Trust me on this, Decorah is a place you don’t want to miss…here’s why!
Jump on Highway 52 South in Rochester and you will literally run straight in to Decorah, Iowa. The beautiful limestone bluffs are sure to excite everyone as you descend down the big hill into the west side of the small town. I urge you to check out this magical place for yourself. Of course, my husband and I are a bit biased, as we did graduate from Luther College [ahem, a few years ago]! Go Norse!
In all seriousness, what I want you to really see for yourselves are the numerous parks, scenic overlooks, waterfalls (yes, waterfalls are really possible in Iowa), restaurants, unique boutiques and small town charm that is packed into this sweet little city of 8,100 residents. The Upper Iowa River runs through town and provides stunning views from Phelps Park, which was founded in 1911 and is Decorah’s oldest park.
Dunning Springs Park, where you can explore either side of the 200-foot waterfall to see where the natural spring starts! The water runs year round is always right around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Walking up from the parking lot you’ll instantly notice the fresh cool air coming from the springs. I wonder who, in your team of explorers, will notice that their ankles experience the rush of that cool air first!?
A few other park favorites of ours are Palisades, Twin Springs, Will Baker, and Malanaphy Springs State Preserve. I’ve been told the best way to see the Malanphy Springs is by floating down the Upper Iowa River from Bluffton to Decorah.
One of our son’s favorite places to check out is the Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish Hatchery! Stick your head over the cement raceways to check out nearly 130,000 trout raised every year. As you wander the hatchery, you’ll quickly see how much those trout grow.
Don’t forget to look up when visiting the Fish Hatchery, the Decorah Bald Eagles often nest just across the road. It’s fun to catch a glimpse of those majestical birds in action. You may even see one come down to grab a trout for its nest! During late winter/early spring, you can often watch the Bald Eagles’ nest live from the comfort of your own home. It’s an exciting opportunity to see how these birds interact and care for their young.
Decorah has an outstanding trail system; most notably Trout Run Trail travels through the historic city and the surrounding area. While on the trail, you’ll pass dikes, abandoned rail beds, and private farmlands. Decorah has many other hiking options, and if you were at Phelps Park, you may have stumbled onto the breathtaking trail!
Home to Luther College and an annual Nordic Fest, Scandinavian history abounds in this little town. A trip to the Vesterheim, the national Norwegian-American museum, not only provides history about the Norwegian settlers to this region but also allows families to explore their own immigration story.
Water Street is Decorah’s downtown main street with locally-owned shops and restaurants. A few of our favorite places to stop include: Agora Arts, Arthaus, Dragonfly Books, Rendered Unique, and Letterwerks.
Story People is home to the creation of Brian Andreas’ whimsical words and sketches. Stop in and see the work in progress.
Food & Drink
Mabe’s Pizza is a downtown fixture, serving up classic pizza and Italian fare in a family-friendly setting. Our personal favorite is the “Regular”, be sure to check it out!
Impact Coffee, a local coffee shop, roasts their beans right in Decorah! It’s a unique coffee bar and roastery, serving up unique roasts and tea options (with online ordering).
Whippy Dip is the local soft-serve ice cream shop. They typically close after Luther College homecoming and re-open in the spring!
Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. & Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. have taken the craft beer scene to a new level for this little town. Both breweries are dog friendly, so be sure to bring your furry child along for the day of exploring!
A few additional favorite places to eat include: T-Bock’s, The Landing Market, Ede’s Angry Pickle, and La Rana. For a full list of Decorah restaurants, check this out.
Outside of Town
Just north of Decorah is Seed Savers, whose mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.”
There is a visitor center, gift shop (full of amazing seeds and stories), an apple orchard, gardens, a barn, and fun events. Seed Savers should not be missed. Wildflowers and birds abound. The trails for hiking alone are worth the stop. Miles of trails, many short, not-so-strenuous paths are great options for families with younger kids.