September 18, 2018

Where To Eat & Where To Stay In Decorah

Decorah is a town tucked into northeastern Iowa. Found in the Driftless Area, its terrain is rockier than you’d expect for the Midwest. I visited this summer on a girlfriends getaway with the goal of enjoying outdoor pursuits like bike riding, kayaking and climbing a waterfall (not a big one, but still counts). I didn’t expect to encounter an abundance of great food and local beer. You just have to know where to eat in Decorah. I had plenty of tips to build the perfect itinerary for food and beer!

Dunnig Springs Waterfall in Decorah
We went to Decorah for the outdoor activities like seeing the waterfall in town, but it turns out, the food is as big a draw as the terrain.

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Visit Decorah. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Where to eat in Decorah

For a town with a population of about 8,000, Decorah had too many great choices for dining to fit into one weekend.

Restaurant and brewery suggestions for Decorah, Iowa including pizza at Luna Valley Farm, beer at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co., and two places for breakfast #hosted #dining #Iowa

Decorah is proud of its Nordic heritage. If you want to try some Norwegian dishes, head to Ruby’s Restaurant and Catering.

Ruby's Restaurant in Decorah, Iowa
Ruby’s Restaurant and Catering serves the typical diner food you’d expect in the Midwest plus plenty of Norwegian options.

We went to Ruby’s for breakfast, and decided to turn it into a Norwegian buffet, ordering a variety of small plates to try. It was less breakfast and more Christmas desserts, but I’m not complaining. We tried a rosette, lefse, kringla and sandbakkal.

Plates of Norwegian food in Decorah
Among the Norwegian treats we tried at Ruby’s Restaurant were kringla (top) and lefse.

Ruby’s is also known for the Ronnie Roll. It’s basically a giant cinnamon roll. And yeah, we ordered one of those too. Of course, the typical American breakfast staples are available to order as well.

Ruby's Restaurant in Decorah is home to the Ronny Roll
Ruby’s Restaurant is known for their Ronny Roll, which I had to try because my dad’s name is Ron and I love sugar.

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Decorah, where we could’ve enjoyed a complimentary breakfast each morning. But, with limited time in Decorah, we opted to have breakfast in town. 

On the second day of our trip to Decorah, we wandered into Restauration, the restaurant located in the historic Hotel Winneshiek. My friends enjoyed a mimosa with brunch. I stuck to black coffee. Our filling entrees were delicious.

Restauration's brunch menu
Restauration was located inside the historic Hotel Winneshiek in downtown Decorah.

By far, the most memorable meal in Decorah was on our first night. I was so glad to be tipped off that Luna Valley Farm serves wood-fire pizza on Friday nights. What a memorable meal, dining on pizza, lights strung up from a barn and the green farmland in view! 

Woodfire pizza at Luna Valley Farm
Luna Valley Farm in Decorah has pizza nights every Friday from May through October. The pizza includes ingredients raised or grown on the farm. And there’s beer. And the night we were there, there was live music.

The atmosphere at Luna Valley Farm is welcoming where you get to know the people sitting next to you. It was a rainy night, but under the tents, we dined and chatted happily. There was live music the night we were there. When the rain stopped, we walked just a short distance to look at pigs. 

Luna Valley Farm in Decorah, Iowa
There’s usually a line at Luna Valley Farm – two, actually. You can order pizza and appetizers in one line, and get your beer, wine or non-alcoholic beverages in the other.

If you couldn’t guess, yes, they grow and raise some of the food you’ll consume on pizza night.

Some of the other restaurants we tried that I’d recommend:

  • Rubaiyat Restaurant – This was more of an upscale experience than the others. The food was delicious and served with warm bread. I tried a Kobe hotdog because, why not. It was not the most photogenic of entrees, but it was pretty good and very filling. Their brunch was recommended to us.
  • Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. – OK, not a restaurant. While there was a food truck parked by it the day we visited, this is a recommendation for the beer. With many options on tap to try, from a delicious amber to more unique flavors like an Oreo stout and a cider that tasted like Key lime pie, if you like beer, you’ll find something to like here.
Post-bike ride beers at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co.

We went to Pulpit Rock after our bike ride. It was a short walk from our bike rental shop, Decorah Bicycles. 

There is another well-known brewery in Decorah, if craft beer is your thing. It’s called Toppling Goliath. 

