Fall Road Trip to Decorah, Iowa
Our content editor enjoys a couple’s weekend at the winsome home of Luther College, with hiking, shopping and an excess of ice cream.
Name: Allison Vancura Title: Content Editor
As an Iowa native, I have been to Decorah before and knew it would give my husband, Cory, and I the change in scenery we craved after months cooped up at home. We've done a longer weekend at an Airbnb here before, but this time chose a chain hotel for a quick one-night getaway.
Map it 132 miles north of Iowa City Our Playlist The audiobook of Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story
But First, Food
Breakfast Jump-start the day at Impact Coffee with a berry scone and fall-special Salted Sugarbush Latte (nutmeg, sea salt and local maple syrup).
Lunch Mabe's Pizza serves tavern-style pies. Pepperoni and sausage is the classic play here, but the menu has some surprises, like Chicken Cordon Bleu pizza.
Dinner Rubaiyat is my go-to date-night spot in Decorah. I always get Pasta Rubaiyat, with creamy Alfredo sauce, shrimp, scallops and crab—plus a Caesar salad, because #vacation.
Drink The HQ of Toppling Goliath Brewing Company is, well, appropriately giant. Sip the famous Pseudo Sue IPA, or sample exploratory and seasonal beers. And you have options! Pulpit Rock is another great brewery in town.
Treats My favorite scoops at Sugar Bowl are Zoreo (fudgy ice cream swirled with gooey marshmallow, Oreos and bittersweet chocolate chunks) and Espresso Oreo (self-explanatory). (Confession: We hit the Sugar Bowl twice in 12 hours. Thank goodness there was a shift change.)
Chockablock with beautifully preserved buildings, boutiques and cafes (plus the Vesterheim Museum, home to the world's biggest collection of Norwegian-American artifacts), Water Street warrants exploring. I love locally crafted Milkhouse candles—they're made of slowburning soy and beeswax, with nostalgic scents like Sticky Buns and Cabin Fever.
Decorah has impressive city parks. You can climb along a 200-foot-long waterfall at Dunning's Spring Park, just a few minutes from downtown. From there, walk to Ice Cave State Preserve to peek into one of the continent's largest ice caverns (a limestone cave whose walls accumulate ice from spring through fall). At heavily wooded Palisades Park, rugged biking—or in our case, hiking—trails with names like Log Jam thread through the trees. You'll also find a scenic overlook of the town here.
See rainbow trout of various sizes at Decorah Fish Hatchery, open sunrise to sunset. The fish are born and raised here, then used to stock local streams. Feeding time is a spectacle: The water looks like it's simmering because the trout go absolutely bananas.
We didn't paddle on this trip, but kayaks and canoes drift down the Upper Iowa River constantly. Off the Driftless is a popular outfitter; you'll enjoy the best scenery if you opt for a four-hour float.