Overlooking the town of Bellevue and the Mississippi River, Bellevue, Iowa.

8 Most Charming River Towns in Iowa to Visit in 2024

There is something special about river towns. That glow from the shimmering waters, the waves, the sunset, the evening clouds, and the colorful buildings surrounding the shores are just beautiful to behold. In the state of Iowa, these sights are common across its river towns, where serenity and nature abound. Most of the towns are laid by the shores of the Mississippi River, with beautiful mentions like Bellevue, Clinton, and McGregor offering unforgettable experiences. Looking for a recipe for happiness in 2024? Visit these incredible river towns in Iowa.


Grind Mill at Wild Cat Den near Muscatine Iowa.
Grind Mill at Wild Cat Den near Muscatine, Iowa.

Muscatine is a town in the county of the same name located on a river bend that spoils visitors with views of the Mississippi River as it makes a turn. This beautiful town is renowned as the world's pearl button capital, responsible for one-third of the world's pearl buttons. Learn about the history and continuous harvesting of sea pearls at the National Pearl Button Museum and visit the gift shop to get a souvenir. Business aside, Muscatine is the unofficial home of the world's largest slice of watermelon sculpture at 40 feet long, located at the Riverfront for everyone to see. For recreation and relaxation by the river, head to the nearby Clark's Ferry Recreation Area to boat around, fish, and hold picnics under the canopy of lush trees. Additionally, explore the Wildcat Den State Park, home to iconic cliffs - Steamboat Rock, Fat Man's Squeeze, and Devil's Punch Bowl which all serve as overlooks for hikers. 


View of the Mississippi River through the trees in Mcgregor, Iowa.
View of the Mississippi River through the trees in McGregor, Iowa.

McGregor is a laid-back, pretty town with spectacular river bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Visiting this town is unforgettable, especially as it has so many attractions that set the stage for sensational experiences. First off, the Pike's Peak State Park is just south of McGregor, and it features an observation platform that offers postcard-perfect views of the Mississippi River. A few miles north of the town, there is the Effigy Mounds National Monument, a native American Heritage site featuring around 200 prehistoric mounds, assuming various animal shapes. McGregor also features the Spook Cave Campground which is a cave resort on a bluff seven miles west. This resort features a trout stream where one can fish, enjoy a boat ride excursion to explore the cave's interior, and also camp. For history lovers, be sure to visit the McGregor Historical Museum to learn more about this town’s history via its numerous artifacts and art exhibits.  

Fort Madison

Fort Madison, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Madison,_Iowa By Billwhittaker (talk) - Own work (Original text: self-made), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6795356
Fort Madison, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Billwhittaker (talk) - Own work (Original text: self-made), Public Domain, Wikipedia

Named after America's Fourth President, James Madison, this town along the Mississippi River combines history and scenic beauty to give visitors a treat. To begin, it is home to the Iowa State Penitentiary, which was once a fort and military post and is the oldest running prison west of the Mississippi River. The town also features the Fort Madison Bridge, a national historic landmark that connects to Niota town in Illinois. Away from history, Fort Madison hosts several parks where visitors can relax and lose track of time. Some of these parks include Riverview Park and Shopton Park, which both feature picnic areas and playgrounds. For more fun outdoors in the town, visitors can hike trails like the Rodeo Park Trail Way (1.5 miles) and Bluff Road Trail (1.2 miles) for the finest views of natural surroundings.

Le Claire

LeClaire, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LeClaire,_Iowa CC BY 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33600294
LeClaire, Iowa. In Wikipedia. CC BY 3.0, Wikipedia

Enjoy picturesque scenery and a glimpse at the past in the river town of Le Claire, where natural beauty meets history in a spectacular style, to give visitors a taste of both worlds. Here, visitors can begin with history at the Buffalo Bill Museum and uncover the fascinating past of the town. Next, take a walk through the Cody Road Historic District, where over 60 structures dating back to the mid-to-late 19th century lay at the backdrop of the Mississippi River. For something more relaxing, join the 126-foot Riverboat Twilight to cruise the Mississippi River and witness nature come alive. 


