Council Bluffs, Iowa, is steeped in railroading history, but there’s plenty more to do beyond exploring attractions only related to trains. Here are some of the top things to do in Council Bluffs.
Hit the trails
There are a surprising amount of outdoor trails for all interests – whether you want to hike, mountain bike, ride a horse, or just take a stroll.
For hiking, check out Lewis & Clark Monument Park. The trails aren’t long but they are challenging.
The Wabash is a 63-mile rails-to-trail path that’s made of crushed limestone and is well-shaded (making it great for biking, too). Find the trailhead by the Iowa School for the Deaf.
Tip: Hundreds of bike riders head to the Wabash Trace Nature Trail on Thursday evenings for the Taco Ride. Learn more about it and other interesting facts about the Wabash here.
Probably one of the most photographed attractions in the metro area, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spans the Missouri River, connecting Iowa to Nebraska. The photo opp of all photo opps is straddling the state line.
Related post: 30+ free things to do in Council Bluffs
Summer on Council Bluffs’ side can be pretty busy, especially on the green space of the park that’s right near the bridge, Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. There are concerts and outdoor movie screenings there, especially during Loessfest.
Many people consider Shady Lane Ranch a fall-only treat because of its popular hayrack rides in the fall, but this gem of a farm also offers guided horseback rides.
- Lewis & Clark Monument Park, 19962 Monument Road
- Wabash Trace Nature Trail Trailhead, 4102 Harry Langdon Blvd.
- Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B
- Shady Lane Ranch, 17744 Shady Lane
Explore the area’s railroad history
Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located in the heart of downtown Council Bluffs in a gorgeous historic building. It’s a free museum to visit, and features exhibits of railroad artifacts, as well as some hands-on experiences.
Near the museum is the Historic Gen. Dodge House. Grenville Dodge was a major figure in railroading history. The wonderfully-maintained mansion was built in 1869 and is a National Historic Landmark. It is open for tours, and occasionally, will have costumed characters for special events.
Located on the grounds of a former Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad depot, the RailsWest Railroad Museum showcases the area’s rail history through a series of exhibits in four rooms. With artifacts such as china, uniforms, and a telegraph office, the museum also includes a series of newspapers and a room with an operating model train display.Outside, you can tour an old locomotive, mail car, and caboose.
5. Union Pacific Railroad Museum, 200 Pearl St.
6. Historic Gen. Dodge House, 605 S. Third St.
7. RailsWest Railroad Museum, 16th Avenue and South Main Street
See great live performances
The Stir Cove is the outdoor music venue at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel and it hosts some of the best touring bands that come to the metro area.
Pottawattamie Arts, Culture & Entertainment, better known as PACE, has performances ranging from theater and dance to symphonic concerts. Visual arts and traveling exhibits are also showcased in the building.
The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College has two performance spaces where you can see student performances and touring productions.
8. Stir Cove, 1 Harrah’s Blvd.
9. Pottawattamie Arts, Culture & Entertainment, 1001 S. Sixth St.
10. Arts Center, 2700 College Road
Fun for grown-ups
There are three casinos in Council Bluffs where you can gamble at tables and slot machines. The newest casino is Horseshoe Casino, which also has the country music venue, Whiskey Roadhouse.
The other two casinos are Ameristar Casino and Harrah’s. All three have restaurants, but the one with the best view is 360 Steakhouse at the top of Harrah’s.
Council Bluffs’ first brewery is Full Fledged Brewing, located near the Mid-America Center (making it a great pre-concert stop).
Squirrel Cage Jail is one of the few remaining three-story lazy susan jails in the U.S. (that means it has a revolving design). They offer daytime tours, as well as occasional overnight stays. Since the jail is rumored to be haunted, the overnights are popular.
11. Harrah’s Council Bluffs, 1 Harrah’s Blvd.
12. Ameristar Casino, 2200 River Road
13. Horseshoe Casino, 2701 23rd Ave.
14. Full Fledged Brewing, 40 Arena Way, suite 2
15. Cellar 19 Wine & Deli, 928 Valley View Drive
16. Squirrel Cage Jail, 226 Pearl St.
Fun for kids
Lake Manawa State Park is busy in the summer with boaters, fishers and swimmers enjoying the beach. However, the big attraction for families with young children is the wonderfully imaginative Dream Land Park.
Ditmars Orchard is a good place to go for apple picking in the fall (as well as home to a pumpkin patch). The orchard also has a corn maze, hay rack ride, and playground. They also sell apple cider donuts and apple slushees, among other concession items.
The two 18-hole courses at Pirate Putt is an indoor miniature golf course featuring two 18-hole courses surrounded by all-things-pirate. Look for the pirate ship and the spring-loaded cannon to fire off your golf ball.
17. Lake Manawa State Park, 1100 S. Shore Drive
18. Ditmars Orchard, 19475 225th St.
19. Pirate Putt, 1718 Madison Ave.