Tulips surrounding a Dutch windmill in the town of Pella, Iowa.

7 Ideal Iowa Destinations for a 3-Day Weekend in 2024

Iowa serves as the lifeline of American agriculture as it reigns supreme in the production of corn, soybeans, and pork across the country. Although not the most obvious vacation spot that comes to mind, those who dare take a second look at its rolling countryside and small towns will find themselves in a rejuvenating long weekend. Need a dose of history and a night at a charming inn? Mark the Amana Colonies or Pella on your map, as they brim with German and Dutch heritage, respectively. Meanwhile, outdoor enthusiasts seeking their next thrill can go to Maquoketa for its caves and trails or find tranquility by the Mississippi River in Marquette. Depending on what you want to do for your 3-day weekend vacation in 2024, there is an Iowa town waiting to be explored.


Entrance of Dancehall Cave in the Maquoketa Caves State Park.
The entrance to Dancehall Cave in the Maquoleta Caves State Park in Iowa.

Located by its namesake river, Maquoketa is an ideal place to spend your long weekend if you enjoy cities with a small-town charm and lots of natural attractions. This town is home to Maquoketa Caves State Park, which has the highest number of caves in the entire state. Adventure seekers who dare to explore the caves will be treated to otherworldly formations. Meanwhile, Prairie Creek Recreation Area has less challenging trails that are ideal for families with kids (and even pets!).

Those who plan to stay near town can enjoy a race at Maquoketa Speedway, known for fast-paced thrills and an adrenaline-pumping sight. Kids and adults are welcome, and spectators can even purchase pit passes for a much better view of the races. Meanwhile, for history enthusiasts, Decker Hotel, with its Italianate architecture, is one of the most beautiful places to stay in town. Squiers 1882 is another unique option for travelers looking for a stylish retreat; this hotel is adorned with Victorian-era decor paired with modern amenities.

Orange City

People enjoying the annual Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa.
People enjoying the annual Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa. Editorial credit: Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

Bound by resounding echoes of Dutch immigration, Orange City continues to celebrate its cultural roots to this day. If time permits, the best time to visit this town is during the annual Tulip Festival, when these winsome flowers are in full bloom. The festivities usually happen over one long weekend in May.

Those interested in local history adore the Dutch Heritage American Museum, which displays interesting exhibits and artifacts, such as tools and clothing used by the early settlers, all year round. Step into a scene straight out of Holland by spending a day at Windmill Park, where a quintessential Dutch bridge and windmill replicas create a picturesque wonderland. For budget-conscious travelers, Dutch Inn and Suites has comfortable room options. If you prefer a more luxurious place for your weekend, Hampton Inn Orange City is worth a look.

Mount Vernon

View of the commercial district in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Rustic brick buildings in the historic district of Mount Vernon, Iowa. By ArtisticAbode - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Mount Vernon buzzes with youthful energy, thanks to Cornell College. Visitors can expect a dynamic locale with tons of fun things to do. Various sports games are held on campus, so sports fans must keep their eyes peeled for the latest match. One can dive into a true college town experience as Mount Vernon bursts with diverse eateries and quaint establishments. Explore a vibrant selection of cafes, from Fuel Art and Espresso to Palisades Cafe. Movie buffs can catch current blockbusters at Bijou Movie Theater, while antique collectors can rummage for their next best find at Vintage 1891 or Polly Ann's Vintage Market.

If you are in town to visit Cornell College, Brackett House offers accommodations right on-site. Blythe Cottage Inn is also a good choice as it's just a five-minute walk to the campus. Outside the college, Sleep Inn & Suites offers convenient amenities like free breakfast and Wi-Fi; plus, it's suitable for folks holidaying with their fur buddies as it's pet-friendly.


Businesses lined along a street in Harlan, Iowa.
Businesses lined along a street in Harlan, Iowa. Editorial credit: dustin77a / Shutterstock.com

Harlan is the perfect destination for a restorative long weekend amidst nature. It is home to Prairie Rose State Park, where adventurers can go paddleboarding along calm waters or have a serene day of fishing. It's a well-maintained area with park rangers to assist campers. Nishna Bend Recreation Area is another outdoor destination with easy walking trails and picnic spots.

