If you’re itching for a laid-back overnight trip, head south. Less than three hours from the Twin Cities — and a straight shot down U.S. Hwy. 52 — Decorah is the perfect place for a scenic game of Choose Your Own Adventure.
For the active:If you’re a cyclist, be sure to pack yours (or rent one fromDecorah Bicycles) to take advantage of Decorah’s many trails. The impressive 11-mile Trout Run Trail circles the city, following the Upper Iowa River and crisscrossing trout streams. There’s a variety of terrain and scenery along the way — including public art sculptures — and the trail is equally suited for walkers and wheelchairs.
Volunteers withDecorah Human Powered Trailsmaintain more than 26 miles of off-road trails for mountain biking — the river and bluffs make Decorah a surprising destination. Trails such as Palisades, Van Peenen and Dunning are as popular with hikers and trail runners as they are bikers.
For the nature lover:Decorah has the Upper Iowa River,Malanaphy and Dunning springs.
They say Malanaphy Springs is best viewed from the river, but it can be equally picturesque on foot. The mile-long walk to the falls isn’t smooth — choose your shoes accordingly — and pack a lunch for a scenic picnic. The state preserve is also a forest, with hundreds of native plants to admire.
Dunning Springs Park is an easy walk, and it’s nearly impossible to not stick your toe in the running water. Admire the falls from below, or cross the stone bridge and climb the steps for a different view. Before leaving, head down the road to theDecorah Ice Cave State Preserve. It’s exactly what it sounds like — a cave with ice deposits well into summer. You can learn about its fascinating history, but you can’t go too far into the cave due to safety concerns. Don’t forget a flashlight.
Siewers Springs is home to theDecorah Fish Hatchery,where you can see trout being raised for release into area streams. Try your hand at fishing in the springs across the street, where you’ll also find the city’s famous eagle nest (or catch them on the live cam). The area has plenty of parking, a bathroom and is on the Trout Run Trail, making it a good place to start or end your day.
For the meandering:Downtown Decorah’s crown jewel, theVesterheim Norwegian American Museum, was closed when we visited, but we’re eager to return to see its extensive collection of Norwegian American artifacts. The main building replicates life in 19th-century Norway and, just outside, Heritage Park has a collection of historic buildings. Plan a trip when the museum’s folk-art school reopens, and visit the store for cozy sweaters and plenty of Uff Da tchotchkes.
Water Street’s shops range from the independentDragonfly Booksto the galleryAgora Arts, a downtown fixture for decades. You’ll also find antiques, a leather shop, clothing boutiques, a toy store and theBlue Heron Knittery,among others, along with coffee shops, restaurants and theOneota Co-op,where you can pick up picnic supplies.
Finish your stroll at the historicHotel Winneshiek,built in 1904. Stay the night, pop in for a drink at the bar and if you’re lucky, sneak a peek at the Opera House, with its original tin walls and ceiling.
Wherever your adventure leads, plan a stop at one of the area’s wineries or breweries — we were fans ofToppling Goliath Brewing Co.And for a nostalgic nightcap? Stand in line at the no-frills Whippy Dip ice cream stand, dishing up soft serve since 1954.