Nov 10, 2021 Communities

9 Small Towns in Iowa Worthy of a Day Trip

When you picture Iowa, you’re probably imagining endless roads, cornfields and maybe a little baseball. But while this gorgeous midwestern state does have all of those things, it has so much more to offer.  

From world class museums and adorable historic towns to underground waterfalls and spectacular sunsets, Iowa is a fantastic place to both live and visit.  

If you’re still on the fence, we rounded up a handful of our favorite small towns in Iowa—all within a five-hour drive of the Omaha and Council Bluffs area—that offer a small taste of everything the state has to offer. So pack up the car, grab your camera (and your hiking boots for that matter), and get ready to hit the road! But first, use our list to find out what to do, see and eat when you reach one of these Iowan destinations. 

Shenandoah  

Distance: About 1 hour from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

Shenandoah, Iowa

Located just 60 miles southeast of the Omaha and Council Bluffs area, Shenandoah is a self-sustaining city with a population of approximately 5,500 people. Known as “the city with energy”, Shenandoah is a beautiful garden community, famous for their renewable fuel production, entrepreneurial spirit and friendly residents!  

When you visit, don’t miss the Iowa Walk of Fame in Shenandoah’s downtown streetscape. The self-guided tour highlights more than 120 famous Iowans from across the state—giving you a bit of history and the opportunity to shop in their quaint downtown area. We also highly recommend the Shenandoah Historical Museum, the Park Gardens and the Wabash Trace Trail.   

Other points of interest: Pierce Creek Recreation AreaCorning Opera House Cultural CenterThe Shooting Gallery, and the Everly Brothers’ Childhood Home.   

Le Mars  

Distance: About 1 hour and 50 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

We scream, you scream, everyone is screaming about ice cream in Le Mars! This beautiful city is lovingly dubbed “The Ice Cream Capital of the World”, mostly because it is home to Wells Enterprises, the world’s largest producer of ice cream novelties like Blue Bunny, Bomb Pop, Halo Top, Blue Ribbon and more.   

If you find yourself in Le Mars, exploring their many ice-cream attractions is a must! Pay a visit to the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor for a taste of their famous ice cream right at the source. Across town, you’ll find several large ice cream sculptures, painted to represent certain Le Mars buildings. And, if you happen to be visiting in June, don’t miss the Le Mars Ice Cream Days Festival, three days filled to the brim with ice cream-themed fun.  

Other points of interest: Le Mars Recreational TrailBrowns Music Theater & Gift ShoppeThe Grain Bin Lodge & Retreat, and The Plymouth County Historical Museum.  

Winterset  

Distance: About 2 hours from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

Winterset, Iowa

Even if you’ve never stepped foot in Iowa before, you may have heard of Winterset before. Nestled inside Madison County, this adorable Midwest town—which is home to six famous covered bridges—inspired The Bridges of Madison County, an iconic novel and feature film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.  

When you visit Winterset, you’ll definitely want to explore their many covered bridges as well as their top-notch retail stores, wineries, majestic parks or the historic town square. If you only have an afternoon to spend exploring this city, head to one of their museums, like the John Wayne Birthplace Museum or the Iowa Quilt Museum, before exploring Winterset City Park and then the North River Stone Schoolhouse.   

Other points of interest: The Winterset StageThe Iowa TheaterThe Pumpkin Ranch, and the Winterset Art Center.  

Pella  

Distance: About 2 hours and 50 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

Pella, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Troy Hugen via Pella Historical Museum & Tulip Time

Located about three hours from Council Bluffs and less than an hour from Des Moines, Pella is a unique small town with a distinct Dutch appeal! Founded by immigrants from Holland in 1847, the city is infused with Netherlands culture like Dutch windmills and tulip gardens dotting the landscape.   

A visit to Pella isn’t complete without touring some of these Dutch attractions like the Historic Village of Pella—22 historic buildings centered around the famous Vermeer Windmill—along with Jaarsma Bakery and the Vermeer Museum and Global Pavillion. And, you definitely don’t want to miss Tulip Time, an annual May festival that celebrates the area’s Dutch history with great food, Dutch attire, and, of course, plenty of tulips.   

Other points of interest: The Pella Opera House, the Scholte House Museum, the Amsterdam Hotel, and the Windmill Café.   

