Mystery tours help groups unlock the history behind these locales
As mystery group tours continue to rise in popularity, three Midwestern destinations are offering one-of-a-kind itineraries for those seeking to take in some sights and sate their appetite. Each locale is rich with culture, formed through European and Native American history and company foundations, modern art and natural environments. What’s appealing about mystery tours is those who embark on these tours don’t know what destinations or attractions they will be seeing. Although tours can last two or three days, groups that are strapped for time can plan a single day visit which will still provide rich experiences for a multitude of interests.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The eastern South Dakota city of Sioux Falls offers mystery tours covering its natural beauty, art collection, local cuisine and Native American history. Extensive one to three-day itineraries are offered, with each covering the major attractions.
Visitors will be introduced to the city’s namesake Big Sioux River, which stunningly cascades over a series of rock faces within the 123-acre aptly named Falls Park. The observation tower allows for elevated views, taking photography to the next level for morning or early evening shots while sunlight reflects off the water and Sioux Quartzite. The falls also provide an excellent backdrop to the restored downtown area where constructions using the native pink quartzite stand out. The 1890s Romanesque Old Courthouse Museum is a free admission visit during the tour, hosting traditional music performances, lectures, and activities throughout the year.
Downtown Sioux Falls can be more thoroughly experienced through the free evening walk, which also allows groups to appreciate the Sculpture Walk—an open exhibit of 56 outdoor sculptures that appeal to all artistic tastes. In addition, there are multiple dinner and entertainment options available, including the visual arts galleries and exhibits at the Washington Pavilion, live music and plays at the historic Orpheum Theatre, or a tour and performance at the community Old Towne Theatre Co.
Just east of Sioux Falls, groups will also be able to experience one of South Dakota’s newest parks, Good Earth State Park. Located near the border with Iowa, this cultural and historical site, which is one of the oldest sites of long-term human habitation in the country, offers information on the Big Sioux River, the local wildlife, Native American culture and seasonal activities throughout the year.
Along with visits to a USGS data center to see how satellites geographically map the world and a winery made of strawbales for a unique winetasting experience, these activities are just the tip of the iceberg with even more to explore through the lengthier tour options available. visitsiouxfalls.com/
Le Mars, Iowa
Nicknamed the Ice Cream Capital of the World, Le Mars provides customized group tours that will capture the hearts of ice cream lovers. The town’s claim to its name is thanks to Wells Enterprises; the largest family-owned and managed ice cream manufacturer in the country. Famous for its Blue Bunny brand, the remodeled Wells Visitor Center and Ice Cream Parlor offers tasty treats complete with a rooftop seating area and a tour.
Ice cream and art will combine while your group tours Le Mars on foot or by bus. Dotted throughout the city are several 5-foot tall fiberglass ice cream cone sculptures. Also, while your guide points out these artistic honors to the sweet treat, they will be happy to detail the alley art and historic murals which depict the history of Le Mars. These murals were painted by 38 local artists and are located on the back of 40 buildings.
For history buffs, the Tonsfeldt Round Barn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located on the Plymouth County Fairgrounds for preservation purposes, the barn features a unique Gothic-arch dome and is currently used for exhibits. Southwest of the barn, the history tour continues with a visit to Plymouth County Museum. The building features five floors of displays with a tour to visually guide groups to imagine the students who had once walked the halls long ago.
Groups will also be able to enjoy an evening show at Browns Century Theater. Originally a 100-year-old bank, the building was repurposed by The Browns singing tour group almost two decades ago. In addition to a performance, an up-close and personal tour is available to learn more about The Browns and their journey to Le Mars. lemarsiowa.com/378/Convention-Visitors-Bureau
Located in southern Minnesota, just north of the border with Iowa, is the town of Austin—also known as SPAM Town USA. Home to food company giant Hormel, groups will be able to visit an interactive museum dedicated to the famous precooked pork in a can. Allen Kinney, president and CEO of Great Day! Tours and Charter Bus Service said, “After the visit to the museum, having a Spam buffet, and hearing some quirky stories during our narrated Austin tour, this seems to be one of the more memorable visits (for mystery tour groups) that was not listed in the original itinerary.”
Austin is also home to the Hormel Institute, which is a biomedical research center. As a division of the University of Minnesota, the center mainly focuses on cancer research through food agents and cell functions. Tours of the museum not only provide a 3D simulation of molecules but also a sampling of some cancer preventive foods. In addition, for those looking for an outdoors nature experience, the dedicated Jay C. Hormel Nature Center provides scenic walking trails through hardwood and pine forests and restored prairies. austinmn.com/
By Christopher Silbernagel