Tulip Time Festival along with tractor rides are some of the attractions in Pella, Iowa. Image credit Rexjaymes via Shutterstock

9 Offbeat Towns To Visit In Iowa

Many other states have well-paved roads leading to silver cities and popular tourist attractions. But in the Hawkeye State of Iowa, where 13 million acres of golden corn sway in the breeze, one ought to travel the roads less traveled this time of year, especially towards the offbeat towns that flourish like oases in a desert of corn. From quaint German hamlets best seen in the Amana Colonies to film-suitable sites like Dyersville and Winterset, these offbeat towns of Iowa are some of the many gorgeous places to enjoy despite the greater glamor of the bigger metropolises.

The Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies Iowa
Amana Colonies, Iowa.

The Amana Colonies are part of a series of German-style villages, which include Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, and Homestead. The amalgamized village is approximately 30 minutes from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. As one of the most unique towns in Iowa, Visitors can learn all about the Amana Colonies' close German heritage and Pietist culture at the Amana Heritage Society.

These communities are bountiful with amenities, as revealed in the Homestead Church to the Mini-Americana Barn Museum, which contains a collection of miniature replicas built by woodworker Henry Moore. Try not to miss out on their rich and diverse festivals this year, such as Tannenbaum Forest, Maifest, Oktoberfest, Winterfest, and Wurst Festival. If you need a place to replenish, the Hotel Millwright, Crest Country Inn, and Zuber's Homestead Hotel are some of the finest lodgings in the Amana Colonies.


Field of Dreams movie set in Dyersville, Iowa.
Field of Dreams movie set in Dyersville, Iowa.

"If you build it, they will come," echo the iconic lines from the classic film The Field of Dreams. And certainly, Dyersville was built to attract travelers of all sorts long before it became the set of a monumental movie. Nowadays, baseball enthusiasts and fans of the classic film can travel about 70 miles north of Iowa City and visit the well-preserved buildings and areas straight from the movie.

Outside of movie references, Dyersville also holds the National Farm Toy Museum, which showcases the Ertl Company's famous scale-modeled farm tractors and other toys. In addition, the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier is large enough to hold 1,000 people for Catholic communion. If you intend to stay a while in this atmospheric town, then get comfortable at Comfort Inn Dyersville or Colonial Inn Dyersville.


The Upper Mississippi River in McGregor, Iowa.
The Upper Mississippi River in McGregor, Iowa. Editorial credit: Ken Schulze / Shutterstock.com

The town of McGregor earned the moniker "The Pocket City" for being so tucked away in nature. Visitors will have to travel off the beaten path in order to locate this hidden treasure of Iowa. McGregor is a perfect gateway to nearby natural wonders, such as the Driftless Area, Pikes Peak State Park, Effigy Mounds National Monument, and the Mississippi River.

Besides the panoramic vistas of steep bluffs and magnificent hills, McGregor also boasts the McGregor Historical Museum, where visitors can learn how the town prospered from a small ferry boat landing to a major shipping depot. In the museum, one can also view historical art exhibits like Margery Goergen's hand-colored photographs, Andrew Clemens' sand bottles, and Emma Big Bear's baskets. Remember to find accommodations at the American House, Backwoods Hotel, or Little Switzerland.


Tulip Time Festival celebrations in Pella, Iowa.
Tulip Time Festival celebrations in Pella, Iowa. Image credit yosmoes815 via Shutterstock.com

The town of Pella is a Dutch-style community situated near Iowa's largest lake, Lake Red Rock. Only about 40 miles from Des Moines, travelers can be immersed in the laidback Dutch atmosphere by exploring 83 acres of native timber in Big Rock Park. Or perhaps the adorable windmill of Brinkhoff Park might give you a better sense of being in the Netherlands. But most definitely you will be amazed by the Klokkenspel, a courtyard portraying Pella's turbulent immigration history.

To honor its Dutch heritage, Pella celebrates Tulip Time during May 2 – 4, a festival promoting beautiful tulip gardens and Dutch costumes and dancing. The town also sponsors the Lake Red Rock Balloonfest and Klompen Classic 5K Run/Walk. Should you get exhausted from all the activities, relax at the Amsterdam Hotel or Dwelling Place.

West Bend

Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa
Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa.

