Tulip Time Festival Parade of Pella's dutch community, a festival dedicated to the citizens who immigrated from the Netherlands to America. Image credit yosmoes815 via Shutterstock

14 Most Beautiful Small Towns In Iowa You Should Visit

Bounded by the Mississippi River on the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River on the west, Iowa, a landlocked US state in the upper American Midwest, is acclaimed for its incredible natural beauty comprising undulating hills, plains, and expansive agricultural fields. Although the bigger cities like Cedar Rapids and the state capital, Des Moines, attract numerous visitors, the beautiful small towns dotting this gorgeous state lure visitors with their charm. These little settlements, with their magnificent sceneries, historical landmarks, unique cultures, colorful festivals, ample outdoor activities, and welcoming locals, will surely win your heart on your next tour to the Hawkeye State with your loved ones.


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

Initially settled by immigrants from the Netherlands in 1847 and named in reference to Pella of the Decapolis, this town in Iowa’s Marion County is about 40 miles southeast of Des Moines. Besides being home to Central College's principal campus and many manufacturing companies such as Pella Corporation and Vermeer Company, Pella is renowned for its Dutch heritage. In keeping up with Pella’s motto, "A Touch of Holland," the Dutch-inspired architecture, colossal swirling windmills, meandering canals, rainbow-hued tulips, and piles of warm pastries on the bakery shelves will give tourists a feeling that they have landed somewhere in the Netherlands.

Pella’s noteworthy attractions include the Vermeer Mill & Pella Historical Village, Scholte House Museum & Gardens, Klokkenspel, Pella Opera House, Sunken Gardens Park, and the adjacent Red Rock Reservoir. A scenic canal winds through the nearby Molengracht Plaza, which houses a full-size working drawbridge, in addition to a hostelry, shops, restaurants, and a movie theatre. Celebrating Pella’s Dutch heritage, the annual Tulip Time Festival features tulip gardens, crafters, musical performances, Dutch costumes, food, and daily parades, attracting numerous revelers to Pella during the first weekend in May.

Amana Colonies

An outdoor shopping at the Amana Colonies.
Shop in Amana Colonies. Image credit Ruth McNeill Photography via Shutterstock.com

German Radical Pietists built and settled this collection of seven picturesque villages in the state’s east-central portion over 26,000 acres, close to the Iowa River, about 20 miles west-northwest of Iowa City. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Amana Colonies are a significant tourist attraction, welcoming over 1.5 million visitors annually. A visit to the Amana Colonies is like stepping back in time and experiencing a unique culture and ambiance that is difficult to recreate anywhere.

At present, heritage tourism drives the economy of the Amana area, and historic preservation efforts by many local nonprofit organizations are critical in preserving Amana’s natural and built environment. Throughout the year, the Amana Colonies host different festivals like Winterfest, Maifest, Wurst Festival, Oktoberfest, Iowa Renaissance Festival, Tannenbaum Forest, and Prelude to Christmas to celebrate their German heritage and carry on the traditions of the people who initially resided in the area. 


View of the Mississippi River through the trees in Mcgregor, Iowa.
Mississippi River through the trees in Mcgregor, Iowa. Image credit ForeverMind via Shutterstock

Located along the Mississippi River across Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, McGregor is a charming river town in Northeast Iowa’s Clayton County that occupies the valley floor of vertical sandstone bluffs: the St. Peter Sandstone and Jordan Formation. Tourists visiting this popular summer destination must walk Main Street, which passes through the nationally recognized McGregor Commercial Historic District, comprising numerous well-preserved buildings constructed during the town’s boom years. The district also houses several antique stores, art galleries, specialty shops, bars, and restaurants, including the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts, McGregor Historical Museum, the Olde Time Shoppe, and the River View Restaurant.

McGregor’s location in the Driftless Area at the end of the River Bluffs Scenic Byway helps outdoor lovers quickly access the nearby Pikes Peak State Park and Effigy Mounds National Monument to explore the winding hiking paths offering spectacular panoramas of the Mississippi River Valley.


Bridge in Bentonsport, Iowa.
Bridge in Bentonsport, Iowa. Image credit Jon Roanhaus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Founded originally as a thriving steamboat port in the mid-1800s, this charming Van Buren County village along the Des Moines River is an ideal retreat for travelers. Spread over 35-acre at the village’s historic center, the Bentonsport National Historic District features many restored structures such as the Bentonsport Presbyterian Church, specialty stores like the Greef’s General Store, cozy bed & breakfasts, rental cottages, and the iconic wagon bridge.

