An RV Drive through Iowa’s Autumn Beauty

Bridge in Madison County, Iowa, Autumn

Holliwell Bridge, Madison County, Iowa, and was taken on October 16, 2001, by Lance Larsen. This bridge crosses the North River about 40 miles southwest of Des Moines, Iowa.

An RV trip through Iowa is a marvelous way to experience the beauty of autumn in the Midwest. The yellow and red leaves lend a very pleasant atmosphere to your trip and the changing colors of the landscape make picture-taking a great pastime during your journey. Northeast Iowa is the best choice currently to experience some color changes, particularly with the walnut trees, sumac, Virginia creeper and others. Peak colors will occur around October 10th.

The ideal RV route this time of year is the Driftless Area Scenic Byway through Allamakee County, Iowa. This is a zigzag route that starts in Postville and ends far in the northwest corner of the county. Follow the map for the easiest path and through the most scenic regions. This is one hundred miles of gorgeous forests, valleys and hills in the Mississippi River country.

When you reach Harper’s Ferry you will be in one of the oldest settlements in the county and discover a charming town to wander and shop for gifts for family and friends. Outdoor recreation is abundant here too! It is the perfect time of year – not too hot and not too cold. The Mississippi River invites you to cast a line and see what sort of fish you can reel in. Boating is also great on this mighty river.

Take a side trip now to the Yellow River State Forest. It is only three miles to the west and offers a lot for outdoor lovers. Miles and miles of trout streams give you more of a chance to snag a trophy catch. You will discover exceptional hiking too, with plenty of trails that lead to overlooks and panoramic views.  This is your opportunity to get away from it all and get back to nature.

Stop in the old river town of Lansing which is not far from two other state borders. You can explore further if you wish and head into Minnesota or Wisconsin. The world is at your fingertips! Drive through town, but be aware that Main Street dead-ends at the Mississippi. This is where the steamships would pick up travelers. Drive across the historic Lansing Bridge and complete your visit to this town by getting into conversation with any of the friendly residents.

While in Lansing, be sure to make your way to Mt. Hosmer Park  where you can get a lovely view of the Mississippi Valley and the entire tri-state area. On a clear day you can see forever – well, at least fifty miles! Lansing is also a notable stop on the Great River Road. You may want to continue your journey and head south as far as Dubuque on this wonderful byway. If so, be sure to visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium while in Dubuque.

If you liked this autumn adventure, stay tuned for more. This fall’s beauty is just getting started!

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An Intriguing RV Adventure from Des Moines

Whether you’re a native or just touring the heartland, there’s enough adventure to be had in Iowa to warrant weeks (or a lifetime) of exploration. If you’re pressed for time, however, Iowa’s got more-than-enough fun to pack a memorable trip into three days of RV adventuring. Of course, take your time if you can. Most of my favorite Iowa destinations are worth more than just a breeze through.

For a three-day run based out of Des Moines, start by heading east on Interstate 80. The first ‘can’t miss’ destination on your route is just two hours away, at the Amana Colonies. These seven villages were formed by German Pietist migrants from New York, who lived communally here from 1855 until the 1930s. Their self-sufficient spirit lives on today, as the Colonies have grown into one of the country’s most impressive collections of artisans, creating everything from furniture to clothing to gifts on-site. Days could be spent watching craftsmen, browsing for mementos, and enjoying traditional Colonial-era cuisine (there are several impressive campgrounds, as well), but we’ve got an adventure on a time schedule!

Continue east another hour to Le Claire, directly on the Mississippi River, outside Davenport. Here we’ll get a taste of the old Wild West, touring the Buffalo Bill Museum, honoring Iowa’s famous frontiersman, “Buffalo Bill” Cody. At the museum see Native American artifacts, a Civil War encampment, and visit the Lone Star Steamer, a wooden steamship that worked the river for 99 years, three times longer than the average working vessel (they usually caught fire!).

For a late afternoon treat (for the adults!), drop into the Mississippi River Distilling Company for a tour, and pick up a carefully handcrafted spirit like their River Rose Gin to enjoy when you get to your campground.

Picture of the Julen Dubuque Monument

Picture of the Julen Dubuque Monument

It’s just over an hour up the river to your last stop today in Dubuque. If you leave yourself time, visit the Mines of Spain, a National Historic Landmark. In addition to a monument marking the Spanish-controlled lead mines here in the 18th century, it’s a fantastic place to spot wildlife along the Mississippi River. The E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center offers a jumping off point to spot bald eagles, deer, wild turkey, and bobcats in the wetlands, creeks, and prairies around the river’s bluffs.

Begin day two by continuing up the Mississippi to Effigy Mounds National Monument. These prehistoric sites date back to 500 BC, featuring 206 earthen mounds built by Native Americans, some in the shape of animals. The hilly bluffs here provide fantastic views of the Mississippi at its wildest.

Keep your hiking shoes on, because the rest of your day will be spent at Yellow River State Forest, where the 25-mile “Backpack Trail” offers a rare opportunity to hike into heartland wilderness. Hike as short or long a section of trail as you please, but as you head up steep, wooden hillsides, relish in the “I can’t believe I’m in Iowa!” moments and remember what a diverse state it truly is.

It’s time to head west again. For a glimpse at the history of farming (and possibly the future!), stop by the Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, just half an hour from Yellow River. This impressive organization catalogs and saves heirloom seeds from around the country, preserving varieties of apples, vegetables, grapes, and other treasures that might otherwise fade into the past. Their gardens and historic orchard are well worth a visit.

Less then an hour west is the Hayden Prairie State Preserve, a perfect spot for a picnic. Sadly, 99 percent of Iowa’s tall grass prairie has gone the way of the Dodo. At Hayden Prairie’s 240-acres, you can catch a glimpse of what the entire state once looked like, with over 100 species of wildflowers growing free on the tiny tract.

From Hayden, it’s a quick three hours back to Des Moines. Stop on the city’s western outskirts at Living History Farms, an interactive outdoor museum that lets people play and engage on a 1700 Ioway Indian Farm, an 1850 Pioneer Farm, and a 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. Live demonstrations explain how Iowa transformed from prairie land into world’s most productive farmland.

After touring a large portion of the state, Living History Farms sheds an invaluable light on Iowa’s history and its relevance to the country and the world.

Conclude your Iowa tour with an evening stroll through the East Village of Des Moines, admiring the State Capital and taking your pick of eateries and shops that rival the hippest metropolitan districts in the country.

Still have more time? From Des Moines, it’s just four hours heading northwest to the lakes of the Okoboji region, a one-stop destination with enough family fun and natural beauty to fill an entire week-long vacation. Have just one extra day? Elk Rock State Park is just half-an-hour away, with plenty of swimming, boating, and horseback riding to please the whole family, and a small campground with electric hookups.

Whichever direction you steer, there’s no reason to head out of Iowa! And with gas prices where they’re at, we’re lucky the heartland offers so much fun for RV adventurers right around Des Moines.

Picture credits: The picture of the Julien Dubuque Monument was taken by Bill Whittaker. It is from Wikipedia. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
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