  • – Winneshiek Wildberry Winery – Since we were on a girlfriends’ getaway, we couldn’t resist the draw of a winery tasting room that was near our hotel. We got a flight of wine to taste. In all honesty, the wine was too sweet for my likes. But, that sweet wine was pretty good in a wine slushie, which I split with my sister. It was inexpensive, too. Also, This winery had probably the best photo opp in town – a giant gnome in front of the building. 
  • La Rana – I liked La Rana for its small, but cozy decor and fresh food. We had a few quibbles with the our meal, though, so it’s on the bottom of my suggestions for you.
  • – I had many friends familiar with town offer suggestions for meals, and due to limited time, we couldn’t make it to them. Here are what others say are great places to each in Decorah: Mabe’s Pizza and Whippy Dip (for ice cream).

Where to stay in Decorah

If you know anything about the area, you know there’s an abundance of outdoor activities, including great paved and mountain bike trails, the Upper Iowa River for tubing or kayaking, and even a waterfall. So, you may want to stay overnight.

Hotel and glamping suggestions for Decorah, Iowa - Whether you want a hotel near Trout Run Trail, a historic hotel downtown, or you want to try glamping at Luna Valley Farm, there are options in the small town that fits your needs #hotels #glamping

We stayed in the new Fairfield Inn & Suites, located conveniently near the Trout Run Trail. On the morning of one of days in Decorah, we biked the trail around scenic pastures, up to the fish hatchery, and along the river. If running or walking is your jam, this is a good trail for you, too.

Fairfield Inn & Suites in Decorah
The Fairfield Inn & Suites in Decorah, Iowa, was located near the popular Trout Run Trail and just a short drive from downtown Decorah.

Fairfield is a familiar chain for me and my family, so I like knowing what to expect, from a daily hot breakfast bar to a fitness center and pool. 

I’m loving the look of the lobbies in Fairfield Inns these days, too.

The colorful lobby at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Decorah, Iowa.

Our room was comfortable, with two Queen beds and a large bathroom. 

There are, of course, other options for hotels in Decorah, including the historic Hotel Winneshiek in the downtown area. We had breakfast at Restauration, the hotel’s restaurant, and took a quick peek around the lobby while we were there.

It’s a pretty hotel, and I’d look into staying there when we return. It was booked solid the weekend we were there due to Toppling Goliath’s big beer release weekend. Who would’ve guessed?

Another option that, alas, was also already booked the weekend we were there was at Luna Valley Farm. They offer glamping! 

Tips on where to eat, drink and stay in Decorah, a town in Northeastern Iowa known for outdoor adventures and popular craft breweries

More Decorah adventures

If you missed my previous post about outdoor adventures in Decorah, go check it out! I wrote about the bike ride along Trout Run Trail and a moonlit kayaking trip, both experiences were with our local guide, Amber, who recently started up Karst Adventures.

Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

August 27, 2018

Outdoor Adventures In Decorah

I wanted a weekend getaway this summer that included being active and seeing beautiful scenery. And I needed it to be drivable from Omaha. My choice? Decorah, a small town in northeastern Iowa tucked in the Driftless Area of the Midwest. 

Disclosure: My stay was hosted by Visit Decorah and I partnered with Karst Adventures for the outdoor excursions. All opinions, thoughts and typos are my own.

When I started planning my weekend to Decorah in northeast Iowa, I had two things on my agenda to see: Dunning’s Springs and the Upper Iowa River, which I had seen included on a National Geographic list of the 100 Greatest Adventures in America. After seeing it on that list, how could I not go there?

While it’s quite easy to have a family-friendly getaway to Decorah, this time around, it was a kid-free, girls weekend for me. To make the most of having just 48 hours in Decorah, I partnered with Amber from Karst Adventures to guide my group through a bike ride and moonlight float down the river.

Dunning’s Springs

I’m a sucker for a good waterfall on vacation. This 200-foot waterfall is right in downtown Decorah in Dunning’s Spring Park, and so easy to get to. There is parking available, but you can do as we did, too, and simply bike to it. 

My friend Amy and I climbed up the waterfall at Dunning’s Springs Park in Decorah, Iowa. 

Wear decent climbing shoes if you’re going to attempt to go up the waterfall. The water is cold and we saw children playing in the stream.

There are stairs, making an easy route to get to the top of the falls. The park has trails, including mountain bike trails. This was just a quick stop for us, so we didn’t explore beyond the waterfall.

The arch stone bridge at Dunning’s Springs Park was made without any mortar.

While you’re there, check out the stone arch bridge. It was designed to be similar to one that was there more than 100 years ago, and the interesting thing is that no mortar was used to build it.

