The beautiful Iowa town of Pella.

The Best Small Towns In Iowa To Chill Out

A fantastic escape from the rush of city life, Iowa is home to numerous beautiful little towns that are noted for their stunning scenery and attractive people. These quiet retreats are havens of beauty, each with distinct personalities and attractions. These communities have something unique to offer every tourist, from calm rivers to beautiful parks. In these towns, you can unwind amidst breathtaking scenery and welcoming locals whilst escaping busy big city life. Discover the peace of Iowa's hidden jewels and explore their calming appeal and undiscovered attractions.


Summer at the fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.
Summer at the fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.

Nestled in the scenic Upper Iowa River Valley, Decorah is a charming town that showcases a vibrant blend of Norwegian heritage and natural wonders. Its picturesque downtown is adorned with historic buildings, unique shops, and inviting eateries. Decorah boasts the famous Dunning's Spring Falls and Phelps Park, offering stunning views and tranquil picnic spots, and the unique Decora Ice Caves as well. The Upper Iowa River is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering kayaking, canoeing, and fishing opportunities. Additionally, visitors can explore Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, which celebrates the area's rich Scandinavian culture, and go dining in amazing restaurants like Luna Valley Farm, where they serve delicious locally sourced ingredients, including their own, to the diners. 


Tulip Time Festival Parade of Pella's dutch community
Tulip Time Festival Parade of Pella's Dutch community. Editorial credit: yosmoes815 /

Pella is a charming Dutch town in Iowa famous for its windmills, tulips, and extensive history, and also a great place to bring kids. Visitors from all over the world come to the annual Tulip Time event to take in beautiful flowers and Dutch customs. The Molengracht Canal is a lovely spot to wander since it is dotted with attractive stores and eateries. The tranquil Lake Red Rock is another attraction in Pella that boaters and floaters will appreciate. The Vermeer Mill, the highest-operating windmill in the US, proudly stands as a testament to the town's Dutch heritage. Take the kids to Kiwanis Park and Wonder Spelen Playground, where they can expend their energy on the basketball court, play structures, and more. The Pella Aquatic Center is another kid-friendly spot that's perfect for a hot summer day with slides, an Adventure River, and of course, lifeguards. 


Fairfield, Iowa
Fairfield, Iowa. Image credit: Bill Whittaker via Wikimedia Commons.

Fairfield, which is tucked away in southeast Iowa, is well known for its eclectic and varied population. There are several galleries, theatres, and studios in town, which boast a bustling arts and cultural scene which can be fully appreciated on one of the local walking tours. The Maasdam Barns Preserve provides a peaceful haven with its picturesque walking pathways and old buildings. Waterworks Park is a tranquil haven for picnics and outdoor leisure and is located along the banks of the Skunk River. A Sunday morning stroll along the Fairfield Loop Trail is the perfect start to any morning, followed up with a visit to Jefferson County Park or a show at the Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts. The Maharishi University of Management, which draws people interested in holistic wellness and meditation, is located in Fairfield and is certainly worth stopping by.


The serene landscape at Winterset, Iowa.
The serene landscape at Winterset, Iowa.

The Madison County town of Winterset is well known for its lovely, covered bridges and its association with the book and movie "The Bridges of Madison County." The town's historic center is home to charming stores, mouthwatering restaurants, and the birthplace of legendary actor John Wayne. Visitors can enjoy a scenic drive across the countryside and tour the covered bridges. A gorgeous environment is provided by the surrounding Winterset City Park's serene lake, walking trails, and recreational amenities. Whether you're watching a movie in The Iowa Theatre, established in 1899, or exploring the John Wayne Museum, the town is rich with history from a vast range of time periods. On a hot day, dip in the Middle River in Pammel Park to cool off and enjoy the weather.


The Historic District in Elkader, Iowa.
The Historic District in Elkader, Iowa. Image credit: Kevin Schuchmann via Wikimedia Commons.

Elkader is a little town with a rich history and beautiful natural settings that is tucked away along the Turkey River. Due to its undulating hills and scenic surroundings, it is referred to as "Little Switzerland" in Iowa. Downtown Elkader is home to stunning buildings, antique stores, and quaint cafés. There are paddling, fishing, and both walking and equestrian trails as options for activities along the Turkey River Recreational Corridor alone. Learn about local fisheries at Big Sprouts Trout Hatchery, then take a canoe out on the water to try and spot the fish in the water for yourself and maybe even catch a few. With its shady picnic spots and lovely river vistas, Elkader City Park provides a tranquil haven.

Le Claire

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

Le Claire, which is located along the Mississippi River's banks, is a charming river town with a lively atmosphere and alluring beauty. Due to the presence of the American Pickers' antique shop here, it's often recognized as their hometown. Visitors can stroll through the picturesque downtown district, look at specialty shops, and eat along the river. The Mississippi River offers beautiful landscapes to take in while taking relaxing boat trips, fishing outings, and picnics by the water. The Buffalo Bill Museum highlights the community's ties to the well-known performer and the strong historical past of the Old West. Visitors interested in nature can go to the adjacent Port Byron Wildlife Area, a paradise for wildlife and birds. Le Claire offers an ideal fusion of history, culture, and unspoiled natural beauty with its gorgeous river vistas and vibrant neighborhood.


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

The smallest tiny town on our list, McGregor, is a delightful river town with rich history and picturesque surroundings. It is located in the northeastern part of Iowa. McGregor, which is situated along the Mississippi River, has serene surroundings and breathtaking river vistas. The historic downtown is home to several Victorian buildings that have been restored, as well as interesting stores and inviting cafes. Just outside of town lies Pike's Peak State Park, which features breathtaking cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River and offers hiking paths for nature lovers. Additionally, visitors may go boating, fishing, or just unwind by the riverbed. For visitors who love a little scare, a boat tour through Spook Cave is sure to appease any scary movie fan.

These small towns in Iowa provide the ideal getaway from the hectic city life and the chance to rest in picturesque settings not everyone gets to enjoy every day. The distinct charms of Decorah's Norwegian charm, Pella's Dutch heritage, and Fairfield's multiculturalism all contribute to the area. Visitors are drawn in by the distinctive attributes of the covered bridges in Winterset, the "Little Switzerland" vistas in Elkader, and the riverfront attraction in Le Claire. These communities offer a perfect environment to unwind and enjoy the warmth and friendliness that Iowa is known for, whether you're looking for natural beauty, rich history, or a dynamic community. To make cherished memories and take pleasure in a peaceful break, schedule your visit to one or more of the best small towns in Iowa to chill out.

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