West Bend is one of the most unique towns in Iowa due to the Grotto of the Redemption, considered the "Eighth Wonder of the World" and "a miracle in stone." Under the inspired guidance of Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein in 1912, architects and artists constructed the Grotto out of a collection of rocks, minerals, fossils, and hand-carved Italian Carrara marble. Each of the nine grottos depicts a scene in the life of Christ. Covering a city block, the Grotto of the Redemption represents peaceful meditation and contemplative thinking for believers of Christianity.

If the Grotto of the Redemption does not suffice for a worthy travel destination, perhaps the replica of a prairie Sod House—used as a temporary dwelling for pioneers—or the West Bend Historical Museum—which illustrates West Bend's history—can assuage your curiosity. But if you are in need of physical respite, achieve meditation in Park View Inn & Suites or Grotto Campground.


Landscape with Cedar Bridge - Winterset, Iowa
Cedar Bridge in Winterset, Iowa.

Spend any season this year in the vibrant town of Winterset. It was in the modest and humble streets that renowned actor John Wayne was born, and the town honors the American icon through the award-winning John Wayne Birthplace & Museum. It is the only museum in the world that showcases the actor's life and contributions. Visitors can learn more about Winterset's history at the Madison County Historical Complex or the Iowa Quilt Museum.

Or you can directly experience the past at the six famous covered bridges of Winterset that inspired one of the greatest love stories there is, The Bridges of Madison County. After all the tour-trekking, sleep well at the Judge Lewis House, Covered Bridge Inn, and Cobblestone Inn & Suites.

Elk Horn

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

About 80 miles away from Des Moines, Elk Horn is known as an enclave of Danish ethnicity on Elk Horn Creek. Indeed, visitors will feel like they are stepping into Denmark as they see the recognizable 60-foot-tall Danish windmill that embodies the town's spirit. Furthermore, the Nordic-themed VikingHjem—a glimpse into the 900 CE life of a Danish Viking—and the Ebeltoft Village—a recreational replica of the actual village of Ebeltoft in Denmark—are some of the many architectural delights that make you feel like you are no longer in American soil.

One can learn more about Elk Horn's historical ties to Danish immigration in the Museum of Danish America. Do not miss out on the Tivoli Fest on May 26 and 27, and Julefest on November 24 and 25 for a fantastic experience of Danish festivities.


Bentonsport, Iowa.
Bentonsport, Iowa. Image credit: David Wilson via Flickr.com.

Bentonsport is one of eleven villages along the Des Moines River in Van Buren County. Deemed a National Historic District, visitors can spot the Bentonsport Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest structures in the town since 1855 and contains a bell that was once part of a steamboat. One can imagine steamboats wading the Des Moines River or old-school carriages traversing the Bentonsport Historic Bridge. You might fancy attending the Van Buren Scenic Drive Festival in October to sample and purchase local crafts and antiques and experience lively recreational activities. Most of all, you ought to lounge in Mason House Inn Bed & Breakfast or Alexander's Cottage.


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

The breathtaking town of Decorah is the verdant heart of the Driftless Area, a region never covered by glaciers during the last ice age. As one of the most scenic towns in Iowa, outdoor enthusiasts will feel alive when exploring dynamic natural parks like Ice Cave, Phelps, Malanaphy Springs, Dunning's Spring, Palisades, and Van Peenen Memorial Park. Travelers with scientific inclinations will be intrigued by the Decorah Impact Crater, a 465-million-year-old, 3.5-mile-long, and 100-foot bed where fossils of Pentecopterus decorahensis, Decorah's giant scorpions, were discovered.

If you are not the outdoorsy type, the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum exhibits a pristine collection of Norwegian-American artifacts. Likewise, the ArtHaus promotes modern artworks for the avant-garde. If you get exhausted, let the Fairfield by Marriot Inn & Suites Decorah, Hotel Winneshiek, and Country Inn & Suites by Radisson energize your spirit for more.

People find what they expect in well-walked paths. But travelers find what they may be looking for on the untraveled roads. In Iowa, the many offbeat towns continue to astonish and surprise visitors with all sorts of unusual attractions. Whether West Band's Grotto of the Redemption, Decorah's stunning proximity to the Driftless Area, or Elk Horn's Danish ambiance are some of the many novelties to amaze and delight, there are many memorable experiences to cherish in Iowa's offbeat towns. So munch on Iowa's top produce of corn on your golden journey, and let the Hawkeye State bring you to simple and laidback dreams of a place without worry.

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