History buffs must surely visit the Tony Sanders’ Indian Artifacts Museum, which features more than 4,000 arrowheads and tools collected over the past few decades by Tony Sanders. Nature enthusiasts would not want to miss the Des Moines River Water Trail offering outstanding waterfront vistas, while merrymakers are drawn to the annual Bentonsport Riverfest every October.  

Elk Horn

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

Home to just 601 inhabitants as per the latest US Census, this small town in Iowa’s Shelby County is renowned for its Danish ancestry. The tourists must visit the iconic Danish Windmill that serves as a reminder of the community’s glorious past. The Museum of Danish America displays over 35,000 artifacts that aptly uphold its mission to preserve and promote Danish culture in the US. History lovers can also visit the various off-site properties of the museum, including the Bedstemor’s House, Jens Dixen House, and the Genealogy Center. Outdoor lovers can drive along the Western Skies Scenic Byway and soak in the natural splendor of the surrounding landscape.


Downtown Waverly, Iowa
Downtown Waverly, Iowa. Image credit Billwhittaker at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked along the Cedar River in Northeast Iowa’s Bremer County, Waverly forms a part of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Waverly East Bremer Avenue Commercial Historic District covers a part of Waverly’s commercial district and includes about 40 contributing and 12 non-contributing buildings. The fantastic walking and bicycling pathways of the Waverly Rail Trail offer outdoor lovers opportunities to reconnect with nature. To soak in the town’s vibrant spirit, tourists must participate in the Waverly Heritage Days, an annual four-day extravaganza with regional art displays, tasty cuisines, live musical performances, and a multitude of fun-filled activities.

Clear Lake

Dock into Clear Lake.
Overlooking Dock into Clear Lake. Image credit jerseyjoephoto via Shutterstock

Clear Lake is an attractive small town along a natural spring-fed lake in Northern Iowa’s Cerro Gordo County. Being a significant stop on Interstate 35, Clear Lake houses plenty of quality restaurants, truck stops, hotels, state parks, marinas, and other tourism-related businesses. Some of the major attractions in Clear Lake include the historic Lake Theatre, Surf Ballroom, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens & Big Bopper Crash Site Memorial, Clear Lake Arts Center, Clear Lake Fire Museum, Central Gardens of North Iowa, Inc., PM Park, Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel, and the nearby Clear Lake State Park. Tourists can enjoy a scenic cruise around Clear Lake aboard the Lady of Lake ferry boat or explore the extensive River City Greenbelt and Trail System.


Flowers blooming at the Fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.
Fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.

Decorah, the administrative center of Winneshiek County, is situated about 15 miles south of Iowa’s boundary with Minnesota in the hilly driftless region of the Upper Midwest. This northernmost principal community, along US Highway 52, is home to the main campus of Luther College, a liberal arts institution especially known for its Nordic Choir. The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, considered the country’s biggest Norwegian Museum, is a must-visit for the history buffs.

The town also boasts a colorful arts and cultural scene, hosting many art exhibitions, music events, and annual festivals like the Nordic Fest, celebrating Decorah’s Norwegian culture. Palisades Park, Decorah Ice Cave State Park, Dunning’s Spring, and Siewers Spring make Decorah a perfect place for relaxation and exploration.

Le Claire

An American bald eagle fishing in the river flowing past Le Claire, Iowa.
An American bald eagle fishing in the river flowing past Le Claire, Iowa.

Set scenically along the shores of the mighty Mississippi River, this small Scott County town forms a part of the Quad Cities Metropolitan Area and is one of the fastest-growing communities in the Quad Cities region. Visitors can walk down the nationally recognized Cody Road Historic District and admire the town’s historic buildings, galleries, boutiques, breweries, antique stores, and restaurants lining the streets. History buffs can learn about local history and life along the Mississippi River at the Buffalo Bill Museum.

Travelers must not miss the 90-minute sightseeing cruise offered by Riverboat Twilight and admire stunning views of the surrounding area or take a road trip along the well-known Great River Road National Scenic Byway. During the second weekend of August, thousands of revelers come to the small towns of Le Claire, Iowa, and Port Byron, Illinois, to participate in the Tugfest – an annual three-day-long event that is half country fair and half athletic competition.


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

Nicknamed "The Farm Toy Capital of the World," Dyersville is spread across the eastern portion of Delaware County and the western portion of Dubuque County along the North Fork of the Maquoketa River. Named in honor of the pioneer settler James Dyer, who immigrated from Banwell, England, Dyersville attracts tourists with many notable attractions such as the Field of Dreams Movie Site, National Farm Toy Museum, Ertl Company outlet store, Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum, and Plaza Antique Mall.

Riders/bikers can explore the 26-mile-long Heritage Trail, recognized as one of the most scenic trails in the upper Midwest. Dyersville also hosts many annual events like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Summer Farm Toy Show, National Farm Toy Show, and Downtown Friday Nights.


Eldora Downtown Historic District.
Eldora Downtown Historic District. Image credit Jon Roanhaus Jon Roanhaus, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The county seat of Hardin County, Eldora, is placed on the Altamont Moraine’s eastern edge immediately west of the Iowa River’s gorge. Named by a local mother in honor of her deceased infant daughter, this small town of just 2,663 inhabitants welcomes tourists to its charming downtown district filled with historic structures, local stores, galleries, award-winning brews, and inviting restaurants. One must also visit the Hardin County Historical House, Hardin County Farm Museum, and Eldora Welcome Center & Railroad Museum. Eldora provides easy access to the adjacent 585-acre Pine Lake State Park, which features two lakes stocked with many fish, a campground with 124 camping units, 10 miles of developed trails, and a 50-mile Lake-to-Lake State Park Bike Route that links Pine Lake State Park with George Wyth Memorial State Park.


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

Occupying the heart of Madison County, approximately 30 miles southwest of Des Moines, at the meeting point of Iowa State Highway 92 and US Route 169, Winterset forms a part of the Des Moines Metropolitan Area. Reputed as one of the state’s picture-perfect towns, Winterset draws tourists with its ageless appeal and connection to the bestselling novel and 1995 American romantic drama The Bridges of Madison County. Visitors can take a driving tour over the wavy hills and witness the town’s six stunning covered bridges, including Roseman Bridge, Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, Cedar Covered Bridge, Holliwell Covered Bridge, Imes Covered Bridge, and Hogback Covered Bridge.

Some other notable attractions include the Madison County Courthouse, John Wayne Birthplace Museum, Iowa Quilt Museum, Winterset Stage, the 18-acre Madison County Historical Society Complex, and the Winterset City Park with its iconic Clark Tower offering panoramic vistas of the adjoining Middle River Valley area. Winterset hosts the annual Covered Bridge Festival every second weekend in October to celebrate the town’s bridges and local heritage.

Orange City

Facade of the Sioux County Courthouse, Orange City.
Sioux County Courthouse, Orange City.

Named in honor of William III, the sovereign Prince of Orange, the county seat of Sioux County is renowned for its Dutch heritage and friendly inhabitants. Tourists are primarily drawn to Orange City’s various Dutch sites and historical buildings, including the Sioux County Courthouse, Northwestern College campus, and Orange City Century Home, besides enjoying a leisurely stroll through the downtown Windmill Park to witness the fantastic flower gardens and the Dutch Canal Bridge along the windmills.

The Dutch American Heritage Museum, with its vast collection of exhibits, helps one to learn more about the area’s rich history. The annual Tulip Festival attracts thousands of merrymakers, while nature enthusiasts can explore the city’s many parks and trails.  

Mount Vernon

An American Gothic Barn in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Gothic Barn in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock.com

An idyllic town in Eastern Iowa’s Linn County, Mount Vernon, is adjacent to Lisbon and forms a part of the Cedar Rapids Metropolitan Statistical Area. Known for its rolling hills, meticulously preserved Victorian-era homes, and downtown commercial district, Mount Vernon’s urban fringe location offers a perfect blend of city culture in a small-town venue. Tourists to Mount Vernon can tour the historic Cornell College campus, First Street Community Center, quirky boutiques, art galleries, local cafes, and restaurants, besides admiring the artistic rendition of Grant Wood’s American Gothic on the side of a barn along US Highway 30.

Outdoor lovers can enjoy recreational activities at the Palisades-Kepler State Park and Elliott Athletic Complex or spend quality time at the Nature Park. Mount Vernon also hosts the annual "Chalk the Walk" festival, Magical Night, Chili Cook-Off, Chocolate Stroll, Lincoln Highway Arts Festival, and Uptown Thursday Nights.

From the Dutch-inspired architectures of Pella and Orange City to the photo-op-worthy locales like Winterset and Decorah, the most beautiful small towns in the nation’s 26th largest and 31st most populous state are waiting to be discovered. With fascinating histories, diverse cultures, and impressive surroundings, these gems in Iowa will leave an everlasting impression on everyone who visits them. So, whether you are looking for a tranquil place to settle, a quick weekend getaway, or a rejuvenating vacation tour, you must include the adorable small towns of the Hawkeye State in your itineraries.

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