When it comes to planning a rustic fall road trip, there’s no better place than scenic northwest Iowa. The colors of the historic oak savannahs blend beautifully with the changing prairie grasses. Crisp blue skies perfectly accent the red and golden hues of the foliage all around.
The Glacial Trail Scenic Byway is a 36-mile loop that crisscrosses Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, and O’Brien Counties, and offers an unforgettable way to experience the fall foliage. With a variety of outdoor spaces to explore and a rich local history to discover, this area of Iowa is full of autumnal enjoyment.
Pack a picnic, fill up your gas tank, and be sure to visit these five attractions along the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway:
1. Prairie Heritage Center
4931 Yellow Ave., Peterson
Get in touch with the area’s natural history with a visit to the Prairie Heritage Center in Peterson. Managed by the O’Brien County Conservation Board, the center offers a comprehensive look at the region’s flora and fauna. Learn about the early settlers of northwest Iowa indoors before heading outside to experience the natural landscape as they may have once seen it. With hundreds of acres of restored prairie to hike and bison grazing in the distance, it’s easy to be transported to an earlier, less complicated time.
2. InnSpiration Vines & Wines
5079 180th Ave., Linn Grove
Enjoy the fall colors with a glass of wine from the rustic patio of InnSpiration Vines & Wines. Taste everything that this northwest Iowa vineyard has to offer with samples as well as flights of more than a dozen wines. Looking for a unique place to stay during your byway adventure? The winery also offers rustic vacation rentals in a variety of sizes, including a cozy loft above the winery’s tasting room.
3. Kirchner Park Museum & J.A. Kirchner House
Kirchner Park, Hwy. 10, Peterson
In the 1860s, members of the Kirchner family were the first settlers in the Peterson area. Their original home was the first frame house built in Clay County, and remained in the family until 1971. Today it’s open to visitors as a museum depicting a typical farm home of the era. Located nearby, the historic J.A. Kirchner House has also become a destination for visitors. Built in 1875, the Italianate-style house is considerably more ornate than the family’s first home with walnut woodwork and a winding master staircase.
4. Linn Grove Dam Area
201 Main St., Linn Grove
This low-head dam on the Little Sioux River is the perfect haven for anyone who loves to fish. With 12 acres of public park on both sides of the river, the Linn Grove Dam Area is a beautiful landscape to explore, especially in the autumn. Paddlers will also enjoy the calm waters running over the dam for canoeing and kayaking earlier in the season.
5. Historic Fort Peterson Blockhouse
Park and W 2nd Sts., Peterson
Built in 1862, Fort Peterson was constructed following the Great Sioux Uprising in Minnesota. However, the threat of similar attacks in Iowa never materialized. Today all that remains of the original triangular fort is a historic marker and the blockhouse that once sat at one of the fort’s corners. If you look closely, you can still see the gun ports built into the sides of the building, which now sits between two residential streets.
Click here for maps and more information about the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway to plan your trip!
Story and photos by Megan Bannister from Olio in Iowa