Tulip Time Festival Parade of Pella's dutch community, Iowa. Image credit yosmoes815 via Shutterstock

14 Adorable Small Towns in Iowa

In the middle of expansive vistas and scenic settings, Iowa is home to many small towns that exude an incomparable charm. These gems hold secrets that brave travelers looking for authenticity can learn about, but they are frequently eclipsed by their more famed peers. In these beautiful havens, time appears to stop still as visitors travel the winding lanes. When it comes to warmth, history, and friendliness, Iowa's little towns create a spell that rivals the grandeur of the state's buzzing metropolis.


The Sunken Gardens Park in Pella, Iowa, in the spring time.
Sunken Gardens Park in Pella, Iowa, in the spring time.

Pella, a small town in Marion County, stands out from the competition with its alluring Dutch charm. With charming windmills, vivid tulip gardens, and traditional architecture, Pella, also referred to as "Little Holland of the United States," pays respect to its Dutch past. Travelers can walk leisurely along the streets lined with quaint businesses and get a sense of the deep Dutch traditions present everywhere. Visitors can enjoy mouthwatering pastries, take in the vibrant Tulip Time Festival, or visit the legendary Vermeer Mill, the tallest operating windmill in the country. Pella's Midwestern kindness and classic elegance are the ultimate draw for visitors to add to their travel list for a weekend escape.


Fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.
Fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.

Decorah, hidden in the lovely Upper Iowa River Valley, has a hypnotic effect on visitors. The town is a sanctuary for nature lovers, encircled by verdant hills, tall bluffs, and gushing waterfalls. Dunning's Springs Park has breathtaking nature to explore, or visitors can hike on the 11-mile Trout Run Route. One can tour the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, featuring complex folk art and displays to become completely lost in the rich Norwegian tradition alive and well in Decorah. During the yearly Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, don't skip the chance to see bald eagles. Those seeking a memorable excursion with stunning surroundings and an active cultural environment can consider visiting Decorah.

Amana Colonies

Village store and street in the Amana Colonies village.
Amana Colonies village. Image credit dustin77a via Shutterstock

Entering the Amana Colonies resembles hopping into a time machine that takes one back to a more modest time. The German Pietists founded this collection of seven ancient communities in Iowa County to demonstrate their distinctive communal way of life. The stone and brick structures of the Amana Colonies, hosting quaint bed & breakfasts, art galleries, and museums, convey a vintage feel. Visitors can relish the delicious German food in communal-style eateries and take delight in the handmade items made by regional artists. The Amana Heritage Museum provides glimpses into the colonies' intriguing history and culture, allowing visitors to learn more about their rich heritage. The Amana Colonies is the go-to destination in Iowa for a week's getaway. 

Le Claire

Cody Road Historic District is the main street through Le Claire
Cody Road Historic District is the main street through Le Claire. Image credit Kepper66 via Wikimedia Commons

Le Claire is a little town with a buzzing vibrancy, set on the massive Mississippi River shores. The pretty riverbank community, renowned as the origins of Buffalo Bill, entices travelers with its warm setting and fascinating past. Travelers can catch the Twilight, a famous paddlewheel riverboat, for an idyllic trip along the Mississippi while taking in the breathtaking panoramic vistas. People can also browse the Buffalo Bill Museum's odd and varied collection, devoted to protecting the history of the illustrious showman. One can also discover a treasure chest of one-of-a-kind items by perusing the antique stores, boutiques, and galleries lining the streets. If a pleasant riverside vacation is what you need, then head to Le Claire.


Elkader Downtown Historic District.
Elkader Downtown Historic District. Image credit Kevin Schuchmann via Wikimedia Commons

Elkader is an enigma recognized for its idyllic setting and intriguing history, located in the gorgeous Turkey River Valley. The town, called in honor of Algerian liberation warrior Abd el-Kader, embodies a distinctive fusion of North African and American elements. The city's historic center, where exquisitely maintained buildings showcase Elkader's illustrious background, is a beautiful place to start discovering the town. One can tour the Elkader Opera House, an artistic gem presenting live shows and events round-the-year. Outdoor lovers can soak in the scenery by strolling the Motor Mill Historic Complex's scenic routes, admiring its architecture, or taking a tranquil canoe trip along the Turkey River. Tourists will uncover a fascinating blend of cultures, stunning scenery, and a welcoming community attitude as they walk the streets of Elkader.