Overlooking the town of Bellevue and the Mississippi River on a Summer afternoon. Bellevue, Iowa, USA.
Overlooking the town of Bellevue, Iowa and the Mississippi River.

Bellevue is a French word that translates to “Beautiful View,” and no name could be more apt for this scenic town along the Mississippi River. Once here, it's difficult to resist the Bellevue State Park - one of the town’s famous attractions, where views of the river are a pleasure to behold. While in the park, visitors should explore the Nelson and Dya areas to get the complete experience. In the Nelson area, there are over three miles of trails with gorgeous views of the river and the South Bluff Nature Center, which is a great place to learn about the plants, animals, and geology of the park. At the Dyas unit, visitors will be met with around four miles of trails, several campgrounds, and areas for picnics. 

For more adventures in Bellevue, head to the town's boat ramp and get on a boat to enjoy the scenery from the waters, or visit Cole Park to swim at the public swimming pool and play basketball, tennis, soccer, or baseball. 


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

Burlington is a charming town in Des Moines County by the banks of the Mississippi River. The town is famed for Snake Alley, one of the most crooked streets in the world. Taking a walk on this crooked street is a must and after that, visitors can head to the Great River Bridge to soak in the scenic sights of the Mississippi River. Crapo Park is another must-visit destination in Burlington, as it features the 1.5-acre Lake Starker, which contains goldfish. This is also the site where the American flag was first mounted in the state of Iowa by Zebulon Pike. The list is endless, but be sure to also visit Dankwardt Park (for recreational activities like golfing and swimming) and Mosquito Park (for incredible views of the Mississippi River and picnicking).

Iowa Falls

Iowa Falls, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_Falls,_Iowa By Billwhittaker at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40368494
Iowa Falls, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Billwhittaker at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Iowa Falls in Hardin County is fondly called the Scenic City thanks to its idyllic waters and incredible attractions. First off, the town’s location in the heart of the Iowa River Greenbelt makes it a great place for exciting water activities like kayaking, fishing, and boating. But besides the exciting water activities, this town also has numerous parks and nature areas featuring trails, campsites, and incredible natural scenery. The Assembly Park is one of the town’s top attractions and it features a swinging bridge over the Iowa River, walking trails, and a picnic pavilion. More top attractions in Iowa Falls include - Calkins Nature Area (featuring trails, a butterfly house, picnic area, and wildlife exhibits) and Oak Park (featuring a large playground and a basketball court). For those interested in its history, the Sue Crotty Museum is a great place to visit as it features displays that shed more light on the town’s history. 


Exterior of the Clinto County Courthouse in Clinton, Iowa.
Exterior of the Clinton County Courthouse in Clinton, Iowa.

Clinton is a charming town by the banks of the Mississippi River, with plenty of worthwhile things to do on a visit. For an opening act, enjoy stunning and panoramic views of the Mississippi River from Eagle Point Park with a favorite juice in hand. This park also features other attractions, such as a historic lodge & castle turret. Next, visitors can head to the 65-acre Riverview Park to witness gorgeous views of the Mississippi River and enjoy some boating adventures. This park even features picnic areas, a public swimming pool, an RV park, and a showboat theatre which is an entertainment center on a restored paddle wheel boat. 

Clinton is also home to the Clinton County Historical Society Museum & Library, where visitors can learn more about the town’s early days. More must-see attractions in this town include - the Lock & Dam 13, which has an incredible view of barges and boats locking through the Mississippi River, and the River Arts Center, where you'll see stunning artworks. 

The great Mississippi River gave rise to a lot of charming towns in the US, and many of these towns can be found in the state of Iowa. These charming Iowa river towns often hold the hearts of visitors captive as they offer the perfect landscape to relax, brood, create, and bond with nature. Visiting these towns alone or with the whole family promises to be exciting and fun-filled as there is no shortage of things to do and see. From hiking and cruising on vast waterbodies to exploring interesting historical attractions, these Iowa River towns have so much to offer.

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