Do you live in Iowa and need a winter weekend retreat close to home? Or are you visiting Iowa during the winter and want to have a fun Iowa experience? You might be surprised at the winter fun you can have! In this article, we’ll give you the best Iowa winter getaways and vacation ideas!
The Best Iowa Winter Getaways and Vacation Ideas
Escape to Des Moines (Central Iowa)
Whether you’re visiting from out of town or are a local, Des Moines is ideal for a winter escape!
Downtown Des Moines
Downtown Des Moines has everything you want in a winter getaway. Find great food, museums, nightlife, and more! Explore Pappajohn Sculpture Park, stroll the Des Moines Botanical Garden, and play at the Science Center of Iowa! And after dinner and drinks at one of the fine downtown eateries, like Centro or Fong’s Pizza, attend a local event!
The East Village also has excellent restaurants, unique shops, and fun things to do in the winter! While you’re there, tour the Iowa State Historical Museum (free!) and ice skate at Brenton Skating Plaza. Explore the Principal Riverwalk trail and shop Raygun for an incredibly unique T-shirt! Don’t forget to try out a Zombie Burger while you’re there.
For lodging, stay in a downtown hotel, like Des Lux or the Surety Hotel, or find a one-of-a-kind room at Hotel Renovo. Or, consider the Butler House on Grand, a historic B&B near the Des Moines Art Center and downtown.
While you’re here, be sure to check out our favorite local parks and explore the trail network! And for more winter fun, drive 45 minutes north to Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone for a day of skiing and snow tubing! Or head to Big Creek State Park for one of the most popular snowmobile trails around.
Explore Council Bluffs (Western Iowa)
Council Bluffs has so much to do – you’ll want to stay awhile! First, go skiing or snow tubing at Mt. Crescent Ski Area. Then, spend a day at Hitchcock Nature Center—take in the view from the 45-foot tall observation tower and go snowshoeing in the Loess Hills! (Snowshoe rentals are at the Loess Hills Lodge.) Also, consider a tour at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Squirrel Cage Jail, and Historic General Dodge House.
At day’s end, sip some wine at the Cellar 19 Winery or dine at Orsi’s Italian Bakery, M’s Pub, or Upstream Brewing Co. across the state line in Omaha.
Stay at a hotel near the Ameristar and Horseshoe casino. Or head over to Omaha for a luxurious stay at the Magnolia or Hotel Deco. For something unique, consider the Omaha Metro Historic Mansion and Landmark.
You can find many fun things to do in Omaha too! Cross “The Bob,” a 3000-foot long pedestrian bridge, where you can “bob” between two states and see Omar the troll! And the Omaha Zoo, Strategic Air Command Museum, Durham Museum, and Children’s Museum are fantastic.
Go on a Mississippi River Vacation (Bellevue & Dubuque)
Spend several days exploring the Bellevue and Dubuque areas. Explore the museums, shops, parks, and more! It’s the ideal area for a fun winter getaway in Iowa.
Enjoy the beauty of the Mississippi River along the Great River Road Scenic Byway. And stop in the historic town of Bellevue. Take in the river views, visit Bellevue State Park, and be sure to watch for Bald Eagles!
One of the unique accommodations in town is the historic Mont Rest B&B, where you can solve a murder mystery! Or relax in one of the cozy Moon River Cabins. For breakfast, go to the Riverfront Hotel! And, for more great food, stop at Flatted Fith Blues & BBQ (Potter’s Mill), Richman’s Cafe, or River Ridge Brewing (and more!).
From Bellevue, drive 25 miles north to Dubuque for even more winter fun! Explore the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, ski at Sundown Mountain Resort, or ice fish at Mud Lake Park. You can also cross-country ski the trails at the Mines of Spain and take photos at the beautiful murals downtown!
Hungry? Have breakfast at Sunshine Cafe, lunch at Catfish Charlie’s, and dinner at Brazen Open Kitchen Bar. (There are tons of other great dining options!) And, for a night on the town, visit a local casino, the Stone Cliff Winery, or stop at the local breweries.
Perhaps the most fun place to stay in Dubuque (for all ages) is Grand Harbor Resort and Water Park! And there are several other great hotels in town.
But there are tons of unique accommodations too. If you’re looking for a cozy retreat, consider the Lorelei Cabins. Or stay in town at the Historic Millwork District at Drake House. Also, the area is home to tons of historic bed and breakfasts, like the Redstone Inn and Hancock House.
