Across Iowa’s 99 counties are countless small towns with unique attractions, delicious restaurants and fun things to do. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend adventure, these smaller communities have a ton to offer. From the best places for antique lovers to destinations for scifi fans, there’s something for everyone in Iowa.
The next time you’re thinking about planning a Midwest road trip, consider one of these 10 small towns in Iowa.
Mount Vernon, Iowa
Just 20 minutes from Cedar Rapids, Mount Vernon is a cozy community with a vibrant main street. Grab a cup of coffee at Fuel and wander the city’s shops like Alice’s Wonderful. Head just outside of town to Rapid Creek Cidery or Big Grove Brewery to imbibe a little. Or stay local and grab a wood-fired pizza at the Lincoln Wine Bar.
Home to the famous American Gothic House, Eldon is a perfect day trip to pair with other southern Iowa attractions. See inside the house that was the backdrop of Grant Wood’s iconic painting and explore the history of the artist and the place at the American Gothic House Center.
Calling all Star Trek fans: You won’t want to miss a visit to Riverside, the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. According to the Star Trek canon, the captain of the Starship Enterprise will be born in Iowa on March 22, 2228. The town’s Trekfest is one of the Iowa’s most unique festivals!
The small town of Riverside took advantage of that fact and dubbed itself “where the Trek begins.” You can learn all about the show at the Voyage Home Museum, see the captain’s future birthplace and even spy a plaque marking his future place of conception at a local bar in town.
If you love to antique, Walnut is the place for you! This tiny town in western Iowa is brimming with antique stores that stock everything from home decor to dishware to clothing and more.
Walnut even has an annual antique festival in June where the streets of town are filled with various vendors and booths.
Most well-known for the famous “Bridges of Madison County,” Winterset has lots of other things to offer as well. No trip is complete without a tour of the breathtaking bridges, especially the Roseman Bridge where the film with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood was filmed.
Learn about personal guided tours of the bridges!
While you’re in Winterset, grab a meal at the Northside Cafe, followed by a hard cider overlooking the area’s rolling hills at the Winterset Cidery. Find artistic inspiration at the 1st Avenue Collective, an artist co-op that is housed in the historic Madison County Jail.
Known for the National Balloon Classic each July, Indianola has a lot going on all year round. Enjoy the outdoors at Lake Ahquabi State Park or wander the historic square to shop and dine. Grab a drink or two at Summerset Winery or West Hill Brewing Co.
And if you still need your balloon fix, you can visit the National Balloon Museum all year long.
Elk Horn, Iowa
Experience a slice of Danish history in Elk Horn. Tour the working 1848 Danish windmill, which was brought to the community in 1976 and reassembled by members of the community.
Learn even more about the local history at the Museum of Danish America and see a sister statue of one that sits in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Little Mermaid Statue Garden.
While Swedesburg is small, it has a rich Swedish history. Learn about the community at the Swedish American Museum and Historical Society and see the giant Dala horse outside.
Le Claire, Iowa
Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, Le Claire is probably most well-known as the home of the American Pickers. But this riverside town has so much more to offer than just antiquing.
The main street is full of shops and eateries that are perfect to spend the afternoon wandering. Visit the Buffalo Bill Museum, hop on a riverboat, or drive the Cody Road Historic District to learn more about the area’s history.
This small community is nestled between the Mississippi River and northeast Iowa’s sandstone bluffs. Experience the outdoors at nearby Pikes Peak State Park or kayak on other nearby water trails.
McGregor’s historic downtown is full of unique shops and tasty eateries with a stunning view of the riverfront no matter where you turn. For some truly spectacular views, take a drive along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.
The Amana Colonies are a unique piece of Iowa’s history and a wonderful place to spend the weekend. The community’s seven villages comprise more than 26,000 acres across eastern Iowa.
Visit Amana’s many shops to find locally made goods, stay in a reimagined woolen mill at the Hotel Millwright, and enjoy a meal at iconic eateries like the Ox Yoke Inn.
If you’re looking to imbibe, Amana is also home to the Millstream Brewing Co. as well as a number of wineries including Fireside Winery, Ackerman Winery, and more.
Located in the heart of the Villages of Van Buren, Bentonsport is a unique small community along the banks of the Des Moines River. In its heyday in the mid-1800s, Bentonsport was a thriving steamboat port for travelers from near and far. Today it’s home to a row of historic shops, beautiful historic homes and the cozy Bentonsport B&B.
About the Guest Blogger
Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa.
When she’s not sampling and writing about food, Megan enjoys visiting unique destinations, roadside attractions, and “world’s largest” things across the Midwest and beyond.
Her book, “Iowa Supper Clubs,” highlights classic eateries past and present from around the state.