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.
This post was first published in 2016 and updated in August 2019 to reflect closures and the new pricing to visit Lake Manawa State Park.
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.
Shady Lanes Ranch
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.
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 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.
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 Land 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
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 and outdoor movie screenings there, especially during Loessfest.
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.
Gen. 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, an annual event in July.
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.
For a filling breakfast a cozy diner, head to Duncan’s Cafe on Main Street. I dare you to tackle the serving of hashbrowns – I swear the plate is the size of a hub cab. See more of my favorites in the post 8 Great Places To Get Breakfast in Council Bluffs.
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, and wine bar and deli. There are a few wineries outside of Council Bluffs, too. Check out the list of Wineries Near Council Bluffs.
Places still on my Council Bluffs to-visit list
For all the years I’ve worked in Council Bluffs, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never been to one of its biggest historical attractions: Squirrel Cage Jail. (drips), a new-to-me coffee shop on Main Street, is also a place on my list.
Your turn: What are some of your favorite Council Bluffs attractions and restaurants?
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