Iowa lies within the Heartland region of America. This gorgeous Midwestern state is known for its golden prairie landscapes, views of the Mississippi River, and delicious food. Here you'll also find some of the prettiest towns in the US that capture the very essence of Iowa. Keep on reading to discover some of these towns and what makes them worth visiting.
You'll know you've arrived in the town of Pella when you see the explosion of colorful tulip gardens that beautify the landscape each spring. The annual Tulip Time Festival celebrates these stunning flowers and Pella's Dutch heritage. Settled by Dutch immigrants in the 19th century. Pella showcases its roots in historic architecture at the Historical Village. The town is home to the tallest working windmill in the US, the impressive Vermeer Windmill. Immerse yourself in the unique Dutch atmosphere in the heart of America by strolling down the neat brick streets and admiring the large tulip beds. There is no better place for authentic Dutch pastries for dining than the Jaarsma Bakery, or you can have a delicious meal at Dutchfix.
Decorah also has a deep connection to Europe, in this instance, beautiful Norway. This pretty town's Norwegian-American heritage is displayed at the Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center. The beauty of Decorah continues in its stunning landscapes with the 200-foot Dunning's Spring Waterfall and the breathtaking Trout Run Trail. Decorah lies in northeast Iowa and forms part of the infamous Driftless Area, a series of hills that give the place a mountain-town feel. When you get hungry from all the fresh, clean air, you can visit Rubaiyat for excellent seasonal American food or grab a traditional pizza pie at Mabe's Pizza.
You may not find pizza places around every corner in Mount Vernon, but you can enjoy local and organic meals here. The Palisades Café specializes in this type of dining experience. Or you could grab a juicy brisket meal at Big's BBQ & Brew Pub. Named after George Washington's plantation estate, Mount Vernon comprises a charming main street and several well-preserved 19th-century buildings. The limestone structures that make up the Cornell College Campus underline the history of this delightful place.The entire town is shot through with scenic spots where you can take a load off and enjoy the local arts and culture scene.
Speaking of scenic spots, Bentonsport's setting on the Des Moines River is one of the most picturesque in Iowa. Lined with ancient trees, this former prominent 18-century riverboat stop is a national historic district today. The sandstone and brick buildings offer a glimpse into past riverboat days. With a mere 40 permanent residents, you won't find a more tranquil and charming town in Iowa. Don't forget to try the old-fashioned fudge at the Bentonsport Village B&B and find something to remember your visit by at The She Shed.
Amana Colonies, a collection of seven villages and a National Historic Landmark, is one of the prettiest places in Iowa. German Pietists founded Amana Colonies in the 1850s, and the communal traditions and historical architecture hark back to the villages' heyday. Wander through the town limits to explore the quaint village scenes and magnificent vineyards. The Amana General Store is a wonderful place to enjoy traditional communal means, and you'll find mouthwatering German dishes at the Ronneburg Restaurant.
Another pretty town in Iowa is West Branch, the birthplace of the 31st US President, Herbert Hoover. Commemorating this piece of history, West Branch houses the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Here, West Branch's history is preserved and exhibited for visitors and locals to experience.
Throughout West Branch, you'll find historic buildings and lush green parks. The Hoover Nature Trails provides a fresh air hiking opportunity and ends with the Hoover burial sites.The Downunder restaurant offers great food, cold beer, and a cozy dining experience at the end of an eventful day.
If you're looking for a refined menu and fine wine and spirits while visiting pretty towns in Iowa, look no further than the Faithful Pilot Café & Spirits in Le Claire. Also, try the Mississippi River Distilling Company & Cody Road Cocktail House for local spirit flavors. Le Claire sits on a steep bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi. It's best known as the home of Antique Archaeology, featured on the History Channel's "American Pickers." It is also the home of Buffalo Bill, and the town honors its famous native son with the Buffalo Bill Museum. You'll be hard-pressed to find better river views in Iowa or a more vibrant antique scene.
Also offering gorgeous river views, in this case, the scenic Turkey River, is Elkader, Iowa. This small town is the only place in the US with an Arabic name which it got from Algerian hero Abd el-Kader. The Schera's Restaurant and Bar offers exceptional Algerian American dishes, paying homage to the town's namesake. In Elkader, you can glimpse 1850s life at the Carter House Museum or explore Elkader City Park. You can play a round of golf at the Elkader Golf and Country Club or kayak along the Turkey River. If you're into antiques and treasures, the Turkey River Mall offers three floors of trinkets, vintage toys, and furniture.
In keeping with the antique and historical theme, the town of Dubuque dates back to 1788 and is the oldest settlement in Iowa. One of the main attractions here is the old Crystal Lake Cave, where you'll find stalactites and stalagmites in a cavernous underground cave complex. Miners accidentally discovered the complex in 1868, and it has since become a huge draw for locals and tourists.
Dubuque also offers a well-visited casino and the Stone Cliff Winery, founded in 1995. For outdoor entertainment, you can stroll along the Riverwalk, which offers views over the Mississippi and ends with the historic Dubuque Shot Tower. A must-visit place is Eagle Point Park, where you may spot a pelican and an eagle or two flying far below the limestone bluffs.
If you're looking for a small-town experience with a marked difference, Fairfield is the best place to go. Fairfield is the center of the Transcendental Meditation Movement in America and offers a mix of spiritual sites, arts, and culture. In particular, the traditional Vedic architecture and Maharishi International University are especially appealing.
Be sure to hike the Fairfield Loop Trail when you visit this unusual town. Also known as the emerald necklace, the trail connects evergreen fields, lakes, woods, prairies, historical sites, and art exhibits. If you're in the mood for a chilled live music vibe and good coffee, Café Paradiso offers both. Also, the Istanbul Grill makes great lamb kebab and tasty hummus.
Visiting Iowa's prettiest towns is not just another road trip; it is a journey through the heart of America. Make the time to visit these wonderful places and experience the best of the American Midwest.