Decorah, Iowa, is one of the best towns to visit in Northeast Iowa! It’s nestled in the heart of the Driftless region, offering scenery and outdoor adventures you can’t get elsewhere in Iowa. But that’s not all!
Decorah has a lively downtown and other attractions that make it a fun place to go back to again and again. This is why Midwest Living listed it among the 100 Best Midwest Small-Town Getaways!
Table of Contents
- About Decorah
- Top things to do in Decorah, Iowa
- Parks in Decorah
- Best places to eat and drink in Decorah
- Hotels in Decorah
- Camping in Decorah
- Winter in Decorah
- Things to do nearby
Decorah is in the Driftless area of Iowa—meaning the most recent glaciers didn’t pass through this area of the state. As a result, northeast Iowa was left with a unique and beautiful landscape, with rolling hills, rivers, limestone bluffs, waterfalls, and old forests.
The good news is that you can experience the diverse landscape in many of the town’s parks and trails.
So, while you’re there, explore the trails and parks, spend time downtown, and tour the museums and other attractions.
Stop at the Chamber and Visitors Center on Water Street to plan your adventures. Also, keep in mind that Decorah is super bike friendly and walkable.
Top things to do in Decorah, Iowa
See the Decorah Fish Hatchery
The Decorah Fish Hatchery raises over 100,000(!) trout each year, which they use to stock Northeast Iowa streams and some lakes throughout Iowa.
You might wonder why a fish hatchery would be one of the top things to do. But once you visit the Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish Hatchery, you’ll wonder no more. You’ll see trout from a new point of view and watch them scramble to the surface when you toss in food! Buy fish food on-site for a quarter.
But that’s not all! See Siewers Spring, one of Iowa’s largest natural springs. While there, you can also fish for trout, watch the Bald Eagles, access the Trout Run Trail, and see the sculptures and beautiful landscaping.
Tour the museums
Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum
The Vesterheim is a Norwegian-American museum, folk art school, and store in the heart of Decorah. It’s a beautiful place to learn about immigrants’ stories through interactive exhibits, like a wooden sailboat and an 1853 log house. Art and artifacts featuring Norwegian and Norwegian American cultures are also on display. And you can learn more through the museum programs and classes (for all ages). See the museum website for details.
Porter House Museum
The Porter House is the former home of Decorah naturalist and photographer A.F. “Bert” Porter and his wife, Grace. Mr. Porter became known for his unique nature art pieces from the mid-1900s, of which many are on display at the Porter House. Visitors also enjoy exploring the pond and gardens surrounding the house. See the museum website for more details.
Seed Savers Heritage Farm
The Seed Savers Heritage Farm isn’t just for gardeners! Located north of Decorah, the farm offers hiking trails, a trout stream, display gardens, and an orchard with over 900 varieties of apple trees. Also, see the farm animals, stop by the gift shop, and explore the Lillian Goldman Visitor Center! Visit the farm website for more information.
See the beautiful Decorah parks
Decorah is home to many unique scenic parks that offer fun outdoor adventures! See everything from prairies and woodlands to rocky ledges, spring-fed streams, and even waterfalls! Check out the parks section of this article below for more on the most popular area parks.
Explore Decorah’s trails
There are miles and miles of trails to hike and bike throughout Decorah! So whether you’re looking for a paved trail* or a more out-of-the-way adventure, there’s definitely something there for you.
Trout Run Trail
This 11-mile paved trail is unlike any other in Iowa! It’s a scenic loop through Decorah, across farmland, streams, and up and down winding switchbacks with killer views.
It winds along the Upper Iowa River and Trout Run Creek, by public art sculptures, prairies, the Decorah Fish Hatchery, and, quite possibly, cows. You might even spot a Bald Eagle along the way. See the trail map for details.
Freeport Trail is on the eastern edge of Decorah and is nearly 3 miles long. Trailheads are at Trout Run Park & Freeport Park; it connects to Trout Run Trail at Trout Run Park. See this trail map for the Freeport Trail and Trout Run Trail.
Prairie Farmer Trail
The 20-mile paved Prairie Farmer Recreation Trail is just west of Decorah, stretching from Cresco to Calmar. Trailheads are in Calmar, Ridgeway, and Cresco; see the trail map for details.
*Here’s a link to maps of paved trails in Decorah.
Unpaved trails for hiking or mountain biking
Several Decorah parks have multi-use trails that are popular for hiking and mountain biking. But not all are suitable for everyone. Some routes are rated intermediate to difficult. Others are easier, like River Trail and Pines East and West. See the Off-Road Trails map for trail locations and difficulties. Mountain bikers might also check out the MTB Project website.
Shop and eat in downtown Decorah
You could easily spend a day exploring downtown Decorah! Park and walk Water Street for award-winning restaurants and unique boutiques. Start your day at Impact Coffee. Then, spend the day touring the Vesterheim and browsing shops like Modish or Blue Heron Knittery. And end with a delicious dinner at a fantastic restaurant like Rubaiyat.
