Iowa features rolling hills, beautiful sunsets, bluffs, and scenery that you will only find in the 29th state in the union. Each of the following incredible scenic towns in Iowa offers vistas that you need to know about. With four distinct seasons in the state, you are sure to experience fantastic scenery throughout the year. Challenge yourself to visit these towns at different times of the year. You will quickly learn that incredible views shine all year long. Each of these towns is easy to navigate and many of them offer handicap-accessible attractions and unique lodging experiences.
If you enjoy culture and nature, you will fall in love with Decorah, in northeast Iowa. A visit to this charming town would not be complete without a stop at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum & Folk Art School. Plan a visit in July to experience Nordic Fest. This annual festival celebrates Scandinavian heritage.
Any trip to Decorah would not be complete without a visit to Dunning’s Springs Park. You will see a picturesque spring-fed waterfall that is 200-feet tall. The park is easy to get to it’s less than 5 minutes from downtown. Parking can be complicated at the waterfall, and you may have to walk into the park. The park’s beauty will take your breath away. Summer is an incredible time to arrive, as the wildflowers add a dazzling splash of color to the park. Winter brings memorable scenes with snow and ice on the waterfall. Indulge in a slice of pizza at Mabe’s before you leave town. This pizza establishment is a local favorite and has been serving hot pizza for more than 60 years.
Lansing, Iowa, is a beautiful river town along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa’s Allamakee County. The beautiful Driftless Region is an area of Lansing that offers incredible landscape views. The Driftless Region derived its name from the fact it was surrounded by glaciers during the glacial period yet remained untouched by the giant ice fields. The Driftless Area Scenic Byway and the Great River Road travel through Lansing. If you choose to drive these two byways in northeast Iowa, you will experience unbelievable beauty. The valleys, bluffs, and spectacular views of the Mississippi River will be embedded with you forever. As you meander the roads throughout the region, you will come to a quieter place in time and see nature at its finest.
One of my favorite things to do in Lansing is to drive to the top of Mt. Hosmer. The steep switchbacks will take you 450 feet to the top with an incredible view. Mt. Hosmer makes up a 104-acre city park that sits atop a bluff and offers views of the Mississippi River that you cannot find elsewhere. Take your camera, binoculars, and a picnic lunch to the top of the hill. Forgot something at home? Stop into Horsfalls Variety Store, a classic five & dime for today’s consumer.
Pella, Iowa, in central Iowa, is known for its annual May tulip festival. What many folks don’t know is that the town is lovely all year long. Once the tulips have bloomed, the townsfolk make sure that there are more beautiful flowers in bloom. This community digs in so that visitors have beautiful experiences when they visit. Stroll through the town square with a “Dutch Letter” in hand. A Dutch Letter is a tasty dutch pastry from one of the bakeries in town. Look up as you stroll down Main Street. The historical town windmill will lure you back into a quieter place in time. Be sure to purchase handmade Dutch chocolates from Van Veen Chocolates, your taste buds will thank you. Pella is a great town for anyone wanting a beautiful place to spend some time, any time of the year.
Dubuque, Iowa, is the oldest town along the banks of the Mississippi River, offering incredible scenery throughout the town. When you visit the National Mississippi River Museum And Aquarium, you will learn how the river has impacted life in Dubuque through the years. But the one thing you will appreciate the most is the views of the river. When you visit Dubuque, it seems that every corner and every bend offers something new to see. Take a ride on the world’s steepest, shortest railroad, for an incredible view of Dubuque. The best tip that I can give you is to visit in the fall. The fall foliage in this area of Iowa is outstanding. Stay in historic Hotel Julien. The architecture and views of the town are top-notch and make your visit an enjoyable one.
Elk Horn, Iowa, is in the rolling hills of southwest Iowa, along the Western Skies Scenic Byway. The incredible beauty of the drive into town is enough to make your jaw drop. Fall is ideal for making this drive, as fall harvest is upon us and the fall foliage is in play. A visit to the Danish Countryside Wines & Vines Winery will complete your postcard experience in Elk Horn. Everywhere you turn in this charming Danish community, you will find beautiful views. Be sure to stop at the Danish Windmill to learn about the area’s history and explore the windmill. Stroll the streets and become a Dane for a day. Trust me, it’s easy to become a Dane for a day in Elk Horn.
Bentonsport, Iowa, is a small rural community in the heart of the Villages of Van Buren County, along the Historic Hills Scenic Byway. Every turn on the byway will offer a stunning view of the countryside. Bentonsport is a National Historic District, and it is home to under 50 residents. Stroll the quiet streets and explore the antique shops, with the Des Moines River in view. Take a walk across the Bentonsport Historic Bridge for an incredible view of the river. This historic bridge was built for horses and buggies in 1883. Today it is a footbridge, and it is one of the oldest and longest bridges that cross the river.
There are several B & B’s and rental cottages in the area if you want to spend a little more time in a rural setting. You will want to keep an eye on your fuel gauge, as there is no gas station in this town.
West Bend, Iowa, offers a one-of-a-kind experience at the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption. This beautiful work of art is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” There are nine separate grottos throughout the shrine. Each one of these portrays a different scene in the life of Christ. If you appreciate art and the outdoors, you will love the beauty that this shrine has to offer. The Grotto of the Redemption is in the middle of rural America, as fewer than 800 people call West Bend Home. When I visit West Bend, I always stop at the Homestead Country Store. It offers special cutlery, bulk foods for baking, along with candy and snacks. If you visit in the morning, grab a slice of hot breakfast pizza from Iowa-based Casey’s General Store.
Clear Lake, Iowa, is in north-central Iowa along I-35. This lake town offers incredible lake views all year long. Many people enjoy the beautiful sunsets that can be seen 365 days of the year. Others grab a pair of binoculars and head out to explore the beautiful state parks that are nearby. Clear Lake State Park and McIntosh Woods State Park offer hiking, camping, boating, fishing, wildlife viewing, and anything nature related. Winter brings new views and scenery that winter sports enthusiasts appreciate. Folks of all ages trek out onto the ice to see the kites at the annual Color The Wind Kite Festival in February. Be sure to invest in a pair of ice cleats before you venture out on the ice. Your experience will be better, as you can focus on the kites and the beauty of a winter lake instead of worrying about slipping and sliding.
Winterset, Iowa, is where you will fall in love with the world-famous Bridges of Madison County. Each bridge offers fantastic views of the Iowa countryside. The Covered Bridges Scenic Byway connects each bridge and provides a unique scenic drive to the area. The rolling hills and curves in the road will lead you to a stunning covered bridge in Madison County. This charming community sits 30 minutes southwest of the Des Moines metro area. You can find yourself in a busy metropolis, and in a short period of time, you will be surrounded by nature in Winterset. Make time to enjoy downtown Winterset, as the town square is magnificent in the summer.
These nine towns each offer something unique when it comes to incredible scenery. Pack your binoculars, camera, and a picnic lunch for a memorable day in these towns. If you are a little more adventurous, pack your swimsuit, water-repellent shoes, fishing pole, and hiking boots. Each of these communities has incredible scenery, but keep in mind there’s also much to discover that cannot be seen from your car’s windshield.
Travelers looking for a different kind of vacation experience should consider a journey to Iowa: