Aerial view of Spirit Lake, Iowa.

7 Best Small Towns to Retire in Iowa in 2024

Iowa, a scenic state known for its rolling plains and cornfields, is a hub for retirees. The state boasts endless opportunities for golden agers, from the range of family farms to the cultural beauty spread throughout. Moreover, Iowa is home to some of the best small towns, hidden away from the urban hustle and bustle for a peaceful retirement. These towns not only offer a serene environment but also boast affordable housing, great healthcare, and optimal facilities. Thus, they are some of Iowa's best places to retire in 2024.


Downtown street of Fairfield, Iowa. Image credit Bill Whittaker via Wikimedia Commons
Downtown street of Fairfield, Iowa. Image credit Bill Whittaker via Wikimedia Commons.

Fairfield is the county seat of Jefferson County, providing a comfortable environment for retirees. The town is home to about 9,500 residents, with a friendly vibe palpable throughout. To this end, cultural activities shine, and there are various ways to enjoy oneself in Fairfield. Those interested in the local artistic scene can spend time at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center or Orpheum Theater. From the Hip Hop Orchestra Experience in May to regular movie screenings, these spots are perfect for seniors. After a day out, the nearby Maharishi Vedic City offers premier Ayurvedic health treatments to keep one fit and fine.

People who choose to retire in Fairfield love the local Farmers Market, which offers fresh local produce and eccentric locals. Ode to this, the town is a magnet for seniors, and more than 25% of locals are above the age of 65. Moreover, the Jefferson County Health Center offers optimal healthcare facilities so residents can rest assured.

Spirit Lake

Aerial view of buildings in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Aerial view of buildings in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

As the name suggests, Spirit Lake is a scenic town resting along the shore of East Okoboji Lake. Thus, it is a reprieve of outdoor scenery, perfect for retirees with an active lifestyle. Watersports are the most common, with the Okoboji Lakes and Spirit Lake providing ample space for swimming, boating, and ice-skiing during the winter. Those who don’t want to get wet can opt for fishing and hiking at one of the many parks along the coast. After the outdoor fun, residents can recharge their batteries at one of many eateries in town. From delicious noodles at the Asian Palace to succulent hamburgers at Burger & Company, the possibilities are endless.

While houses in Spirit Lake are quite expensive, with an average home costing $300,000, $100,000 more than the state average, the price is often justified. This is because many homes boast stunning surroundings with waterside views and ample green space. If the prices still seem too steep, one can opt for a retirement living facility instead, such as Wel-Life At Spirit Lake. With great care staff and plenty of living options, it is an ideal way to live in Spirit Lake without breaking the bank.


Ornate building housing Porter House Museum on W Broadway in Decorah, Iowa. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /
Ornate building housing Porter House Museum on W Broadway in Decorah, Iowa. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /

As the county seat of Winneshiek County, Decorah has plenty of amenities and activities. For instance, WinnMed Hospital covers healthcare needs and offers round-the-clock emergency services. Meanwhile, the nearby Trout Run Road features a Walmart Supercenter, a Slumberland Furniture store, and an auto parts store, making it easy to complete daily errands. Thanks to these facilities, nearly 24% of the local population is over the age of 65, so there is always someone like-minded to meet. Moreover, one can always call over their family for vacations as Decorah boasts several hotels at varying price points, from the lavish Country Inn & Suites by Radisson to the economical Super 8 by Wyndham.

When the family does visit, there is an endless array of activities to choose from. Adults can opt for spots like the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum to learn about local history or stop for a drink at Toppling Goliath Brewing Company. On the other hand, kids adore the Decorah Fish Hatchery and Dunnings Spring Park, which showcase everything from scenic waterfalls to friendly marine life. Those here in May 2024 can also enjoy many local events, such as the Derby Party and Maifest celebration.


Hotel Ottumwa in Iowa.
Hotel Ottumwa in Iowa

Ottumwa is a stellar town offering a mix of urban and rural opportunities. Home to a lively population of 25,500, something is always happening in town. Cultural attractions are among the most popular, and retirees flock to spots like the Airpower Museum and Ottumwa City Hall. The former showcases aircraft and interesting exhibits, while the latter is a historic building built in 1910. While cultural destinations are abundant, Ottumwa also has ample green space. Retirees can opt for the Garrison Rock Preserve and Pioneer Ridge Nature Area, which are full of walking, hiking, and picnicking opportunities.

