Cozy Up in Northeast Iowa

Northeast Iowa is known for its breathtaking views of beautiful bluffs and scenic valleys, but this region is rich in art and culture, too. This also is where the state’s celebrity bald eagle family makes its home.

Check out this suggested itinerary from the editors of Midwest Living.




Named for the town’s most famous veterans, Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum issues dog tags to each visitor. Scan your tag and learn the role “you” played in each of three different wars. Hear personal stories, watch documentaries, and learn how and when to salute as you move through this museum dedicated to showcasing the state’s role in armed conflicts since the Civil War.

Discount passes cover admission here as well as to Rensselaer Russell House Museum and Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, less than one block away. Mom and Grandma will love time at the Rensselaer Russell, a restored 1861 Victorian mansion, while the rest of the family heads next door to the Imaginarium. Kids can use a flight simulator to pretend to fly a plane, use pulleys to lift 500 pounds and pet a python.

Youngsters can spend the afternoon getting creative at the Phelps Youth Pavilion, part of the Waterloo Center for the Arts. Climb through cubbyholes, create a puppet show or go downstairs to the first floor, where activities attract preschoolers. Sit on a tractor and set up a miniature farm with barns and trees.

Head down the street and end the evening at family-owned Brown Bottle. Mix and match pasta; kids like classic pizzas. Most chain hotels come with indoor swimming pools.





Early in the day is the best time to glimpse the world’s most famous feathered family: This family of bald eagles has a Facebook page and nest cam. The original 6-foot nest sits near the Decorah Fish Hatchery and a newer one, 400 feet back. Due to the nests new location, visitor’s best chance of watching the eagles may be by checking out the webcam. Open daily, the fish hatchery stocks trout, including brown, native to Iowa. Bring quarters, one buys a handful of fish food. Prepare to back up or get wet as the ensuing feeding frenzy begins. 

Norwegians began immigrating to Vesterheim (what they call their western home) in the 1850s. Today, visitors can spend a day exploring the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and not begin to see all the treasures: More than 24,000 artifacts fill 16 historical buildings.

Save time to shop boutiques like Ace Kitchen Place, Dragonfly Books and Milkhouse Candles and Gifts that make up the vibrant downtown. Ede’s and The Angry Pickle Deli serves fancy yet affordable global cuisine. Try a Vietnamese banh mi, Greek gyro with from-scratch naan and Indian samosas (fried pastry with a savory filling) with a spicy curry dip. As for the restaurant’s name? The owner’s son came up with the spicy pickle that packs a punch.

Cool off your taste buds with hand-dipped cones and milkshakes at Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Company, where an ice cream delivery tricycle hangs from the ceiling upstairs.

Thanks its downtown location, the 31-room historic Hotel Winneshiek offers convenience, but families may be more comfortable in a chain hotel on the outskirt of town along Highway 9. 




Check in to the seven-story Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, on the banks of the Mississippi River.

If you can pull away the kids from the tube slides, lazy river and big bucket that dumps water every eight minutes, you can continue the water theme at the well-done National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. After a two-block walk, kids dive into building a boat and moving it down a river, piloting a riverboat and walking through wetlands. Six aquariums showcase river creatures such as catfish, sturgeon, frogs and turtles. Allow plenty of time to see all the exhibits plus films in the 3D–4D Immersion Theater. Special effects include seat movement, mist, aromas and more!

Worn-out parents may opt to eat at Tony Roma’s inside the Grand Harbor Resort. Those with some energy left make the 1-mile drive to locally owned L. May Eatery. Parents appreciate the cozy atmosphere, fresh ingredients, $5 sangrias and decadent desserts. Soups, sandwiches and pizza please kids.


Itinerary compiled by

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