Iowa offers some stunning views during the fall months along with various ways to experience them. Whether you're on a bike or hiking trail, on the water, in a car or aboard a train, these locations offer some of the best ways to view the scenery and make memories with your loved ones.
FROM THE TRAILS
Running for 25 miles through five towns, the High Trestle Trail is recognized as one of the state's best bike trails. The most popular spot along the trail is the iconinc High Trestle Trail Bridge near Madrid, which offers sweeping views of the Des Moines River Valley. The bridge's six overlooks make it one of the best places to admire fall colors and a unique piece of area history.
3. T-Bone Trail
Part of American Discovery Trail, this paved route follows a former railway between Audubon and Pymosa and is almost 20 miles long, offering beautiful countryside views.
4. Rent a Horse
Admire the beauty of Jester Park with a guided horseback ride at Jester Park Equestrian Center in Granger. The tours include instructions on mounting and dismounting then a 45-minute trail ride, making it a perfect opportunity for beginners.
Grab a bike or some hiking shoes and follow this trail for scenic views of the river, wildlife spotting, bird watching and great photo opportunities. The complete trail goes for almost 3,000 miles and passes through 10 states. Iowa visitors can hop on and off the trail anywhere along the river.
The “Backpack Trail” at Yellow River State Forest in Harpers Ferry was once named Iowa’s best hiking trail by Outdoor magazine. Open year-round, the trails range from relatively easy to moderate. The Paint Creek Unit includes more than 25 miles of marked and maintained trails.
Known for its natural beauty along the Wapsipinicon River near Central City, the 966-acre Pinicon Ridge County Park has become a regional outdoor destination. From its campgrounds, water rentals, modern playgrounds and 12 miles of various park trails, fall makes this a vibrant color-changing destination.
FROM THE WATER
10. Upper Iowa River
The Upper Iowa River in Northeast Iowa is a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking and tubing. Accessible at landing points in Kendallville, Bluffton, and Decorah, this river was named by National Geographic Adventure magazine as one of the top 100 adventures in the United States. Rolling around U-shaped bends, the river reveals 330-foot-tall limestone bluffs while eagles and hawks soar overhead.
This 27-mile water trail is great for canoeing, kayaking and tubing. The river’s wooded banks also provide perfect opportunities for wildlife spottings, sandbars for picnics and great fishing spots.
12. Middle River
Recognized as one of Iowa's newest water trails, the Middle River meanders along for 45 miles, ending at the famous Bridges of Madison County near Winterset. Paddle it in the fall to admire the historic bridges surrounded by fall foliage.
There’s a reason Iowa Falls is known as Iowa’s scenic city. On the Scenic City Empress, visitors can cruise by limestone bluffs, a man-made waterfall, wildlife, a historic swinging bridge and, of course, beautiful fall colors. The 50-passenger, double-decker pontoon boat offers public cruises Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. June through mid-October.
Hop aboard an authentic Victorian-era riverboat and enjoy a scenic cruise down the Mississippi River. Riverboat Twilight offers 1.5-hour sightseeing cruises on select dates through October. Book your ride, head to LeClaire and admire the views from one of the boat's three decks.
15. Lady of the Lake
You can't visit Clear Lake without experiencing the water. As the weather cools and the leaves transform into vibrant colors, embrace a different kind of lake experience aboard Lady of the Lake. This authentic paddle wheel boat excursion takes riders along the lake's stunning banks, making it an amazing fall bucket list item.
FROM THE CAR
U.S. Route 6 is the longest highway ever created, stretching 3,652 miles from Massachusetts to California. Not to brag, but Iowa’s portion contains some of the best stops along the way, including the world’s oldest ice cream fountain, a smiling 16-foot-tall gas station man and countless mom-and-pop shops for food and lodging.
Follow in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark as they discovered and recorded the value of President Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon Bonaparte. Today’s route takes modern-day explorers to marinas, nature preserves and parks along this historic trail, offering a variety of sights and opportunities for wildlife spottings.
When it comes to planning a rustic fall road trip, there’s no better place than northwest Iowa. This 36-mile loop takes some surprising turns through historic oak savannahs, changing prairie grasses, red and golden foliage and crisp blue skies, offering a perfect day on the road.
While the entire trail stretches across five state and follows the way the Mormons once traveled to escape persecution, Iowa’s portion offers a great way to see the variety of landscapes Iowa has to offer. From rolling hills and prairie grasses to limestone bluffs and farmland, this route provides some of the best Iowa scenery as well as a variety of historic sites.
FROM THE RAILS
Embrace Boone's railroad history with a breathtaking fall excursion through the Des Moines River Valley. For a relaxing ride along the rails, get your ticket punched aboard the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad's Fraser Train, which takes riders to the old coal mining town of Fraser. The 11-mile round trip journey lasts almost two hours, so be sure to visit the snack bar for refreshments.
For a more thrilling excursion, buckle up on a two- or four-person Rail Explorers rail bike to experience the tracks up close! The bikes are pedal-powered and motor-assisted, making it an accessible adventure. The two-hour ride crosses two bridges, offering breathtaking views of the colorful hills and heights. Once you've made it to the end of the route, take a snack or water break in the charming turnaround area before buckling back up for the ride back.