The 10 Must-Visit Small Towns in Iowa (2024)
In the heart of the Midwest, Iowa is a gorgeous flatland and a splendid state when it comes to vacations. It has so much to explore in the form of Tourist attractions, State and National Parks, Historical Landmarks, Contemporary sites, and more. Though what we are going to focus on today are the Small towns in Iowa. The face of small-town America, Iowa, has an array of small towns that are full of charming faces. Whether you are looking to settle for peaceful retirement life or planning a rejuvenating vacation, the Iowa small towns come as great options.
The State of Iowa is home to over 99 counties and small towns touching the number 1000. Be it Amana Colonies and Elk Horn or Dyserville and Winterset, every small town in Iowa has its own character and offers something different from the other. With that said, here are the 10 most popular small towns you must visit in Iowa. Be it for a week-long vacation or just a quick weekend getaway, Iowa’s small towns suit all plans.
The 10 Must-Visit Small Towns in Iowa
Have a look at the choicest options below.
Decorah is a town in Winneshiek County with a population of fewer than 8000 residents. It is known for its Norwegian culture and has a touch of Norway in it. In the month of July, the town host a Nordic Fest, which is all about music, dance, and food. The town is also home to the Norwegian-American Museum, one of the biggest museums devoted to any immigrant community. Beyond its Norwegian culture, Decorah is also popular for the most scenic landscapes in Iowa. The town acts as the basecamp for exploring Iowa’s some of the most wonderful rolling woodlands and bluff-lined rivers. Some of the popular attractions here include the Decorah Trout Hatchery and the Winneshiek Wildberry Winery. The small but lovely downtown Decorah district offer opportunity to shop and eat the local.
One of the best small towns in Iowa, Pella, is forty miles southeast of Des Moines. The Dutch immigrants from the Netherlands settled this town in 1847, and architectural remains from the early settlement are still found here. Pella is home to the 124 feet Vermeer Mill which is the tallest working windmill in North America. The mill continues to work today for all those years and is the centerpiece of the town. Apart from the mill, other historic buildings within the town are a part of the Historic Village of Pella. Since Pella has a distinct Dutch appeal to it, the madness for tulips here knows no end. During the blooming season, Pella shines with over 200 tulip beds, all in different colors. Be it the city parks or the town streets; there are tulips all across Pella. Lastly, for an added Dutch touch, do try the Jaarsma Bakery and Vander Ploeg Bakery for some authentic snacks.
Bentonsport is a town in Iowa that is also a part of the National Register of Historic Places. The history of this tiny town goes back to the 1840s when it flourished as a popular port city. Though today, this little town on the banks of Des Moines River is left with a few houses and fewer residents. However, that doesn’t stop it from inviting and hosting thousands of tourists every year. A visit to Bentonsport will introduce you to 16 blocks of buildings, waterfront property, and a historic bridge as its centerpiece. The historic bridge leads towards a beautiful rose garden which was once a mill site. You can find several local restaurants and shops, all housed in 1840s buildings. Even though the town doesn’t have many attractions, the sense of serenity is what keeps attracting visitors here throughout the year.
4. The Amana Colonies
Iowa’s most popular heritage, the Amana Colonies, deserve a position in every itinerary. Amana Colonies is basically a group of 7 villages, including Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. All of these villages are located in east-central Iowa, covering 26,000 acres. The colonies (all 7 villages) make up for a German town that has sheer resemblance from the time it was functional. Back in time, a German Pietists established all of these villages and managed to function as a self-sustaining colony for several decades. Today, Amana Colonies are popular for heritage tourism and as a popular weekend getaway. Begin your trip from the Amana Heritage Museum and learn about the region’s history. Further, visit other popular places, including Woolen Mill and the Village Winery. The colonies are also popular for their artisan wares and best-quality handcraft products. Besides the tourist attractions, other draws at Amana are the Winterfest, Wurst Festival, and the Maifest.
