note: The University of Iowa offers lots to do throughout the year,
from arts performances to readings, and lectures to recreation. But
sometimes faculty, staff, and students want to explore areas beyond
campus. So University Communication and Marketing is publishing a series
of "daytripper" stories this summer, pointing to fun, interesting, and
uniquely Midwestern destinations within a day's drive of Iowa City. This
story is the second story in the series, which can be found here.
Daytrippers! It took me so long to find out, but I found out that
Decorah’s new bicycle trail is completed and open for business. It’s one
more reason to put this northeast Iowa town on your list.
There are at least a half dozen other reasons:
The 11-mile Trout Run Trail
is smooth and scenic. It has its ups and downs, but even occasional
cyclists will be able to manage the climbs. The glides are a breeze, but
you’ll want to make sure your brakes are working. There are curves that
quickly turn a “Whee!” into a “Whoa!"
Trout Run Trail near Decorah, Iowa. Photo by Randy Uhl.
The trail often skirts the town and river but it also heads far out
into farm fields, where you’ll reach heights from which to look back on
both city and the river. It’s no use telling you that the views are
gorgeous. They are, but you have to see them for yourself.
Near Mile Marker 5, you may find crowds of people with binoculars and
cameras. Be not afraid. They are just eagle watchers. This is the home
of the famed Decorah Eagles.
This year they confounded their fans by building a new nest across the
road from the old one. A recent Saturday excursion found the birders
eyeing three “juvies,” affectionately referred to as “Fifteen,”
“Sixteen,” and “Seventeen.”
The trail also takes you past some public art, including a really cool arch that spans the path and was created by Iowa City artist Bounnak Thammavong.
You can get to Decorah from Iowa City in three hours or less, which
means that you can leave here at a reasonable hour—say 9 a.m.—and be
there by noon. Before you hit the trail, fortify yourself with a
sandwich at the Oneota Community Food Co-op or Java John’s, both on
The trail starts just a few blocks to the west. (Decorah’s residents
were wise to put the beginning/end here because it is only steps away
from the Whippy Dip, which means you can soothe any post-trail aches and
pains with a cone, shake, or sundae.)
So you’ve had lunch and taken the entire loop for a leisurely ride,
and it’s maybe 3:30 or 4 p.m. at the latest. There are enough shops on Water Street in downtown Decorah to keep you busy until it’s time for dinner.
Not a shopper? Go to Vesterheim. Its 24,000 artifacts will hold your attention until your stomach brings up the subject of food.
You can have dinner as early as 5 p.m. and be back in Iowa City no later than 10 p.m.
But why only go half the way there? Consider an overnight!
Pulpit Rock Campground
is right in town and on the river. You can pitch a tent or pull your RV
into a site with electrical hook-ups. Advance reservations are not
accepted and it fills up early, but you can find similar accommodations
at a variety of private campgrounds in the area.
Not a camper? Downtown Decorah features the refurbished Hotel Winneshiek,
a nicely appointed property that has provided sleeping quarters for
Norwegian royalty and to President Obama. Advance reservations
From the hotel, it’s a very short walk to several restaurants, including La Rana Bistro, Rubaiyat, Ede’s Angry Pickle, and Mabe’s, the local pizza place. Or the Whippy Dip, of course.
The next morning, consider having breakfast at the Magpie Coffeehouse,
where you can sit inside and have a Toad in the Hole or sit outside and
watch the turkey vultures that congregate on the tower of the
Winneshiek County Courthouse.
After breakfast, hike off the calories on the hilly trails of one or
more of the four parks on the city’s north side, including Dunning Springs Park,
the latter of which features an impressive fall of water gushing out of
the limestone near the top of a bluff and rushing over moss-covered
rocks to the Upper Iowa River, some 200 feet below.
cover photo by Randy Uhl.