Not many travelers set their sights on the Midwest for a dreamy weekend getaway, but you'd be remiss to fly over some of Iowa's best small towns. From thriving agriculture to vibrant historic downtown districts, Iowa offers something for everyone—at a price that won't break your budget. Explore scenic hikes along the Mississippi river to get in touch with the region's natural beauty, or enjoy craft brews and shopping in hidden small-town gems. Whatever adventure you're after, there's never been a better time to explore Iowa.
Discover heartland history at the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum, where guests can get up close and personal with the American company that became a global farm equipment leader. For even more history, check out the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area to explore agribusiness and rural living, past and present. At the end of the day, unwind at a craft brewery in Waterloo's vibrant downtown district, or play the night away at the Isle Casino.
While you may not think of Iowa as wine country, think again: Wide River Winery's Le Claire location allows guests to sample award-winning wines in their cozy tasting room. If wine isn't your drink of choice, check out the Mississippi River Distillery's Le Claire cocktail house to sip locally-made whiskey, or head over to Green tree Brewery for a pint. While you're in town, stop by Antique Archaeology, a two-story antique and merchandise store home to the American Pickers show on The History Channel.
For an agritourism experience that's nothing but "cheesy," spend the weekend at the New Day Dairy GuestBarn. While visiting Iowa's only working dairy farm with a farm stay option, guests can meet cows, relax with a view of scenic pasture views, and learn about dairy production in America's Heartland. Afterward, take a trip south of the city to explore Heery Woods State Park and experience 380 acres of nature preserve for hiking and biking.
This town is about as cute as a button—quite a few of them, to be precise. Visit the National Pearl Button Museum at The History and Industry Center to learn how Muscatine became known as the Pearl Button Capital of the World. Experience art from Iowa and around the world at the Muscatine Art Center, or take in classic architecture in Historic Downtown.
Experience Dutch culture without the transatlantic plane ticket in Pella, "America's Dutch Treasure." Stroll through historic downtown to see Netherlands-inspired architecture and experience authentic eats. For a more "old-country" feel, visit the Historic Village and see the Vermeer Windmill, the tallest working grain windmill in the United States. If you visit in May, don't miss the Tulip Time festival.
Also known as the City of Five Lakes, this lakeside getaway is home to Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Check out 30 rides and a bustling selection of midway games, or take on a thrilling wooden coaster. For even more excitement, head over to the Iowa Rock 'n Roll Music Hall of Fame to see authentic artifacts and learn about Iowa's rockin' roots.
Step into the weird with Ripley's Believe It or Not! 's #1 Odd Spot Across America on Snake Alley. Erected in 1894, this winding roadway challenges drivers and cyclists alike with sharp curves and hairpin turns as it descends over 58 feet over just 275 feet of road. For a more relaxing adventure, check out Starr's Cave Park and Preserve. Guests can explore 200 acres of stunning limestone bluffs and thriving forest ecosystems on two miles of hiking trails.
Forest City is home to Pilot Knob State Park, nestled along the Winnebago River, making it one of the best towns to visit in Iowa for nature lovers. Enjoy miles of trails for both hikers and horseback riders, and head out to Pilot Knob Tower for views from Iowa's second-highest point. In the winter months, strap on your cross-country skis or snowshoes and experience Pilot Knob in a different light. Reserve the park's warming house to get cozy between bouts of skating, skiing, and ice fishing.
While these colonies are technically made up of seven unique villages, they're collectively named a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can take a bite out of authentic German culture thanks to the thriving heritage of immigrants who founded the colonies in 1855. Shop for handmade crafts, including handwoven baskets and clocks, and indulge in locally-made, German-style brews. If you're ready to walk off a hearty homestyle meal, head onto the local golf course and test your swing.
Visit this riverside spot to drive over the Fort Madison Trail Bridge, one of the last operating swing bridges over the Mississippi river. Once you're in one of the best towns to visit in Iowa, tour historic sites ranging from the Historic Iowa State Penitentiary to the Albright "Betsy Ross" House. For a glimpse into the history surrounding the War of 1812, check out Old Fort Madison.
Head down to Water Street in this bustling riverside getaway to experience some of Iowa's best shopping. Craft breweries, including Pulpit Rock and Toppling Goliath, serve up local libations nearby, and a thriving restaurant scene offers a range of cuisine for every palate. While there, explore the Vesterheim Norwegian-American museum and view the extensive collection of artifacts. To see the town from a new perspective, bike the 12-mile Trout Run Trail to see sculptures, a glowing pedestrian bridge, and the Trout River Hatchery.
Davenport is a progressive city with small-town vibes. This is a must-visit destination for blues lovers, thanks to the Mississippi Valley Blues Society. The society sponsors shows, jams, and more to preserve the region's strong musical culture. Come through in September to catch the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival for a weekend of music and food.
This town is a can't-miss for American history buffs. Visit the historic Squirrel Cage Jail, a Victorian Gothic structure built in 1855 and in use until 1969. Alternatively, step into the Bregant House, also known as the "Little People's House," which was custom-built to accommodate the heights of Jean and Inez Bregant, 42" and 39," respectively. For 150 years of American history and railway heritage, track down the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.
Fans of American artist Grant Wood's American Gothic can view the house that inspired his iconic painting in this charming small town. The site now serves as a museum where visitors can learn about the painter and the history of the region that influenced his work. When you're ready to get back to town, walk the Chippewa Creek Trail from the site to the city center to enjoy Iowa's rural beauty. While on the trail, challenge yourself to take on the Chippewa Creek Disc Golf Course.
This lakefront town is home to midwest culture with "lake life" flair baked in. Get out on the lake with boating, water sports, and zip lining for an action-packed day. For a more laid-back approach, stop by the Dickson County Nature Center. Young visitors can learn about pollinators and other wildlife at the center's interactive, kid-friendly exhibits.