Mississippi River through the trees in Mcgregor, Iowa.
Mississippi River through the trees in Mcgregor, Iowa.

McGregor, tucked away on the Mississippi River's shores, charms visitors with its classic elegance and inviting riverfront setting. The charming river town provides a tranquil haven for people seeking a break from the contemporary world enclosed by lush cliffs and gorgeous panoramas. One can walk down Main Street, dotted with quaint 19th-century storefronts of the Old Jail and Fire House Guest Suite, and they will come across several antique stores, art galleries, notably the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts, and specialty shops, including The Olde Time Shoppe. Travelers can also admire Pike's Peak State Park's epic splendor, where hiking paths snake through centuries-old trees and sweeping vistas offer magnificent panoramas of the Mississippi River Valley. At the McGregor Historical Museum, visitors can learn history while examining artifacts and tales that vividly depict the town's background. McGregor is the ultimate summer destination in Iowa calling out all visitors. 


Field of Dreams movie site sign in Dyersville, Iowa.
Field of Dreams movie site sign in Dyersville, Iowa. Image credit Steve Cukrov via Shutterstock.com

Dyersville, a little town in eastern Iowa, has a well-deserved reputation as a center for everything baseball-related. The beautiful small town delivers a nostalgic adventure into America's favorite pastime. It hosts the legendary Field of Dreams, popularised by the iconic movie. The best place to witness the enchantment of baseball in action is by entering the storied baseball diamond, flanked by endless cornfields. Tourists should visit the National Farm Toy Museum to see its impressive collection of model tractors and other farm-related artifacts. One can also enjoy a leisurely stroll around the historic downtown, where they will find the Dyresville Family Restaurant, the best place to dine with family, and the Plaza Antique Mall, the ultimate souvenir shopping stop. Dyersville is a home run with tourists from near and far with its undying love of baseball.


A scene from Bentonsport Bridge, Iowa.
Bentonsport Bridge, Iowa. Image credit David Wilson via Flickr.

Bentonsport, nestled in the lovely Des Moines River Valley, is a charming town promising retreat with a vintage atmosphere. Travelers will be taken back in time as they stroll through the quaint village, where the tradition comes to life. The ideal place for a leisurely canoe or kayak trip is down the beautiful Des Moines River or see the iconic Bentonsport Bridge, among Iowa's oldest still-in-use truss bridges. People can also learn about the Bentonsport National Historic District, featuring beautifully restored structures housing quaint bed & breakfasts and specialty stores. Bentonsport is a beloved vacation spot for anyone looking for calm and a window into Iowa's past. One can relax in the tranquil setting while taking in the serenity of the landscape in the adorable town of Bentonsport.


Eldora Downtown Historic District
Eldora Downtown Historic District. Image credit Jon Roanhaus via Wikimedia Commons

Eldora, a charming tiny town in Hardin County, charms visitors with its warm ambiance and extensive history. Visitors can discover the lovely downtown district, dotted with protected historic structures housing cozy stores and restaurants. One should tour the Hardin County Farm Museum to learn more about how life is on a farm. Another must-visit spot is Pine Lake State Park, where the peaceful lake encourages fishing and boating and where hiking routes snake through lush trees. Eldora offers a tranquil retreat for visitors seeking a typical Iowa small-town experience.

Elk Horn

Danish Windmill in Elk Horn, Iowa.
Danish Windmill in Elk Horn, Iowa.