Biking the Trout Run Trail

Our group consisted of three women of varying abilities, and none of us had experience on mountain bikes, so the awesome mountain bike trails in Decorah were out of the question. We opted for tackling Trout Run Trail, a paved loop of about 10 miles that rides along the Upper Iowa River through cornfields, and past the fish hatchery and bald eagle nest.

This is what bike riding in Iowa is all about. It was beautiful riding along the Trout Run Trail in Decorah.

With Amber as our guide, we learned about the terrain the Driftless Area is known for, including the fascinating algific talus slope in the limestone walls where we could feel a cold breeze coming from the rock.

Driftless Area, in case you were wondering, is a region in the upper Midwest, that had glaciers. 

Amber started Karst Adventures in the summer of 2018. She was our guide both on the Trout Run Trail and, later that night, on the Upper Iowa River.

She was a good motivator for us, warning us of lengthy inclines and how to handle the switchbacks in the cornfields. And, she knew where exactly to look for the famous bald eagles nest in Decorah.

Feeding the fish at the Decorah Fish Hatchery. This place is a hit would be a hit with my kids.

With pit stops to rest, and one to feed fish at the hatchery, our ride took up nearly the four hours of our rental.

Where to get your bikes: Amber met us at Decorah Bicycles, where we rented hybrid bikes for a four-hour span. In case you’re wondering, there are also mountain bikes and kids bikes available there.

The entire Trout Run Trail may be too difficult for young children, especially with some of the hills. They were a little grueling for us. If you do want to try it with kids, you can do an out-and-back from the bicycle shop to the fish hatchery. It’s flat (and you can look for the bald eagles nest while you’re out there).

A fisherman at a stream by the Decorah fish hatchery.

The location of Decorah Bicycles is convenient. It’s near the Trout Run Trail, first of all. But, it’s also a short ride from the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park. If you’re comfortable riding on the street, it’s easy to tack on a visit to the falls before getting on to the trail.

And conveniently, it’s near both The Whippy Dip and Pulpit Rock Brewing Co., so if you’re craving ice cream or beer after your ride, you’re covered.

Related post: Get dining suggestions for Decorah here.

Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. is within walking distance of Decorah Bicycles, where we rented our bikes for the trail ride.

Kayaking the Upper Iowa River

If you don’t have a guide like Amber, it’s a good idea to check the water levels of the river before setting out on the Upper Iowa River. There are outfitters to rent kayaks, canoes or tubes. We got our kayaks from Off The Driftless.

We took a break during our moonlight float to snack and sit around a fire. Photo courtesy Vidar Skrede

We were fortunate enough to be in Decorah on a gorgeous full moon-lit night, so we had made plans to have a moonlight kayak float with our guide Amber, who runsKarst Adventures. The three of us in my group, again, had varying levels of kayaking abilities. We had all kayaked at least once, so we had that going for us. But it had been years for a few of us. If you’re going to do one of these nighttime floats, it’s pretty important to not be completely new to it.

We kayaked down the Upper Iowa River on a full moon in August. It was both peaceful and unsettling, especially when the fog rolled in. Photo courtesy Vidar Skrede

Our group was picked up from Off The Driftless and shuttled to a launching point. After a quick refresher on steering and getting into a kayak, we were off. To be honest, it was both unsettling and incredibly peaceful. Visibility was low, especially with the fog. 

It was an adventure, though, and engaged the senses. We were on high alert for anything in the water. We could hear beaver tails slapping the water, watch blue herons flutter away, and muse over the gang of geese walking in the water. The fog helped disguise us so animals weren’t so skittish. 

Fog and a full moon over the Upper Iowa River. Photo courtesy Vidar Skrede

My friends and I were unfamiliar with this river, so I would’ve appreciated having Amber as a guide in the daytime, but she was absolutely essential at night. The river was low in August, so we followed her to avoid shallow waters and fallen trees. 

When I return with my family, I’ll be reaching out to Amber to help customize an outdoorsy itinerary. Her work has largely focused on introducing women and children to outdoor pursuits and skill building. 

Kayaking, biking, and climbing a waterfall in Decorah, Iowa - Here's how to have an active getaway in eastern Iowa #thisisiowa #outdoors #adventure

Plan a trip to Decorah

Stay tuned! I’ll be sharing about our experience staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Decorah, as well as all the great places we dined at in town. Norwegian Christmas desserts? We tried them. Wood fire on a farm? We went there. Here are my tips on where to stay and where to eat in Decorah 

Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

Kayaking the Upper Iowa River, biking, and climbing a waterfall in Decorah, Iowa - Here's how to have an active getaway in eastern Iowa around the Driftless Area #thisisiowa #outdoors #adventure