Okoboji  

Distance: About 3 hours and 15 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

While most people have heard of The Great Lakes, located on the America/Canada border, the same can’t be said about The Iowa Great Lakes: Spirit Lake, West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar and Minnewashta. But these stunning, glacier carved lakes should be known world over for their beauty and their countless recreational opportunities!  

The center community among all of these beautiful lakes is Okoboji, a city of just 768 residents and a vacation spot for many. When visiting in the summer, we can’t help but recommend spending your days on the lakes and beaches and your nights at their many theaters, museums and amusement parks. But if you find yourself visiting during the colder months, enjoy ice skating, ice fishing, the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, and the Okoboji Classic Car Museum.   

Other points of interest: Arnolds Park Amusement ParkPearson Lakes Art CenterBoji Splash Indoor Waterpark, and the Dickinson County Nature Center.  

Eldora  

Distance: About 3 hours and 20 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

Founded in 1853, the whimsical town of Eldora is definitely worth a day trip! Much of this city is listed on the National Historic Register, specifically the Eldora Downtown Historic District which is home to amazing sights, great shopping and delicious dining.   

In addition to their many historic buildings (and being the filming location of the 1996 movie: Twister), Eldora is known for their many outdoor recreation opportunities. The most famous of which is the Wildcat Cave, a small cave featuring signatures dating back to the 19th century along with petrified wood. The trail to get to the cave is just as spectacular as the destination featuring waterfalls, footbridges, a steep ravine and more.   

Other points of interest: Hardin County Farm MuseumHoover Ruby Wildlife AreaFallen Rock State Preserve, and the 1913 Grand Theatre.   

The Amana Colonies  

Distance: About 3 hours and 30 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

The Amana Colonies, Iowa

Comprising seven villages stretched across 26,000 acres in Iowa County, the Amana Colonies is a perfect road trip destination! These villages were built by German Pietists who fled their home country in search of religious freedom in 1843. They managed a self-sustaining colony, managing to avoid interacting with the outside world for several decades.  

Today, the colonies are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and draw thousands of visitors to the area each year who are interested in heritage and history. Be transported back to simpler times when you visit the independent shops, local artists, the preserved Woolen Mill or the Village Winery—all nestled along historic brick, stone and clapboard homes.   

Other points of interest: Amana Art Guild CenterCommunal Kitchen Museum and Cooper Shop, the Amana Heritage Museum, and Millstream Brewing Company.  

Bentonsport  

Distance: About 4 hours and 30 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

Bentonsport, Iowa

Photo courtesy Jon Roanhaus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Settled along the Des Moines River, Bentonsport was once a successful mill and steamboat port town in the 19th century. These days, it is an artistic bed and breakfast haven featuring hundreds of historic buildings, and a very famous (and beautiful) bridge that you can explore on foot.   

It is impossible not to love Bentonsport and its 16 blocks of historic shops, businesses and restaurants. While you’re there, be sure to check out the local quilt company as well as the resident artisans like potters, blacksmiths, sculptors and more. It is also a destination for antique-lovers, boasting several places to hunt for treasures along the river.   

Other points of interest: Des Moines River Water TrailAddie May FudgeHistoric Greef General Store, and the Bentonsport Rose Garden.  

Dyersville  

Distance: About 4 hours and 45 minutes from Omaha & Council Bluffs  

Dyersville, Iowa

Named as one of the of the best small towns to visit in the United States by the Smithsonian in 2021, Dyersville is a classic American hometown located right off of Highway 20 in eastern Iowa. Known as “The Farm Toy Capital of the World”, Dyersville is home to the Ertl Company, a major farm toy manufacturer. You can even visit the National Farm Toy Museum, which features thousands of toys that were collected by Fred Ertl. Jr’s personal collection.   

But while you may not know Dyersville as the Farm Toy Capital of the World, you may have heard of it from the famous film: Field of Dreams. This iconic movie was filmed right here in Dyersville! And if you want a taste of the movie magic, you can visit the Field of Dreams Movie Site, which not only hosts MLB games but is also a movie-museum, allowing you to explore the Kinsella’s’ home, the Field of Dreams Farm House, a gift shop and more.   

Other points of interest: Dyer-Botsford Doll MuseumPlaza Antique MallIf You Build It Exhibit, and Textile Brewing Company.  

Where in Iowa will you go?   

Did we miss your favorite Iowan small town? Let us know where we should visit next in the comments!  

Nov 10, 2021 Communities
comments powered by Disqus