Paddle (or tube!) the Upper Iowa River
The Upper Iowa River is a 150-mile tributary of the nearby Mississippi River. And it’s one of the most famous rivers in Iowa for kayaking and canoeing – for a good reason.
UpperIowaRiver.org states, “The remote nature of the river, towering limestone bluffs, public natural areas, exceptional fishery, and abundant wildlife, draw visitors from around the world.”
Rent canoes, kayaks, & tubes
- Decorah River Tubes (in Decorah)
- Hutchinson Family Farm Campground (8 miles from Decorah)
- Bluffton Resort & Bar (13 miles from Decorah)
- Chimney Rock Campground & Canoe Rental (15 miles from Decorah)
- Upper Iowa Resort & Rental (23 miles from Decorah)
Trout naturally reproduce in the cool, spring-fed streams in Northeast Iowa, and the Iowa DNR also stocks streams yearly. That makes Decorah the ideal place to fish for trout.*
But if you want to fish for a broader range of fish species, head to the Upper Iowa River. Along with Trout, you can also catch Bluegill, Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, and Walley, to name a few.
See the Bald Eagles
The Decorah Eagles have become famous on the live Eagle cam through the Raptor Resource Project! For the past 20+ years, Bald Eagles have nested in the Decorah area, and the adult birds stay year-round. The best time to view them (in person) is from April to July.
Parks in Decorah
Decorah is full of incredible outdoor recreation opportunities! Below are the most popular parks in Decorah; we encourage you to explore them all! And for more information, see the Decorah Parks & Rec website.
Decorah Community Prairie & Butterfly Garden
This 34-acre park is a prairie & butterfly garden designed to prevent soil erosion along the Upper Iowa River. But it also provides recreational opportunities and supports pollinators. A paved path runs through the butterfly area, and there are multi-use trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Find maps here.
Dunning’s Springs & Ice Cave Hill
This 115-acre area is one of Decorah’s most scenic and popular spots! Two of the most visited places are the 200-foot Dunning’s Spring Waterfall & the Ice Cave. You must park and walk to both features.
This 105-acre park has excellent scenic overlooks of Decorah, accessible by trail or road. Hike or bike the multi-use trails, have a picnic, take in the views, and enjoy! Note that the park road closes during the winter.
This 56-acre park was Decorah’s first and is still one of the most visited! It has several picnic shelters, three playgrounds, and historic stone park structures built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). It’s also near Trout Run Trail.
Twin Springs Park
This 48-acre park has a stocked trout stream, kids’ fishing pond, picnic areas, and multi-use trails! It’s a beautiful park to explore, fish, or have a picnic!
Van Peenen Memorial Park
This 120-acre park is also a wildlife area best known for its trails! Multi-use trails allow hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing through diverse landscapes. Those who want extra time on the trails also connect to Ice Cave Hill, Dunning’s Spring, and Palisades Park. Unfortunately, no picnic areas are in the park.
Best places to eat and drink in Decorah
Decorah is a fantastic place to find many great restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops! There are so many great options that it’s hard to choose. We can’t list them all, but check out the Decorah Dining Guide for a few more options. Below are our top picks.
Impact Coffee is the largest coffee shop in Iowa! Plus, they have waffles, so you can’t go wrong.
Magpie Cafe & Coffeehouse
Magpie Cafe & Coffeehouse has made from scratch food for breakfast and lunch, bakery items, and many coffee choices.
Mabe’s Pizza has been a favorite in Decorah for decades! So, go for the homemade pizza and top it off with a Half Baked Cookie.
T-Bock’s Sports Bar & Grill
If you’re looking for a casual spot with a great atmosphere, excellent food, and a wide selection of tap beer, T-Bock’s is your place!
Family Table Restaurant
The Family Table began as a root beer stand in 1972 and has become a local favorite for “Nothing Fancy, Just Good Food”!
Don Jose Family Mexican Restaurant
Don Jose Family Mexican Restaurant serves authentic, fresh Mexican fare, making it one of the most popular restaurants in Decorah! They also have a patio.
Old Armory BBQ
If you’re craving fast barbeque, this is your spot! Old Armory BBQ offers generous portions and is ranked among the top BBQs in the state by Travel Iowa.
Rubaiyat is a well-reviewed local restaurant with delicious in-season and local fare – and an extensive selection of great wine!
Toppling Goliath Brewing Company
Toppling Goliath is more than an award-winning brewery. The taproom offers a great atmosphere and tasty food to accompany your beer of choice.
Pulpit Rock Brewing Company
Pulpit Rock is another favorite local brewery in Decorah with a relaxed atmosphere. They don’t serve food but offer snacks; customers can bring food in.
