Experience the beauty of the Loess Hills and beyond as you travel through rural southwest Iowa

By Cady Price

The renowned Loess Hills are as breathtaking as they are unexpected – it’s the only place in the western hemisphere you can see these amazing landforms – made of deep deposits of loess soil (wind-swept dust). With plenty of stunning scenery and quaint small towns, the southwest region of Iowa is truly a sight to behold, offering travelers a variety of charming towns, Iowa history and the rolling hills.

Clarinda Iowa

Small-town atmosphere and the “Home of Great Beginnings,” Clarinda is a charming stop on your Iowa tour. History lovers will want to visit the Nodaway Valley Historical Museum or the Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum in the former Carnegie Library. The Glenn Miller Birthplace Home & Museum is perfect for fans of favorite big band leader Glenn Miller. Take in a game of Clarinda A’s summer baseball. Downtown Clarinda offers a variety of locally owned boutiques and restaurants, perfect for satisfying all your appetite and shopping needs – don’t miss Iowa’s Largest Handmade Craft Carnival.


The Mahanay Bell Tower of Jefferson is one of only four carillons in Iowa. Regular concerts and chimes play from this fourteen-story carillon located on the town square. The Thomas Jefferson Gardens of Greene County brings to life the prairies that welcomed Lewis and Clark explorers and early settlers, farming practices of Thomas Jefferson’s time, and outdoor musical instruments. Master furniture maker Robby Pedersen, RVP ~ 1875 Historical Furniture Shop and Museum, has more than 20 years of experience building historically accurate furniture using only the tools, techniques, and finishes used in 1875. View the evolution of the telephone at the Jefferson Telecom Museum, one of the first in the nation back in 1957. From blossom to bottle, they do it all on the family owned farm to produce the perfect bottle of Deal’s Orchard Hard Cider. Stop out to watch the process and enjoy a glass.

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Council Bluffs

Filled with history and exciting attractions, Council Bluffs offers a great place to appreciate history and anticipate the future. The Union Pacific Railroad Museum and RailsWest Railroad Museum are perfect for learning about transportation. To learn about life in the past try out the Historic Squirrel Cage Jail or General Dodge House, both offering an interesting insight into Iowa history. Discover a nice blend of nightlife and dining throughout the Historic 100 Block West Broadway. Take a stroll across the Missouri River on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge – the first pedestrian bridge that connects two states. Don’t forget to go “bobbing” – striking a pose while standing (or lying down) in two states at the same time! Head north to Missouri Valley for an afternoon at the Loess Hills Lavender Farm

Coon Rapids Iowa

Located near Coon Rapids along seven miles of the Middle Raccoon River Valley is the Whiterock Conservancy. The 5,500-acre property is perfect for hiking, mountain biking and horseback trails, canoeing/kayaking, fishing and stargazing in the darkest skies in Iowa. Coon Rapids is home to numerous impressive sculptures including the Rotating Ear of Corn, the Hybrid Icon Installment, and the Roadside Sculpture Park.  If you are looking to do a little shopping, stop in Nature Ammil for essential oils, goat milk soaps and lotions to repurposed furniture, antiques and collectibles. The Naturally Iowa Grain Bin Gateway project is a 360-degree mural commissioned on the side of two grain bins located at the entrance to Coon Rapids downtown.

Templeton Distillery

Templeton Distillery


Star Destinations is a tour operator that sends groups to destinations around the world, but their hometown of Carroll, Iowa, is a fantastic place to visit. Carroll is a vibrant city on the Lincoln Highway headlining a county with a unique history. Learn about this history of bootleggers and Al Capone, sports legends and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence at the Carroll County History Museum. Templeton Distillery, Iowa Legendary Rye and Santa Maria Winery craft top-notch, nationally known products. For shopping, Carroll’s specialty boutiques and historic downtown offer a quaint experience. High school, college and semi-pro baseball teams have all played at the legendary Merchants Park. The Lakers once made an emergency landing in a Carroll cornfield, and an NBA championship-winning coach grew up here. You will love Carroll and the surrounding small towns, where local whiskeys and wines, stunning views and an interesting past await!

 Elk Horn

A little slice of Denmark lives in this pleasant town. Experience the rich Danish heritage of Elk Horn and explore rural Iowa. Tours of heritage landmarks can be booked at the Danish Windmill and Welcome Center. For more Danish culture, Bedstemor’s House and the Museum of Danish America are great options. After a thorough history lesson, enjoy some fresh air as you journey down Western Skies Scenic Byway and take in the beauty of rural America. Catch a bite to eat at one of several great restaurants like Grace on Main, the Norse Horse Tavern or Larsen’s Pub.

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