Decorah, a small town in northeastern Iowa tucked in the Driftless Area of the Midwest, is an outdoorsy traveler’s kind of place. There are all kinds of trails, a reputable river, and a waterfall. And the rocky terrain is completely memorable (considering how not-so-rocky the rest of Iowa is). If you’re ready for an outdoor adventure, here are some fun, outdoors things you can do in Decorah.
Disclosure: A portion of this post appeared originally on Oh My! Omaha, and is republished here with permission.
Climb the waterfall
I’m a sucker for a good waterfall on vacation. This 200-foot waterfall is right in downtown Decorah in Dunning’s Spring Park, and so easy to get to. There is parking available, but you can do as we did, too, and simply bike to it.
Wear decent climbing shoes if you’re going to attempt to go up the waterfall. The water is cold and we saw children playing in the stream.
There are stairs, making an easy route to get to the top of the falls. The park has trails, including mountain bike trails. This was just a quick stop for us, so we didn’t explore beyond the waterfall.
Marvel at a quirky architectural element
While you’re at Dunning’s Spring Park, check out the stone arch bridge. It was designed to be similar to one that was there more than 100 years ago, and the interesting thing is that no mortar was used to build it.
Dunning’s Spring Park, Ice Cave Road, Decorah
Bike the Trout Run Trail
Our biking group consisted of three women of varying abilities, and none of us had experience on mountain bikes, so the awesome mountain bike trails in Decorah were out of the question.
We opted for tackling Trout Run Trail, a paved loop of about 10 miles that rides along the Upper Iowa River through cornfields, and past the fish hatchery and bald eagle nest.
Our guide told us about the region, including facts about the unique terrain in the Driftless Area, like the fascinating algific talus slope in the limestone walls where we could feel a cold breeze coming from the rock.
She was a good motivator for us, warning us of lengthy inclines and how to handle the switchbacks in the cornfields. And, she knew where exactly to look for the famous bald eagles nest in Decorah.
Tip: Decorah Bicycles will run you hybrid bikes for a four-hour span. There are also mountain bikes and kids bikes available there. Conveniently, it’s near both The Whippy Dip and Pulpit Rock Brewing Co., so if you’re craving ice cream or beer after your ride, you’re covered.
Feed A LOT of fish
About 130,000 rainbow trout are raised at the Decorah Fish Hatchery each year. The fish will ultimately be stocked in 15 put-and-take streams in Allamakee, Howard, Mitchell and Winneshiek counties. But until they’re full-size, they’ll be in Decorah and you can visit them.
The fish hatchery is open to the public 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. It’s FREE to visit.
Bring a few quarters to get some fish food to feed the trout.
Chuck Gibb Decorah Fish Hatchery, 2321 Siewers Spring Road, Decorah
Look for the eagles’ nest
Decorah has a world-famous set of eagles that have been watched for many years via the Eagle Cam. Take a quick walk from the Fish Hatchery along the Trout Run Trail to the marked spot where you can see the nest.
Note: They’re not always there.
Kayak the Upper Iowa River
The Upper Iowa River has a good reputation: It once made the National Geographic list of the 100 Greatest Adventures in America. And luckily, you can paddle it.
There are outfitters to rent kayaks, canoes or tubes (we got our kayaks from Off The Driftless). If you plan on canoeing without a guide, it’s a good idea to check the water levels of the river before setting out on the river.
Tip: I had an exciting guided moonlight kayak float with the now-defunct Karst Adventures. If you are planning a visit and you happen to hear about a such an experience, take it! (Well, take it you have some experience kayaking)
Off The Driftless Wellness & Adventure Company, 212 Pulpit Rock Road, Decorah
Have a pizza dinner on a farm
I was so glad to be tipped off that Luna Valley Farm serves wood-fire pizza on Friday nights. What a memorable meal, dining on pizza, lights strung up from a barn and the green farmland in view! They grow and raise some of the food consumed on pizza night.
The atmosphere at Luna Valley Farm is welcoming where you get to know the people sitting next to you. It was a rainy night, but under the tents, we dined and chatted happily.
There was live music the night we were there. When the rain stopped, we walked just a short distance to look at pigs.
Luna Valley Farm, 3012 Middle Sattre Road, Decorah