Winneshiek Wildberry Winery
Winneshiek Wildberry Winery is a family-owned business with a pleasant atmosphere and excellent wine. Plus, they serve lunch!
You can’t visit Decorah without a stop at the Whippy Dip! This small-town ice cream stand has lots of flavors and treats to choose from. (When we went, it was cash only.)
Hotels in Decorah
With so many great things to see and do, you’ll want to stay in Decorah! The good news is that there are several options.
- Hotel Winneshiek
- Country Inn & Suites
- Fairfield Inn & Suites
- Quality Inn & Suites
- Super 8 hotel
For more unique accommodations, book the Decorah High Point Cabins, the Bed & Breakfast on Broadway, or nearby rooms at Little House on the Farm and Lavender Fields Inn. There are several other bed, breakfast, and cabin options available in the area!
Camping in Decorah
If camping is more your style, we’ve got good news! Pulpit Rock Campground has over 100 campsites right in Decorah, and some sites are reservable online.
Other campgrounds nearby:
- Sampson Springs Campground
- Ehrie Riversedge Campground
- Hutchinson Family Farm Campground
- Bluffton Resort & Bar
- White’s Riverside Bluffton Campground
- Chimney Rock Campground
- Bear Creek Campground
- Harvest Farm Campground Resort
- Turkey River Campground
Winter in Decorah
The fun doesn’t stop when the temps drop and the snow falls! Decorah makes the perfect winter getaway – there are many things to do and see. And you can’t beat the food and drink options after a fun winter day! Below are some of the winter activities in Decorah.
Cross country ski or snowshoe
Decorah is the perfect winter destination for cross-country skiing! Many park trails get groomed for skiing, and you can rent skis locally.* The 11-mile Trout Run Trail is one option, but there are many more! This Cross Country Ski Trail Brochure helps you find groomed trails.
You can also explore the unplowed trails and parks on snowshoes! And there are so many parks in Decorah that you’ll have several options. (But please avoid groomed cross-country ski trails.)
*Rent cross-country skis and snowshoes at Decorah Bicycles.
Wayside Park is the place to go ice skating in Decorah! The rink will open when the temperatures are cold enough for the season. It’s open throughout the winter, except when signs are posted to stay off the ice. A warming house is nearby, and you can rent skates at Decorah Bicycles.
Downhill Skiing (nearby)
There are no downhill ski slopes in Decorah. Still, you could drive to Mt. LaCrosse Ski area in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, or Sundown Mountain Resort in Dubuque.
Things to do nearby
Northeast Iowa is among the top places to visit in the state. Once you see it, you understand why! Its scenic geological features make it an excellent place for nature activities, from fishing and camping to trails of every kind. And it boasts miles and miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, and water trails. And the area’s historic buildings, shopping, and museums make it the perfect getaway. Below are some places we recommend seeing while you’re there!
Laura Ingalls Park & Museum is just 13 miles north of Decorah. (in Burr Oak). Visit the spot where Laura Ingalls lived for a year of her childhood (1876-77), where her family managed the Masters Hotel. Guided tours are available from May through October. See the museum website for details.
Volga River State Recreation Area is 35 miles south of Decorah. This vast recreation area is an excellent place to camp (full hookups!), boat, and fish – or hike, bike, or ride over 20 miles of multi-use trails!
Bily Clocks Museum is 13 miles southwest of Decorah. Tour the collection of rare, hand-carved clocks made by the Bily brothers. Also, see artifacts from musician Antonin Dvorak and an 1854 log schoolhouse.
Niagra Cave in Minnesota is 26 miles northwest of Decorah. Take a guided tour 200 feet underground to see a stream, waterfall, cave formations, ancient fossils, and the “wedding chapel.”
Yellow River State Forest is 30 miles southeast of Decorah and the ideal spot to escape to nature! It features 40+(!) miles of multi-use trails, primitive campsites, trout fishing, kayaking, and more!
Effigy Mounds National Monument is a 36-mile drive from Decorah. Go check out the visitor center, trails, and ranger programs. Also, learn the history of local Native American tribes and see animal-shaped burial mounds, called “effigy” mounds!
Spook Cave is 38 miles southeast of Decorah and a fun place to take a one-of-a-kind cave tour on a boat. It also features a campground with a waterfall.
McGregor and Marquette are historic Iowa river towns about 40 miles from Decorah, just south of Effigy Mounds. They offer scenic views, historic buildings, quaint shops, and eateries. Also, find hotels, a casino, and a winery!
Pikes Peak State Park is 45 miles southeast of Decorah. It’s one of the most visited parks in the state. Its panoramic views, scenic bluffs, native woodlands, and excellent hiking make it a great place to visit.
Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin is just across the river from Pikes Peak State Park and a 55-mile drive from Decorah. From hiking and biking to canoeing, camping, and fishing, it’s a park worth exploring.