, and in modern media it is recognized as the site of Antique Archaeology, the store features in
4. Dyersville, Delaware and Dubuque counties
Though it has a mere 4,100 residents, this petite community is recognizable to a much greater population. Field of Dreams, its premier tourist attraction, was originally built in the community for the movie of the same name. The community also has one of the loveliest Roman Catholic basilicas in the United States and the National Farm Toy Museum. As a result, this place can get rather touristy in the warmer months... but in the winter, you can explore it like a local.
5. Wapello, Louisa County
Wapello may be the county seat of Louisa County, but it has only around 2,000 residents. Its settlers first appeared around the late 1830s, which accounts for its charming and historic downtown district. Visitors love checking out the Louisa County Heritage Center and the nearby Toolesboro Indian Mounds. Additionally, nature abounds in the surrounding landscape.
6. Mount Vernon, Linn County
Circa 4,500 residents call Mount Vernon home, packing into the lovely landscape of this 3.50 square mile community. It was once known as Pinhook, though it was eventually renamed for George Washington's estate. This community is an absolute riot during the Chalk the Walk festival, which decorates the city in impressive art. In the winter, however, you can hike in Palisades-Kepler State Park, explore the local hub of culture, or get lost in time at the Anderson Geology Museum.
7. Jewell Junction, Hamilton County
Some 1,200 residents call this lovely landscape home. Jewell's first post office was founded in 1880. Treat yourself to Sunday brunch at Jewell Golf and Country Club, and then take a dreamy afternoon hike along the JewEllsworth Trail. Admire the playful mix of scenic landscape and historic architecture and you just may find yourself falling in love with Jewell.
8. Elkader, Clayton County
With just barely over 1,000 residents, Elkader is a blip on most maps. This lovely community, however, is one you won't want to pass up. Elkader's scenic landscape hides the largest stone arch bridge west of the Mississippi, as well as the longest continuously-operated grocery store on this side of the nation. If that's not enough, the town is also overflowing with interesting architecture and antiques. Whether you visit in the winter or the summer, this lovely landscape is one that's irresistible.
9. Cherokee, Cherokee County
At nearly seven square miles, Cherokee's 5,000 residents are somewhat spread out. This spacious landscape include some lovely countryside and, of course, quite a bit of history. It was founded in 1870, and at the time its founders could never imagine that their community would become one of the smallest towns in the world to have its own orchestra. In the winter, Jazz Fest delights visitors in mid- to late-January.
10. New Sharon, Mahaska County
This teeny tiny community has just barely over 1,000 residents in its roughly one square mile landscape. Its earliest residents first built the town's earliest edifices in the 1850s, but to this day some of its most striking landmarks are those shaped by mother nature. Follow U.S. Highway 63 into its business district and catch a show at the Capri Theatre.
These communities are among the very best small towns in Iowa to visit, but their landscapes are sometimes more enchanting in the winter than they are in summer. Which of these communities is your favorite?