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10 Things You Must Do In Council Bluffs In The Fall

Fall is an ideal time to visit Council Bluffs, Iowa. A gorgeous time. I recommend planning a visit in October especially, because you’ll find a lot of fall-themed things to do in Council Bluffs, plus it’s more scenic with the changing leaves.

UPDATED: This post was first published in 2016 and updated in August 2022 to reflect closures and the new pricing to visit Lake Manawa State Park.

10 things to do in Council Bluffs, Iowa this fall - Visit an apple orchard, enjoy a hayrack ride and bonfire, and more! #Iowa #thisisIowa #unleashCB

I was asked by the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to write about the city which inspired this sponsored post. I’m not exactly a local expert but the city has a special place in my heart. I spent about 10 years working in Council Bluffs, and even though my daily commute doesn’t bring me down West Broadway anymore, I return with my family to revisit my favorites.

If you haven’t visited in a while, here’s a list of fun things you must do in the fall in Council Bluffs. If you’re looking for more ideas, check out the list I shared over at Let’s Go Iowa – I shared 19 of my favorite things to do in Council Bluffs!

Shady Lanes Ranch

Things to do in Council Bluffs - Fall is the best time to go to Shady Lane Ranch. Tractors are lined up to take families on hayrack rides before dropping them off at their bonfire.

Shady Lanes Ranch has fun hayrack rides that end with your group being dropped off at your own bonfire. We brought friends last year for the first time and had so much fun. The kids enjoyed the hay fights between with passing hayracks. You’ll want to reserve the bonfire ahead of time, as weekends start to fill up the closer to Halloween you get.

Ditmars Orchard

Things to do in autumn in Council Bluffs, Iowa - Apple picking at Ditmars Orchard

It’ll be tough to find a closer apple orchard than Ditmars. My family enjoys the relaxed pace of the orchard, which is perfect for younger children. You can walk out to the orchard or hop on a hayrack to go further into the orchard (if you’re going with little kids, this hayrack ride is a hit). They also have a pumpkin patch for later fall activities. While there, kids will enjoy the playground and corn maze.

Before you leave, do not skip the concession stand. You must get the fresh apple donuts. You’ll thank me. (They’re so good, they got an honorary spot on the Best Donuts In Omaha list). Ditmars is a hot spot in the fall for events. I recommend trying to catch the Fields of Flight hot air balloon weekend or the kite-flying weekend.

Bayliss Park

Bayliss Park - A popular park in Council Bluffs Iowa no matter what time of year

Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs is pretty visit any time of day, but the modern fountain lit up at night is a sight to see. The park has a splash ground that’s great for kids on hot summer days, too. The park also has free concerts and movies throughout the summer.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

If you have a train-loving kid in your house, you need to visit Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs. This FREE museum features some interactive displays, and lots and lots of memorabilia. On the first Friday of the month, the museum has a family night with activities. They change the theme each month. It’s also FREE.

If you’re kids are really into trains, plan for a second train stop in C.B. at RailsWest Railroad Museum.

Wabash Trace Trail

This long, crushed limestone trail is great for cycling (not with your road bike, mind you) and running. Wabash Trace Trail starts in Council Bluffs and takes a scenic route southward through the Loess Hills and tree-lined fields for 63 miles. It’s an old railroad route so the slopes are never steep.

A girl on her bike on the Wabash Trace Trail

On Thursday nights, hundreds of bike riders take the famous Taco Ride from Council Bluffs to Mineola for food and drinks, and then ride back. It’s a ton of fun! If you try it, make sure your bike lights are working – it gets very dark on the trail.

Arts Center at IWCC

The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs has two performance spaces where you can see student performances and touring productions. There’s a full season of shows, so it’s not just a fall thing to do. Occasionally a kid-centric show will be presented there, so keep an eye on the schedule.

Lake Manawa State Park

Lake Manawa is definitely busy in the summer with boaters, fishers and swimmers enjoying the beach. In the fall, take advantage of the cooler weather to bike the paved trails or if you’re the adventurous sort, the 8 miles of mountain bike trails. If you’re there with younger children, don’t skip Dream Park. In early 2019, the park was remodeled and it’s fantastic!

Note that this state park charges admission to out-of-state visitors.

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Best photo opp in Council Bluffs is standing on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge at the state line between Iowa and Nebraska.

Probably one of the top 5 photographed attraction in the metro area, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spans the Missouri River, connecting Iowa to Nebraska. The photo opp of all photo opps is straddling the state line.

Summer on Council Bluffs’ side can be pretty busy, especially on the green space of the park that’s right near the bridge, Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. There are concerts, festivals and outdoor movie screenings there.

Stir Outdoor Concert Cove

OK, this is more of a summer place to be for live music, but the Stir Concert Cove schedule stretches into the fall so I’m including it. The outdoor music venue at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel brings in some of the best touring bands that come to the metro area. While they are all-ages shows, I usually find a sitter when I get tickets to a show.

Historic General Dodge House

For the history lovers, visit the restored home of one of the city’s most famous residents. The Dodge House often has events with actors dressed in period costumes and at Christmas time, they have special nights for families. We like to visit the house during Railroad Days.

Good restaurants in Council Bluffs

I can’t limit myself to just 10 great things about Council Bluffs, at least, not if it means I have to cut out some food talk. If you’re hungry for pizza, head to the local favorites, Pizza King or Pizza Counter (it was the runner-up in the Great Pizza Tournament). Christy Creme is the ice cream place to visit in the summer; we usually stop there after a trip to nearby Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek.

If you’re in Council Bluffs without kids, my favorite spots I recommend visiting is 1892 German Bier House, 360 Steakhouse at Harrah’s (the best view!), and Cellar 19. There are a few wineries outside of Council Bluffs, too. Check out the list of Wineries Near Council Bluffs.

Your turn: What are some of your favorite Council Bluffs attractions and restaurants?

Fall in Iowa - Plan a visit to Council Bluffs, Iowa for fun fall experiences like apple picking, hayrack rides, bonfires, and parks. #Guide #unleashCB #CouncilBluffs #Iowa #familytravel

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Sharon Oamek

Wednesday 7th of September 2016

Think about Living Loess. We are only 20 minutes from Omaha and have 9 artisan sites to visit. Milk a goat, pick some lavender, see a silversmith at work and more. www.livingloess.com


Wednesday 7th of September 2016

Thanks for sharing, Sharon! I have to admit, Living Loess has been on my radar for years and I've never made the rounds to each site yet. Maybe I'll still get to it this year.

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