Set in Shelby County's undulating hills, Elk Horn takes pride in its Danish ancestry. This lovely town, dubbed the Danish Windmill Capital of America, offers a glimpse of Denmark in the middle of Iowa. One can explore the magnificent Danish Windmill, a 60-foot-tall working windmill serving as a reminder of the community's history. The Museum of Danish America, containing remarkable exhibits and artifacts depicting the tale of Danish immigrants to America, is another tourist hotspot. One can enjoy hearty Nordic fare, traditional Danish sweets, and unique stores highlighting Danish culture. Elk Horn is a compelling location bringing guests to a universe of Scandinavian enchantment with its persisting Danish customs.


Pleasant View Post Office, Winterset, Iowa.
Pleasant View Post Office, Winterset, Iowa.

Winterset, a town in Madison County, draws tourists in with its timeless appeal, picture-perfect surroundings, and connections to the well-known book and movie "The Bridges of Madison County." As visitors go off on a magnificent drive over the undulating hills, they learn about the prominently covered bridges dotting the area, including the historic Roseman Bridge. The John Wayne Birthplace Museum, exhibiting artifacts from the iconic actor's life, to enter the magical world of the novelist John Wayne, is also available for visitors to tour. One can also discover lovely restaurants, boutique stores, and art museums in the historic downtown district. The Winterset City Park, boasting picturesque walking routes, picnic spots, and a stunning stone bridge, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Visitors are in for a treat as they venture to experience the allure and peace of small-town Iowa at Winterset.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon commercial Historic District
Mount Vernon Commercial Historic District.

Mount Vernon, an idyllic village in Eastern Iowa, combines history, scenic beauty, and a thriving cultural life. Visitors can discover the lovely boutiques, galleries, notably Mount Vernon Creates, and restaurants that ring the historic downtown district. The grounds of Cornell College, a magnificent educational institution with a thriving arts program, are also open for tours. Outdoor lovers can walk leisurely along the lovely Cedar River or enjoy the hiking routes of Palisades-Kepler State Park. Visitors can take a glimpse of the area's history at the First Street Community Centre, a former school now a cultural center housing creative studios. Anyone looking for the ideal location with small-town appeal and artistic vibrancy will find it in Mount Vernon.


Downtown Waverly, Iowa.
Downtown Waverly, Iowa. Image credit Billwhittaker via Wikimedia Commons

Waverly, a lovely town with a bustling center and a tight-knit community, rests along the picturesque Cedar River. One may browse the various shops, including Trinkets and Togs, Moe & Arrow Boutique, and The Junkery, antique stores, and restaurants in the historical downtown. The best place to engage in local arts and culture is the Waverly Heritage Days, featuring live music, regional art displays, and engaging performances. The Waverly Rail Trail, offering picturesque walking and bicycling pathways, offers outdoor enthusiasts several opportunities to be close to nature. Waverly invites tourists to enjoy the pleasures of small-town life in Iowa.

Orange City

Sioux County Courthouse, Orange City.
Sioux County Courthouse, Orange City.

Orange City draws tourists with its thriving Dutch culture and welcoming locals. During the annual Tulip Festival, the town is awash with color as the streets are filled with beautiful tulips, authentic Dutch costumes, and vivacious parades. At the Dutch Heritage Village of the Orange City Tulip Festival, travelers may soak in the rich cultural heritage of the Dutch pioneers. People can discover the quirky stores, savor some local fare, and enjoy the legendary Dutch warmth. One should visit the Dutch American Heritage Centre, taking steps towards conserving and honoring Northwestern Iowa's past and cultural diversity, to learn more about the area's rich creative tradition. For visitors looking for a distinctive cultural experience in Iowa, Orange City is the ideal destination with its Dutch enchantment.

Every town provides a unique personality and hidden gems to discover, from the Dutch-inspired lanes of Pella to the panoramic beauties of Decorah and the vintage bridges of Winterset. The charm of these small communities in Iowa comes from more than just their gorgeous appearance; it also comes from the warm welcome that they extend to all guests. The memories of cultural immersion in Orange City and peaceful moments of Winterset will linger as visitors say goodbye to these charming havens, encouraging people to look for more of these undiscovered gems and to embrace the beauty that resides in the little nooks of the world.

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