Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Smack dab in the middle of the Midwest, Iowa often gets passed over as merely a pit stop on cross-country road trips. Iowa is a big farming state, but there’s much more to do here than just watch the corn grow with its list of exciting destinations. I isowa a fun place to plan a weekend getaway for yourself or a group to switch up your routine. Here are some Iowa getaway ideas that you can definitely pull off on a weekend!
Clear Lake is a town in Iowa with around 7,777 people and a very interesting history. Something unique to see here is the Buddy Holly crash site. This is where the music star met his untimely demise, and there’s an oversized pair of black-rimmed glasses set up as a memorial marker. True music fans will want to visit the Surf Ballroom, which is where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played their very last concert. Otherwise, in town, it’s fun to visit the Central Gardens of North Iowa, spend a day at Clear Lake State Park, and maybe pop into Lake Time Brewery for a local beer. Lady of the Lake offers public cruises and private boat charters, there’s a railroad and a fire museum here, and also lots of great places to go for a bike ride.
Backbone State Park is one of the best state parks to visit in the state because there’s so much to do here. Backbone was Iowa’s first state park and is very geologically unique. There are about 21 miles of hiking trails that can be used for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. You’ll also find 125 campsites in two campgrounds here, as well as some cute cabins that are open to reservations year-round. Trout fishing is popular here, and this is also one of the best places in the state for outdoor rock climbing. The limestone cliffs provide climbers and rappelers with exciting challenges but just register at the park office before you get up on the rock. Meanwhile, bicycles are welcome on the Barred Owl, Bluebird, East Lake, and West Lake trails.
Orange City is a town with a population of a little over 6,000 in Sioux County, Iowa that has a strong Dutch heritage. One of the biggest draws to the town is the annual Tulip Festival, which takes place in May. Thousands of visitors come here in mid-May to learn about the charms of Dutch culture and see thousands of tulips on display. The festival also features music and dancing, parades, musical theater performances, and lots of delicious Dutch food. It’s also worth visiting Old Windmill Park, the Windmill Visitor’s Center, the Old Mill/Vogel Windmill, and the Orange City Century Home. The Woudstra Meat Market and Stitch Studio are also popular spots in Orange City.
Spread across seven villages and 26,000 acres, Amana Colonies lets you take a step back in time to learn about history. This area makes a great weekend trip full of exploring history and culture, as well as browsing locally made furniture, crafts, and food. Amana’s history dates back to when a community of people in Germany sought new land to escape persecution and economic depression. The quiet streets of this National Historic Landmark are also great places to find local craft beer and wine, and it’s just a few minutes off of Interstate-80. Make sure to check out the Amana Woolen Mill, the Amana Heritage Museum, and the Old Creamery Theatre.
Made famous by the book and movie of the same name, Madison County is the covered bridge capital of Iowa and a very romantic area to explore for your weekend getaway. This place inspired one of the greatest love stories of all time. When you arrive in the area, stop by the welcome center in Winterset at 73 Jefferson Street to get a map with the bridges’ locations. The local chamber and welcome center’s website also suggests half-day, full-day, and two-day itineraries to see the bridges with guided tours available. Springtime is a very popular time to drive this route and stop over to see and photograph the bridges.
Another fun town to visit in Iowa is Waterloo because there are so many locally owned restaurants, a riverside amphitheater for performances, and vibrant downtown district. Stop by the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum to learn about the area’s farming culture or visit the Isle Casino to try your luck. There are some great bike routes along the Cedar Valley Trails, and if you visit in summer, the Lost Island Water Park is the largest water park in the state. For your weekend trip, you can also plan to visit the Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens.
Most people don’t expect to find caves in Iowa, but here they are at Maquoketa Caves State Park! This is a unique spot with limestone formations, caves, rugged bluffs, and an awesome trail that links the best parts of the park. The Natural Bridge that stands about 50 feet above Raccoon Creek and Balanced Rock are a couple highlights. There are 29 campsites (17 with electricity) here, about six miles of trails, picnic areas, and nature programs at the park interpretative center. Every season offers a different experience at the park, so it’s nice to come back here at different times of the year.
You can also easily make a fun weekend getaway out of a trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is an artsy town that’s home to Grant Wood’s quirky studio, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the African American Museum of Iowa, and the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library. Take some time to explore the Czech Village/New Bohemia District, catch a show at the Paramount Theater, and grab a beer at Lion Bridge Brewing.
Water sports lovers flock to the Elkader Whitewater Park every year for an epic adventure. Elkader is located along the Turkey River in Northeast Iowa, and the whitewater feature was built in 2013. The most popular part of the park is called the Gobbler Wave, which is a 22-foot wide wave that’s known for front and side surfs. After you hop out of your kayak, stay around Elkader for the weekend to visit the Motor Mill Historic Site and the Elkader Opera House.