Beyond the activities, Ottumwa is a retiree’s dream, with excellent facilities and services. From healthcare at the Ottumwa Regional Health Center to bus transport via the Ottumwa Transit Authority, one can rest assured in town. The best part is that these benefits are affordable, with the average home in town costing $112,000. This is nearly half the state average, so retirees won’t have to break the bank to live in Ottumwa.


Tulip Time Festival Parade in Pella, Iowa. Editorial credit: yosmoes815 /
Tulip Time Festival Parade in Pella, Iowa. Editorial credit: yosmoes815 /

Pella is a town in Marion County famed for its strong Dutch heritage. Founded by immigrants from the Netherlands in the late 1800s, the town is a wellspring of cultural charm. Seniors can experience the vibrance through landmarks like the Historical Village, Vermeer Windmill, and Scholte House. They offer a trip into history and heritage, from tours of the iconic windmill to tales of a bygone era. The cultural influence spreads beyond just landmarks and is prevalent in the town’s events and food as well. For example, the Tulip Time Fest takes place in May, bringing the community together to celebrate with Dutch costumes, dance, food, and flowers. The week before Tulip Time is the Klompen Classic 5K Run/Walk, a perfect event for retirees to stay fit and active.

Those who settle down in Pella can be sure they won’t be lonely. As more than 18% of the locals are senior citizens, there is always someone to join for a fun day out. While the town is slightly expensive, with an average home costing around $320,000, many alternatives exist. Namely, the Independence Village Pella and Hearthstone Senior Living Community offer independent living and assisted living at affordable price points.


The Great River Bridge over the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa.
The Great River Bridge over the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa.

Burlington, home to nearly 24,000 residents, is a haven for retirees. A riverside location, strong economy, and robust infrastructure are some factors that beckon seniors from all over the country. Some benefits stand out, such as the Burlington Urban Service Transportation System and Amtrak rail connectivity, which make traveling within and outside of town a breeze. All you need to do is hop on a bus to the local Walmart or board the Amtrak to Chicago for any big city requirement. To this end, 22% of the town’s population is above the age of 65, indicating an excellent environment for those in their golden years.

Living in Burlington is more than comfortable; it is also full of entertainment. The town boasts amazing walking-friendly areas, such as Snake Alley, which is an abode of historic proportions. Similarly, residents can become one with nature at Mosquito Park or Crapo Park. The parks have many trails with lush foliage and scenic waterways.

Fort Madison

View of downtown Fort Madison, Iowa, along Avenue G in the Fort Madison Downtown Commercial Historic District.
View of downtown Fort Madison, Iowa, along Avenue G in the Fort Madison Downtown Commercial Historic District.

Fort Madison is the county seat of Lee County, beckoning retirees with an array of landmarks and attractions. Seniors prefer sites like the 1842 Lee County North Clerk of Court, 1808 Old Fort Madison, and the 1867 North Lee County Jail. Each showcases a unique side to Fort Madison’s culture, whether as the oldest active courthouse in the state or through Halloween celebrations at the historic jail. Those not interested in tales of the past can opt to spend their day at more modern options, like the Putt-A-Round miniature golf course or Horan’s Cabaret pub. Between golfing and drinking, one will always have something to keep them entertained in Fort Madison.

From a retirement perspective, Fort Madison shines in part due to its affordable housing. With a median home costing $104,000, about half the state average of $214,000, it is a dream for budget homebuyers. Moreover, it’ll never be lonely in town, as 20% of the population is above 65, so seniors can feel at home in Fort Madison. Add the scenic Mississippi River, which runs along the southern end of town, for a perfect small town for retirees.

From the scenic views at Spirit Lake to the historic tales in Fort Madison, each of these towns has something unique to share. In addition, they boast many retirement benefits, including great health services and a strong social environment for retirees. Thus, those planning on retiring in Iowa this year can rest assured that they’ll have a wonderful experience in the Hawkeye State.

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