Latest Travel News Across Iowa - October 2023
Crisp air and changing leaves bring an exciting new season of travel! Those looking for a last-minute autumn adventure to pick the perfect pumpkin, sip on local wine with a view or take a hike through the vibrant foliage should look no further than Iowa.
For those travelers already looking to beat cabin fever, plan an exciting winter getaway complete with cozy cabins, snow fun and all the holiday lights needed to get into the festive spirit. Check out the full list of top destinations and activities statewide in the new Fall and Winter Travel Guide.
Last Minute Fall Getaways
A good fall destination is filled with vibrant seasonal views. On the road, along a trail, from a campground or on the water, there is no shortage of last-minute fall fun in Iowa.
Travelers have the most time to plan for a trip to southern Iowa, where fall colors typically peak in late October according to Iowa DNR’s fall color report. Hitchcock Nature Center allows visitors a bird's eye view of the foliage from the top of a 45-foot-tall observation tower, with several hiking trails in nearby Loess Hills State Forest. Agritourism opportunities abound in the area – visitors can pick their own apples and find the perfect pumpkin at Deal’s Orchard or Ditmars Orchard.
Those who prefer taking the scenic route can set off on an idyllic fall road trip on one of Iowa’s many scenic byways. Recognized as one of the best byways in the United States, the Great River Road follows the winding Mississippi River along Iowa’s eastern border. Stop for a hike at Yellow River State Forest, enjoy a glass of wine and some live music at Wide River Winery or find charming lodging at one of the communities along the way.
For a one-of-a-kind view, Iowa also offers cruises along the Mississippi and Iowa rivers. Settle in for a multi-day sail on the authentic Victorian-era Riverboat Twilight, or opt for a day trip on the Scenic City Empress. For the adrenaline seekers, the first Midwest Rail Explorers location is in central Iowa. Visitors will strap into a pedal-assisted rail bike and travel 12.5 miles round trip along the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad for unobstructed views of the Des Moines River Valley.
Located in central Iowa, Seven Oaks Recreation is a winter wonderland. Skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing attract visitors from throughout the Midwest. With 11 slopes for varying skill levels, a terrain park, rail yard and free lessons, this is the perfect spot for learning and mastering winter sports. Nearby Granger is home to Jester Park, which also offers cross country skiing trails. Make it a weekend getaway and stay at one of the park’s cabins.
Eastern Iowa's Backbone State Park offers cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and a variety of luxurious cabins. Plus, nearby Dubuque is home to Sundown Mountain. This ski resort offers fun for all ages and abilities, with 20 scenic trails for all levels, a large collection of adaptive ski equipment, two terrain parks and the steepest vertical in the state at 475 feet. In addition to beginner lessons, visitors can book adaptive lessons tailored to their needs with certified instructors. Complete with a kid's park, two mountaintop lodges and tasty treats, Sundown Mountain truly offers winter fun for everyone.
Iowa shines bright during the holidays, with top notch colorful light displays across the state. At Christmas Acres, visitors can enjoy over 300,000 display lights, sculptures and inflatables on foot or by car. Oskaloosa’s Painting with Lights illuminates the historic City Square Park. Keokuk wasn’t dubbed the “City of Christmas” for nothing. With over 20,000 visitors per season, the Display of Lights at Rand Park has become a beloved tradition that captures the essence of the holidays.
You don’t have to go overseas to experience a traditional European Christmas Market! Cedar Rapids hosts the Old World Christmas Market, featuring local handcrafted items, delicious treats, entertainment and activities for all ages to celebrate culture, community and holiday cheer. Pella is a magical destination year-round, but the holiday season truly makes it look like a Hallmark movie. The Dutch Christmas Market on Molengracht Plaza will make visitors feel as if they have stepped into the Netherlands.
Mark your Calendar
Mark your calendars for these events and activities you won’t want to miss.
Scenic Drive Festival, Villages of Van Buren, October 13-15
Spirits in the Gardens, Ames, October 13-15, 20-22
64th Annual Craft Carnival, Clarinda, October 21
Downtown Grand Lighting, Atlantic, November 16
Norwegian Christmas, Decorah, December 2
Tannenbaum Forest, Amana Colonies, December 15-17
University of Okoboji Winter Games, Okoboji, January 25-28
Midwest Living: 30 Great Midwest Fall Color Getaways, 8/25/2023
USA Today 10Best: Drive the Great River Road for fall colors and outdoor adventure, 9/14/2023