For even more winter fun, cross the river to Illinois to shop at the historic town of Galena or ski the slopes of Chestnut Mountain Resort!
Related: Top 10 Things To Do in Dubuque Iowa
Tour the Quad Cities (Eastern Iowa)
There’s no shortage of winter activities in the Quad Cities! Snowstar Winter Park is your destination for skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing! Also, snowshoe or hike Scott County Park, Loud Thunder Forest Preserve (Illinois), and other parks. If cross country skiing is your thing, Crow Creek Park and Palmer Golf Course are good places to go.
Tour one of the local museums while you’re visiting. The Putnam Museum has interactive exhibits on science, history, and nature. And it’s an excellent place for kids. Of course, art lovers won’t want to miss the Figge Art Museum. Other fun stops are the John Deere Pavilion, Skybridge, and Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Museum, to name a few.
Spend some time strolling the shops at the Village of East Davenport (Isabel Bloom is a popular stop). While there, pick up some fine chocolate at Lagomarcino’s and stop in at one of the fine eateries!
Food, you say? There are too many great options to mention them all. For breakfast, drop by Jimmy’s Pancake House. And for more places to dine, consider Duck City Bistro, Cafe d’Marie, Central Standard, and Bix Bistro, to name a few.
Retreat to Northeast Iowa!
Northeast Iowa is excellent to visit year-round, especially if you love the outdoors! And it’s perfect for Iowa winter getaways. There you can go ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, hiking, and more. The area around Decorah and Yellow River State Forest are some of the best places to visit.
Trout Run Trail in Decorah is one of the most fun paved trails in Iowa. The 11-mile loop trail is excellent for hiking (and biking) and is open to cross country skiing in the winter. Also, it passes by the Decorah Fish Hatchery. There you can feed the trout, view them up close, and possibly see a Bald Eagle from a nearby nest.
In town, stop by the ArtHaus to tap into your creativity. And a few blocks away is the Vesterheim Museum. It features exhibits of Norwegian folk art, tapestries, artifacts, and more. For more, drive minutes to the small town of Spilville for the Bily Clocks Museum, Old Stone’s Mill, and more.
Stay in the full-service Hotel Winneshiek, a historical and architectural treasure! Or book the Bed & Breakfast on Broadway or nearby rooms at Little House on the Farm and Lavender Fields Inn. The Rubaiyat is a local restaurant with in-season and local fare. Other top-rated favorites are Mabe’s Pizza, Topping Goliath Brewing, and Pulpit Brewing.
Harpers Ferry is a small Mississippi River town, about 40 miles east of Decorah. There, you can find some great ice fishing spots, and it’s an excellent place to spot Bald Eagles. It’s also home to Effigy Mounds National Monument, where the visitor center is open year-round. To book a night nearby, check out Andy’s Mountain Cabins or Cedar Valley Lodge.
Yellow River State Forest
The Yellow River State Forest is a winter getaway to the woodlands and streams of Northeast Iowa. The Luster Heights Unit of the state forest has groomed cross country trails and several other hiking trails. Also, many of the gravel roads get closed during the winter and open to snowmobiles! And, if the weather cooperates, you can trout fish at the Little Paint and Big Paint trout stream.
After your outdoor adventures, settle into a cozy cabin for some relaxation! The Burr Oak Cabin and Point of View B&B are two great options. And for a bite to eat, you might go to the Spring Lake Inn, The Barn Restaurant, or other restaurants in Prairie Du Chein.
Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park provides views of the Mississippi Valley not seen anywhere else! The good news is, the park is open in the winter. There are over 11 miles of trails, and some get groomed for cross-country skiing. Best of all, the views from the 500-foot bluff are stunning. Bring your camera and binoculars!
McGregor, Marquette, and Prairie Du Chein, WI, are nearby towns to find hotels, dining, and more. Eagles Landing Winery has award-winning bottles of wine. And stop at White Springs Supper Club, Huckleberry’s Family Restaurant, or other local restaurants for a bite to eat. Also, check out Grumpsters Log Cabins, Backwoods B&B, Trickling Waters Retreat, or a nearby hotel for a great place to stay.
Want to extend your NE Iowa winter getaway? Need more winter outdoor adventures? Drive an hour north to Wisconsin’s Mt. Lacrosse Ski Area and 100+ miles of snowmobile trails!
Schedule one of these Iowa winter getaways today!
There you have it, folks, five of the best Iowa winter getaways and vacation ideas. And proof that there’s more to see and do during an Iowa winter than you might imagine!