East-Central Iowa Scenic Drive | Midwest Living

East-Central Iowa Scenic Drive

Cruise some of the prettiest land around in east-central Iowa.


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Get Away to Grant Wood's Realm

Countryside that inspired the paintings of Iowa-born Grant Wood unfurls serenely as knobby, undulating hills west from the Mississippi River through an east-central section of the Hawkeye State. This 160-mile circular drive from the Mississippi River town of Clinton (30 miles north of the Quad Cities) to the community of Maquoketa takes you through tiny hamlets such as Sabula, St. Donatus and Stone City. Each has its own intriguing story to tell.

You travel along ridges overlooking a landscape that resembles a patchwork quilt stitched in muted colors. This land, which the bespectacled Wood portrayed, wears many faces. Neat farmhouses anchor fields sprinkled with hay bales as big as pickup trucks. From ridge tops, views unfold in the Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa and Mississippi river valleys.

Rent a canoe at Monticello to glide past bluffs of the Maquoketa River, or fish for smallmouth bass and channel catfish. At Maquoketa State Park, you can explore caves. Early settlers held dances in one of them.

Like Wood's art, this region reflects the personalities of its people. The historic town of Maquoketa includes restored homes, antiques stores and art galleries. The Mississippi surrounds the island town of Sabula. In the 1840s, immigrants from Luxembourg built the low, eaveless buildings in the village of St. Donatus, where you can sample Old World specialties and relax at a welcoming bed and breakfast.

The timeless Mississippi nourishes a life of its own. A restored paddle wheeler hosts musicals in Clinton. River craft negotiate the locks in Bellevue. These images and more await, traveling Iowa's scenic byways. Come along and be inspired by the gentle land that moved an American master.


Lighthouses guard the banks of the Mississippi at this his-toric town, with its landscaped riverfront. Catch a minor-league baseball game at Riverview Stadium or a show aboard a paddle wheeler at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre.

Docked nearby, the big, Victorian-style gambling boat Mississippi Belle II welcomes guests to its casino, dinner buffets and cruises. You can watch barge traffic at Lock and Dam 13 or hike the 4-mile asphalt trail between Riverview and Eagle Point parks.

At the funky Smith Brothers General Store downtown, owner Steve Smith chills soda pop in an old-fashioned "bevrador," a 1930s silo-shaped cooler set on the mercantile's original wood floor. Steve's father and uncles opened the store nearly 70 years ago.

Taking stock of the 40,000 items in-side, from rubber chickens to enamel roasting pans to pictures of Elvis, you'll understand why locals say, "If you can't find it here, you don't need it."

From US-67 just north of town, drive 1 mile east on State-136 across the river.


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