Allamakee County is tucked away in northeast Iowa. It is home to one of the most picturesque destinations in the heart of America. The Mississippi River provides a stunning backdrop all year long. The four seasons are abundant and include a spectacular fall season. Several historic towns await your visit within the county, along with numerous outdoor activities. I hope you will be inspired to visit this corner of Iowa, as it’s truly a beautiful place.
Yellow River State Forest
The Yellow River State Forest is home to more than 8,000 acres and award-winning trails. Hikers, equestrians, snowmobilers, and cross-country skiers enjoy the numerous trails in the state forest. Kayakers will appreciate the water trail as well. The forest offers a wide variety of plant and animal life, including more than 65 species of birds. When you visit, be sure you have your binoculars in hand, as the birding is outstanding. Fishing and hunting are also popular in the Yellow River Forest. Dress in layers, as the weather can change rapidly during all four seasons. In my opinion, the best time of year to visit is in the fall. The fall colors are stunning, and the weather is still fairly nice. There is no fee to enter this state forest.
Driftless Area Scenic Byway
This area of the state offers panoramic views at every turn. When you drive the Driftless Area Scenic Byway, you will find valleys, forests, farms, and limestone croppings highlighting the Mississippi River. The bluffs offer views that you will not find in any other area of Iowa. You can begin your drive in Postville and follow the signs as you meander through Allamakee County on the scenic byway. There are about 15 miles of gravel on this byway. If you don’t like driving on gravel, you may want to take another route. Iowa has scenic byways in this area of the state, and they all offer something a little different. Take the time to stop in the small towns along the way. You will find several historical sites and unique shopping experiences, including antiques, pottery experiences, and specialty gift shops.
Driftless Area Education And Visitor Center
While driving the Driftless Area Scenic Byway, you will come across the Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center. Allamakee County was once surrounded by glaciers, which is how it became known as the Driftless Area. Take in the scenic river views while nestled underneath the limestone bluffs above the visitor center. Imagine the sounds of a steamboat whistle echoing through the bluffs years ago as you explore the area. The Mississippi River has been home to fishermen for years and continues to be today. Today there is no steamboat whistle, but there is a busy river with barges that carry grain south to the Mississippi Delta. Plan to spend an hour in the center; admission is free.
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Iowa’s only national monument, Effigy Mounds National Monument, is located in Allamakee County. There are over 200 known prehistoric Native American mounds within the borders of the park. Thirty-one of these mounds are shaped like bears or birds. Each time that I have visited, I always see something new. With more than 2,500 acres along the Yellow River, the woods and prairie areas add to this monument’s beauty. A wheelchair-accessible boardwalk is near the visitor center and leads to the wetlands. You can hike as little or as much as you like at this national monument. You can easily spend one full day hiking the trails, which offer scenic views and numerous mounds. There is no admission fee.
Rent A Boat
Bring your boat or rent one. S and S Boat Rentals offers fishing boats, pontoons, and houseboat rentals. Knowing how you want to explore the Mississippi River will help you decide what type of boat you want to rent. You can explore the Upper Mississippi River at the pace you like and enjoy being on the water. Fishermen can expect to catch walleye, northern pike, bass, sunfish, and crappies. The views of Allamakee County from the water are an attraction of their own. The picturesque limestone cliffs offer a stunning sight, with a bald eagle often in view.
Take A Barn Tour
Allamakee County is home to the Allamakee County Barn Tour. A highlight of this tour is the Reburn 12-sided Barn located at 1641 Pool Hill Drive near New Albin. This unique 12-sided barn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kolsrud Barn near Waukon and the Chimney Rock Ranch Barn near Lansing are also highlighted. I would recommend incorporating this tour into driving the scenic byways as these barns are all near those routes.
Eat Cheese Curds
WW Homestead Dairy in Waukon is home to some of the best cheese curds you will ever experience. They are known as the Cheese Curd Capital of Iowa. There are not many places with that claim to fame. These two family farms are made up of three generations of people who help put food on our tables. With more than 90 years of experience in the dairy industry, their products are exceptional. If you are not a fan of cheese curds, I’d highly suggest that you try some farm-fresh butter or seasonal ice cream.
Mount Hosmer City Park
Every time I visit Lansing, I drive up the switchbacks that take me to the top of Mount Hosmer City Park. An incredible panoramic view of the Mississippi River and the valley below are visible from the bluff that sits 450 feet above Lansing, Iowa. This park is named for Harriet Hosmer. She was a sculptress who won a footrace to get to the hill’s summit during a steamboat layover during the 1850s. When you drive up to the top of this park, think of her. You will be happy that you are in your car and not running to the top. It’s a steep, windy climb to the top. Several easy to moderate hiking trails start from this park, offering beautiful views of the area. If you do hop on a trail, make sure you have some bug spray, a comfortable pair of hiking shoes, and a set of binoculars.
Horsfall’s Lansing Variety Store
Horsfall’s Lansing Variety Store is located on Main Street in Lansing, a National Historic District. It’s one of the best five-and-dime stores that I have come across in all of my travels. You can find everything that you can’t find anywhere else. Merchandise is stocked from the floor to the ceiling. There is not a nook or cranny that is not packed with something that you may need. On my last visit, I was on the hunt for a road map and was able to snag a current atlas. Greeting cards, paint, holiday decorations, toys, candy, you name it, you can find it at Horsfall’s.
Iowa Great River Road National Scenic Byway
You cannot visit Allamakee County without driving the Iowa Great River Road National Scenic Byway. Miles and miles of extraordinary sights can be seen while you take this route along the Mississippi River. Effigy Mounds National Monument sits along this route as does the Yellow River State Forest. Follow the signage, and you will be in for a beautiful drive. Look up to see the beautiful cliffs, which are home to several birds species, including bald eagles.
Allamakee County is one of the most beautiful areas of Iowa that I have visited. It’s in the far northeast corner, which makes it an Iowa destination in itself. When you explore Allamakee County, you can expect to enjoy nature and move at a slower pace. The river and the forests are sure to keep you entertained as you drive through the valleys and rolling hills. History will come to life as you explore each little town that you come upon. Each season brings new experiences. Springtime brings a fresh burst of green, and summer offers stunning views of wildflowers. Fall is magnificent with color along the river in the trees. Winter brings a fresh coat of white, which is ideal for wintertime outdoor enthusiasts.
Make the time to slow down in each small town that you come upon. Find a local eatery and indulge. Home-cooked food, along with top-notch hospitality, is what you will experience when you visit Allamakee County.
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