Waverly, in the northwest part of the state, is one of the best places to live in Iowa. This quaint collegiate town is located in the Cedar River, with nearly 10,000 residents. Waverly has a friendly downtown district, many city parks, golf courses, and local affairs. Begin your trip from the Waverly Main Street, which is popular for its charming storefront. It has a wide range of shopping stops, eateries, and local B&Bs. Waverly is popular for its excellent outdoor activities. The Waverley Rail Trail nearby the town seems to be a seven-mile route popular amongst hikers. The trail passes through eight scenic bridges and multiple scenic locations. Besides hiking, biking and cycling too are popular here. The town is also home to two 18-hole golf courses that remain the summer season draw amongst both locals and tourists.
6. Elk Horn
Another best small town in Iowa, Elk Horn, is within the West Central part of the state. Elk Horn and its neighboring town, Kimballton, are known for being United States’ largest rural Danish settlements. Elk Horn represents the Danish lifestyle, and anyone visiting here convinces to try Danish cuisine at least once. The many local restaurants in the town offer authentic food. Not just that, but the local annual festivals, including Tivoli Fest and Julefest, too, are all about authentic food, music, and dance. When in the town, do tour the Danish Windmill Museum and the Museum of Danish America. Further, to learn the Scandinavian past of the region, wander through the streets of downtown Elk Horn. Visiting Elk Horn for Christmas and New Year festivities also is quite popular amongst the residents of the neighborhood.
McGregor is another Iowan town popular amongst weekend getaway enthusiasts. It is a popular small town in Iowa, located on the Mississippi River. The town is just across Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin as well. It also shares the river border with Illinois across. McGregor is a popular summer town, all thanks to its location on the Mississippi River. The best way to enjoy its outdoor setting is through the Pikes Peak State Park. This natural region provides access to the miles of trails winding throughout the woodland landscape and the panoramic natural views. Beyond its outdoor range of recreational land, the town is also known for its cozy downtown area. The area is filled with local restaurants and shops, some great stops to shop and eat. For shopping, consider visiting paper moon.
8. Le Claire
A popular small town in Iowa, Le Claire is located in the eastern part of the state, slightly up the Mississippi River. The town was established in the early 1830s and had residents less than 4000. While in the town, begin with exploring the Buffalo Bill Museum further, followed by the Grasshoppers and the Vintage Vine Wine Cellar. The former museum is a great place to learn about the Mississippi River region and its past. To appreciate the waterways, one can take the river cruises offered by Riverboat Twilight. These tours offer the best experience, especially during the summer season. Whereas during the winter, the same river water attracts a convocation of eagles which one can observe from the banks. For adults, Le Claire has some great places to visit, including the Green Tree Brewery and Mississippi River Distilling Company. Faithful Pilot Cafe and Spirits and the Wide River Winery Tasting Room are also some great options to consider.
Dyersville is the same town in Iowa that you might have seen in the Field of Dreams movie. The said movie was filmed at the Lansing family farm, which later added to more popularity of this town. Though a lot of visitors choose to observe the same movie-like location, the town of Dyersville has a lot more to it. It is home to tourist attractions like National Farm Toy Museum and the famous Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum. Another notable attraction of the town includes the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, an eye-catching spiritual and architectural landmark. Not just the church but several historic homes and architecture lines Dyersville quite nicely. Besides visiting the attractions, another popular thing to do in the town is attending the Ghost Sundays. Within the sets of Field of Dreams, this summer event calls in for family-friendly entertainment.
10. Clear Lake
Last but not least is the town of Clear Lake, where all the nice people live. Clear lake is apparently a lakeside community in Iowa, located in its northern part. The centerpiece of the town, of course, is the namesake 3,684-acre natural lake with an average depth of 10 feet. The lake offers an endless array of recreational options, including swimming, sailing, boating/water sports, fishing, and relaxing at the beach. Other than water recreation, the Clear lake is also known as several tourist attractions in the town. Some of them include the Plane Crash Site of Buddy Holly, Central Gardens of North Iowa, Surf Ballroom, and the Lake Theatre. The options extend toward Clear Lake Fire Museum, Kinney Pioneer Museum, Lake Time Brewery, and the Clear Lake Arts Center.