Downtown Harlan is compact but overflowing with establishments. Start your day fueled by a hearty breakfast at Milk & Honey, famous for its enormous buttermilk pancakes. La Auténtica serves tasty Mexican fare for lunch or dinner, while Goozman's Westside Lounge offers classic bar grub in a casual atmosphere. If you fancy a movie night, Harlan Theatre, a beloved family-owned cinema, offers the latest blockbusters on the big screen, accompanied by the irresistible aroma of freshly popped popcorn.

As for accommodation, visitors can be close to the center of Harlan with a room at Baymont by Wyndham, a moderately priced accommodation that conveniently offers free breakfast and Wi-Fi access. Meanwhile, Harlan Inn and Suites is a good two-star hotel for those on a tighter budget; it is right by Highway 59 on the outskirts of the town.


Historic homes in the town of Amana, Iowa.
Historic homes in the town of Amana, Iowa. Editorial credit: EWY Media / Shutterstock.com

Amana is one of the historic villages established by German Pietists who immigrated to central Iowa around the 1850s. To this day, the town maintains strong ties to its roots and features distinct brick structures lining the streets, especially downtown. The colonies have become a popular tourist destination over the years, so visitors can easily add a tour of all seven villages to their weekend itinerary. Pique your curiosity about the Amana people and their traditional way of life by visiting the Amana Heritage Society. At the museum, you'll witness their expert craftsmanship, such as calico clothing, intricate carpets, and so much more.

Fuel up for your adventures at the family-owned Ox Yoke Inn, renowned for its Sunday brunch spread. Then, for a lively evening, head to Millstream Brau Haus and experience a true-blue German beer hall atmosphere. Lace Lodging, housed in a quintessential brick building, is an ideal stay to complete your experience. Other choices for accommodation include Hotel Millwright and Guest House Motel.


Aerial view of Marquette, Iowa.
Aerial view of the Marquette-Joliet Bridge and town of Marquette in Iowa. By Wikideas1 - Own work, CC0, Wikimedia Commons.

Located in northeast Iowa, Marquette is a tranquil little town cradled on the banks of the Mississippi River. If you wish to spend some time on the waters, boat tours, rentals, and river cruises are easily accessible. Outdoor fiends can also take on the hiking trails and admire the views at Effigy Mounds National Monument, just five minutes north of downtown. Travelers with little ones might enjoy a trip to the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, a nature center offering interactive lessons that will bring the whole family closer to the natural world.

After your daytime excursions, treat yourself to some of the most exquisite wines at Eagles Landing Winery. One of their bestsellers is the Mr. Sippi, an oaked dry red wine produced from Marquette grapes. After the drink, consider staying at The Frontier Motel to wake up to peaceful river views, or book the Pine Lodge at Trickling Waters Retreat for a quaint and more secluded lodging.


The Vermeer Windmill in the Pella Historical Village, Iowa.
The Vermeer Windmill in the Pella Historical Village, Iowa.

Like many towns and cities in Iowa, Pella was founded by Dutch settlers in the 19th century. Today, it is still home to buildings and attractions reminiscent of Holland, most prominently in the Molengracht Plaza, the town's business district. The plaza is home to a Dutch canal replica and an array of shops and restaurants. From Main Street, take a stroll along the canal and cross over to Franklin Street to visit the Pella Historical Village & Vermeer Windmill.

Try some local favorites offering delicious fare, including Dutchfix, known for its poffertjes selection, and In't Veld's Meat Market, a butcher shop deli serving Dutch wraps and sandwiches. Stay at The Amsterdam Hotel next to the canal to complete the whole Netherlands experience. Other lodging choices include bed and breakfasts like The Parsonage and The Dwelling Place.

Go With the Flow In Iowa

Beyond its cornfields, Iowa unveils an astonishing deck of destinations for a refreshing, all-encompassing escape. From nerve-wracking spelunking adventures in Maquoketa to the quaint Dutch charm of Pella, you'll never guess the next happy surprise coming your way. If a warm atmosphere is right up your alley, the dynamic college town of Mount Vernon welcomes you with open arms. Bring out those duffel bags and start packing for a fun, well-deserved weekend in Iowa!

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