As autumn begins to creep across Iowa, there’s finally a crispness to the air and the leaves have started to transform into more vibrant hues. While tailgating and pumpkin carving may be classic fall activities, there’s lots more to do around Iowa on one of the year’s final sunny Saturdays.
So hop in your car (don’t forget to pack snacks), grab your camera and set course for one of these four Iowa attractions perfect for a visit this fall.
Bridges of Madison County
The famous covered bridges of Madison County are gorgeous any time of year, but they’re particularly breathtaking in the fall against the backdrop of red and gold fallen leaves. Better yet, plan your trip around Madison County’s Covered Bridge Festival, held Oct. 11-12, for live music, food, a parade and more.
Stop in Winterset City Park to see the Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge, easily one of the most accessible bridges, moved to the park in 1970. While you’re there, hike up to Clark Tower for a great view of the Middle River Valley from the three-story limestone structure. The most famous of the bridges, the Roseman Covered Bridge, is the focal point of Robert James Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County” and has seen visitors from all over the world. Stop in to the bridge’s gift shop for a story from the curator or a bridge-themed gift.
The details: For a complete list of the bridges and their respective locations, visit the Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s website.
Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market
Running from the first weekend in May to the last in October, Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market is the place to be on Saturday mornings. While the Market is a great stop for locals and out-of-town visitors alike regardless of the season, autumn brings a new crop (literally) of treats to enjoy. From a vast array of decorative pumpkins and gourds to honeycrisp apples and sweet ciders from around the state, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during a crisp morning walk around the Market.
The details: The Downtown Des Moines Farmers' Market runs from May to October from 7 a.m. until noon on Court Avenue. In October, the Market opens at 8 a.m. and closes at noon.
Villisca Ax Murder House
In the spirit of Halloween and all things spooky, plan a daytrip to Iowa’s most infamous haunted house. The Villisca Ax Murder House, located in Villisca, Iowa about 110 miles southwest of Des Moines, was once home to the Moore family. On June 10, 1912, all six members of the family, along with two young neighbors who were spending the night, were murdered in their sleep by a killer who was never found.
The details: The home is located at 508 E. 2nd Street in Villisca, Iowa. The house is open April 1 to Oct. 31 from 1 to 4 p.m. and is closed on Mondays. Tours cost $10 for adults and includes a telling of the home’s gruesome history with time to explore on your own. Want to take your experience to the next level? Stay overnight in the Ax Murder House with up to six friends for $428 per night.
Cordova Park Observation Tower
Pack a picnic and head toward Lake Red Rock for the perfect fall afternoon outdoors. Go the extra step and climb the Cordova Park Observation Tower, an observation deck constructed around a now defunct water tour and located on the north side of the lake. Take a climb to the top for a fabulous view of the Des Moines River Valley and Lake Red Rock. At 170 steps, this is the tallest observation tower in the Midwest.
The details: Set your navigation to 1378 Hwy. G28 in Otley, Iowa. Be sure to come carrying quarters though. It’ll cost you 50 cents per person to get through the Tower’s mechanized turnstile.