Top 10 Outdoor Winter Activities

Get out and explore Iowa! Whether it’s bird-watching, tromping through the snow to look at world-class sculptures or zooming down a hill on a sled, there are tons of reasons to zip up a parka and pull on a fuzzy hat and gloves. The editors of Midwest Living share 10 the whole family will enjoy.


1. Peaks and Valleys
Even from the parking lot of Pikes Peak State Park there are sweeping views of the Mississippi River and limestone bluffs. Venture a couple of miles farther along a wooden boardwalk through a wooded valley to end up at Pike’s Peak, a 500-foot-high riverside bluff in McGregor from which you can see the confluence of the Wisconsin River and the Mighty Mississippi. Crisp winter air makes the views all the sharper.

563.873.2341  |


2. Eagle Watch
See our national symbol soaring wild and free along the Mississippi River. From mid-December through March, eagles make their winter home near locks and dams along the river from Dubuque south to Keokuk. Turbulence below dams keeps ice at bay; that open water results in an all-you-can-eat fish buffet for eagles. The wooded bluffs flanking the river make great roosting spots. Numerous cities hold events during this annual migration; bring binoculars or use spotting scopes to see hundreds of eagles in a day.

515.432.2823  |


3. Art Hop
You’ll need your car to get to Iowa West Public Art, groupings that include architectural marvels and abstract delights in Council Bluffs. Albert Paley's Odyssey acts as a monumental gateway over Interstate-80 and the South 24th Street Bridge; it consists of four massive mixed-metal sculptures jutting vertically out of the bridge like skyscrapers. Near Mid-America Center, Jun Kaneko's Rhythm is staggeringly intricate in contour and pattern. And playful Haymarket District rabbits look, from one angle, like giant rocks, but move a little and suddenly the details emerge. Listen to a free audio tour on your cell phone by calling or download a map and/or brochure from the website.

712.212.9088  |


4. Trail Trek
Swing your arms and legs just as you do when walking or running and you’ve got the hang of cross-country skiing. Don’t own any? Rent gear from Polk County Conservation at Jester Park, where five miles of groomed trails traverse woods near central Iowa’s Saylorville Lake. Reserve equipment in advance

515.323.5300  |


5. Picture Perfect
The oak, hickory, maple and basswood have dropped their leaves, making for unobstructed views along the 13 miles of trails at Ledges State Park. Climb along steep slopes of sandstone ledges—for which the park is named—that rise nearly 100 feet above the floor of Pea’s Creek in Madrid.

515.432.1852  |


6. Fast and Fun
Admittedly, the winter beauty of the Loess Hills passes in a blur when you sled down the .18-mile Chute Trail at Hitchcock Nature Center. But the steep hike to the top gives you plenty of time to appreciate the scenery. Just steps from Loess Hills Lodge, the Chute Trail snakes and twists between steep ravines for a hang-on-tight ride in Honey Creek.

712.545.3283  |


7. Sounds of Serenity
You might hear the clang of a church bell or blacksmith’s anvil, but you won’t stop at a stoplight or eat fast food in the Villages of Van Buren County in southeast Iowa. Follow gravel and asphalt roads to the tranquil villages for local cheese, Amish furniture and handcrafted pottery.

319.293.7111  |


8. Stay and Play
Iowa’s first resort-style state park, Honey Creek Resort sits along Rathbun Lake amid forest, prairie and wetlands in Moravia. Tiled mosaics and a 50-foot-tall fireplace dominate the Arts and Crafts-style lobby that leads to the 105 rooms and suites. If you get pruney at Buccaneer Bay Indoor Water Park, hike Savannah Ridge Interpretive Trail, grab a sled, indulge in a spa treatment or dine at the full-service restaurant. From $129.

877.677.3344  |


9. Dinner with a View
Because of the view, it’s almost like sitting outside if you get a table along the windows overlooking the Iowa River dam at Iowa River Power Restaurant in Coralville, next to Iowa City. The turn-of-the-century power plant was reopened as a riverfront restaurant in 1977. Surf and turf combinations top the price range on a menu of seafood, steaks, pasta and poultry, but nothing will empty your wallet. Top-notch service and wine complete a lovely meal.

319.351.1904  |


10. Photo Op
It’s just a few steps from kitsch to classic in downtown Audubon. After snapping a pic with Albert the Bull—a 30-foot-tall, concrete-and-steel, doe-eyed statue—do the 2.5-mile walk honoring artist and naturalist John James Audubon. Mosaics dotting the brick sidewalk re-create his Birds of America art; a stained-glass clock, statue, mural and other works commemorate events from his life; and the meeting hall and library contain prints and books.

712.563.3780  |


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