Dubuque is where Iowa started. In 1673, French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette set foot in Iowa along the Mississippi River, where Dubuque is today. It is Iowa’s oldest city and is one of the oldest European settlements west of the Mississippi River. The bluffs, Mississippi River, and parks make Dubuque the ideal place to watch eagles in Iowa.
You will not regret your time in Dubuque viewing eagles. Winter brings an incredible viewing experience for eagle enthusiasts. Eagles from Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin seek open water in the winter, which makes Dubuque a prime viewing location. Chicago is 3 hours away, and Milwaukee is a short 2.5-hour drive. The one thing that I do know is that you can visit Dubuque in the winter and know that you will have success in eagle viewing. Come prepared for all types of weather, as Iowa can be very cold. Bring a winter coat, hat, gloves, boots, and warm socks.
There are several magnificent places in and around Dubuque where you can view America’s pride and joy, the bald eagle. Winter is the ideal time to view bald eagles, as the mating and nesting season heats up. If you do get up close to a bald eagle, you will quickly learn how large they are. With a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet and a height of 2.5 to 3 feet, they are rather large birds. Their white head and yellow beak will help you identify them when you are on the hunt for sightings.
The Great River Road is always a good spot to look up and around to spot bald eagles any time of year. During the winter months, they seem to be everywhere. When you drive north or south on one of the most scenic drives in America, you will be sure to spot some bald eagles. The Great River Road runs parallel to Dubuque and the Mississippi River, making it easy to access from anywhere in the area.
1. Lock & Dam #11
This is the top viewing spot for bald eagles in the Dubuque area. Visit the observation deck at Lock & Dam 11, located at 3000 Lock & Dam Road in Dubuque. This is a day-use facility that offers an outdoor observation deck with restrooms and a picnic area. During the winter months, dress in layers and wear warm winter clothing. Have a pair of binoculars with you, as the bald eagles swoop into the open waters near the dam.
The bald eagles tend to fly out early in the day and often sit around the open water for a few hours in the afternoon. Each time that I have watched them, this has usually held true. They do fly and swoop around now and then. The food is plentiful and it’s quite common to see an eagle fly away with a fish in its mouth. Pack a picnic lunch and sit in your car with a view that you won’t find elsewhere.
2. Swiss Valley Park
Swiss Valley Park is home to 62 wooded acres along Catfish Creek. It is located 4.5 miles southwest of Dubuque on Highway 20 West or Highway 151 South. Several trees are home to nesting bald eagles throughout the heart of the winter season. Look up when you enter the park and there’s a good chance that you will see a bald eagle flying overhead.
Catfish Creek is stocked with trout, making it a prime place for eagles to hang out for a meal. If you enjoy winter camping, you can camp here and experience outdoor winter experiences including ice fishing and cross country skiing. Nests can be spotted as you look up and spot bald eagles flying between trees. This area will not disappoint as you head out to look for bald eagles this winter. Pack a picnic lunch and dine in your car as you view the bald eagles in their natural habitat.
3. Eagle Point Park
Eagle Point Park at 2601 Shiras Avenue overlooks Dam No. 11 with a different view and experience than you can find elsewhere. Here is where you can view Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. There is a small fee of $1 per car to visit. This is a city park and it is the “crown” of Dubuque’s park system. With 164 acres and spectacular views of the Mississippi River, you are sure to see bald eagles soaring nearby. Early morning is usually a good time to see the bald eagles in an active state. In the morning, eagles are often looking for the perfect place to hang out all day. As the sun begins to set, bald eagles will often fly around looking for their nesting place for the evening.
The handicapped-accessible walk extends north from the riverfront pavilion, which avoids the steep rock steps that are nearby. During the winter months, the walkway can be icy. If the temperatures are in the extreme single digits, you may want to wait for a warmer day to walk out to the point. Sunshine will help with the ice on the concrete and offer a safer day for you to look out at Eagle Point.
4. Mississippi Riverwalk
The Mississippi Riverwalk is where you can experience the Port of Dubuque all year long. The Riverwalk includes a temporary public art exhibit that changes each year. During the winter months, you can experience the art and watch bald eagles as they travel along the Mississippi River. Winter is a quieter time, yet the bald eagles fly around entertaining visitors to the area. The Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark offer an incredible place to stay with rooms with windows facing the Mississippi Riverwalk. Imagine waking up to the sunrise and seeing a bald eagle soaring above the Mississippi River amid winter.
You will want to spend some time at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. There are several exhibits, including bald eagles inside this incredible facility. This museum sits on the National Great River Road and features life along the Mississippi River. The 4D theater offers educational films that can be purchased as a standalone item or included with a ticket to the museum. You can easily spend a full 2-3 hours exploring this museum. Wheelchairs are complimentary and are available on a first come, first served basis. This museum prides itself on being ADA compliant, making it easy for everyone to visit.
5. Bald Eagle Watch Event
If you want to surround yourself with like-minded individuals, travel to Dubuque in January. Dubuque is home to a Bald Eagle Watch. Live programs with officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are on hand to answer your questions. The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium are part of this day, offering special programs throughout the facility. Free trolley rides are offered throughout the town, as you venture to watch the eagles soar overhead.
A fun way to end your day is to stay in the luxurious and historical property, Hotel Julien Dubuque. Pamper yourself with spa services and an evening in the whirlpool and indoor pool. Grab a meal at Caroline’s Restaurant in the hotel before you call it a night. Dine on some of the freshest local ingredients that are harvested for Caroline’s. In the morning you will be refreshed and ready to explore more eagle viewing sites in the Dubuque area.
6. Mines Of Spain Recreation Area
Located south of Dubuque, the Mines of Spain Recreation Area and E.B. Lyons Interpretive and Nature Center are located on 1,437 acres. This area is known for its year-round nature opportunities. With a location that borders the Mississippi River, you may see flying squirrels, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and bald eagles. Winter is prime viewing season for bald eagles, but it’s not uncommon to see them all year long in the Mines of Spain Recreation Area. The photography experiences are incredible in the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, so make sure you bring your camera with you.
The Julien Dubuque Monument serves as a Landmark for the Mines of Spain Area. Julien Dubuque, the first European to settle on Iowa soil, is buried on this site. The wetlands, bluffs, forests, trails, and opportunities for birding are endless in this area. In the winter months, bring your cross country skis or snowshoes for bald eagle viewing. Download a Mines of Spain birding checklist before you head out to view bald eagles.
The time that you spend in Dubuque viewing eagles will be quality time. In one visit, you will experience nature, wildlife, birding, history, and the Mississippi River. There’s something special about a river town, as there’s always something new to see. When the seasons change in Dubuque, you know that it’s time for a unique experience, and the excitement rises. Wherever you choose to view eagles, I am sure that you will have a story to tell. If you are limited on time, park at the Mississippi Riverwalk Area and stroll the Riverwalk. Parking is free, and it’s an opportunity to get a taste of the town for a future visit.
For more articles on Iowa, be sure to check out these articles: