My husband’s family has a long history in Decorah. HIs grandfather, Charles Altfillisch, was a brilliant architect who designed many buildings, houses and even the dike which is credited with saving an area of the town from the floods. To prove that his design would be effective, he built his dream home in the area that was formerly prone to flooding. Fifty years later, the house still stands (flood-free) and remains in the family. When we get an opportunity, we just love going to visit. We get to step away from the hustle and bustle of our area and daily lives to Decorah, where the locals are friendly and there are so many things to keep us busy and active while we are there!
Can’t Miss Activities for Kids
This is the top of the list of can’t miss activities for a reason. Dunning’s Springs is a hidden beauty that you would expect to find in the midst of the mountains. But, no, we are lucky enough to have this waterfall right here in the midwest! Not only is it gorgeous, it isn’t deep. My kids frolicked in the stream below and my lab scaled the wall and had the time of his life. This place is top-notch for kids and dogs alike. There are a couple of hiking trails here if you are feeling adventurous. There is a parking lot and a place to picnic but no restrooms are available. * You can also visit the ice cave while you are here. It is just down the road.
We had so much fun visiting the Decorah Fish Hatchery. It’s the most free fun I think anyone could have! We were able to see thousands of trout ranging in age from baby to full-grown. We fed the fish with food that you can get out of a machine for 25 cents. You may have heard of the hatchery because they broadcasted the eagle’s nest a few years back and you could see the eagles in a way that wasn’t possible before. We searched and searched for eagles with no luck. I hope you visit and can view these majestic birds! Another perk is that there are new restrooms available for public use!
Yum! After all of this activity, what better way to refuel than to have some ice cream. We ate at both (!) while we were in town. They were both delicious. While the Whippy Dip is a delicious cornerstone of the town, the Sugar Bowl really has outstanding ice cream. My advice, try them both and decide which you love best!
We walked along the dike with kids and dog in tow. This is a beautiful, easy hike bursting with wildflowers and butterflies to boot. We all got our exercise and really enjoyed meandering along the dike and watching for butterflies.
We weren’t able to squeeze in Twin Springs on this trip since it was such a short weekend but we sure wish we had! Twin Springs is a beautiful park that offers an easy hike through the woods. There are picnic tables, a children’s fishing pond, grills, a stocked trout stream, and trails for hiking or biking. It is a great place to take your family!
We had packed so much into our first day in town that we decided to drive through Palisades Park to give the kids a moment to relax and maybe even take a nap while we took in the scenery. It is a beautiful drive on a one-way loop through the park. There are areas to pull over and picnic or to simply drink in the scenery on one of the overlooks that allow you to see the city. There are, of course, many miles of hiking and biking trails. We just drove through and looked for wildlife. It was stunning. And, no, the kids never fell asleep.
Other Places of Worthy Mention:
I love the Co-Op. They specialize in local, organic and sustainable foods. Think small town Whole Foods, but not as expensive.
Cute farmer’s market steps from the shopping area and the Co-Op. Good cheese, fruits and veggies, wine, baked goods and, of course, lefse.
Open from early May through October
- Wednesdays from 3:00 PM-6:00 PM
- Saturdays 8:00 AM -11:30 PM
While we were visiting, we noticed that Pulpit Rock Brewing Company was new to town and we were particularly intrigued when we saw hundreds of people in line outside. Apparently, it was their anniversary and they released a special brew that was only available that weekend. People came from all. over. the. place. to get some of this nectar of the gods. They don’t serve food here, so I was quickly disinterested, but if beer is your thing you should most definitely check them out.
We also didn’t visit Toppling Goliath but heard great things about their brews, too. If you visit, let me know how you like it.
Phelps Park is a great place to burn off some energy, especially if you had to drive a bit to get to Decorah! We played for a long time and they loved it! There are three playground areas, eight picnic shelters with electric, picnic tables and grills, hiking trails, sand volleyball court, drinking fountains and several scenic overlooks. We wished we had brought a picnic because the kids could have played all day long.
The Vesterhiem is the National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center. It is a centerpiece of Decorah, as it is situated right in the downtown area. Decorah has become a center for Norwegian-American culture due to the large number of Norwegian settlements beginning in the 1850s. My father-in-law’s family is Norwegian so this museum is very special to our family. We were able to see the most extensive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts in the world. Some of the buildings are included on the National Register of Historic Places.
I did not, however, include this on the must see list for children because many of the exhibits are hands-off and there are many fragile items on display. We rushed our kids through and bribed them with ice cream afterwards. I will say, their gift shop has some great Norwegian items for home. You can even get the famed troll here to display in your window.
At Pulpit Rock, or Will Baker Park, you will find a gorgeous lookout over the river valley. We didn’t visit Pulpit Rock on this trip because there are some steep cliffs and I was concerned because of the ages of my children that it wouldn’t be safe. For older children, I would definitely visit. There is a playground, a picnic shelter and hiking trails.
I, personally, love the shops in Decorah. My kids? Not so much. So, we sent the kids off to explore the community prairie with their dad and papa. You can find clothing boutiques and gift shops lining Water street. My favorite stores include:
- The Decorah Chick Hatchery for outdoor gear and super cute “Quality Chick” t-shirts
- Seedling for upscale boutique children’s clothes sized newborn-12. These clothes are to die for! We picked up my daughter’s second birthday outfit here. Eeeek! I can’t wait to see her in it!
- Sparrow’s Candles & Gifts for the best candles ever. Grab a few Milkhouse Candles here-they make awesome gifts!
There are quite a few places to eat around town. Here are a few places that we tried.
Great for breakfast. You have to try a cinnamon roll appetizer. They sell loaves of bread to go.
Old Armory BBQ is a hot spot on Water Street. It is a casual dining experience with counter service, which is a little tricky with a stroller and little ones. It’s a bit tough to juggle the plates and clear off the tables while you have two young children running around. I enjoyed my pulled chicken sandwich but there weren’t many kid-friendly items on the menu. I ordered two sides of macaroni and cheese and potato wedges for the littles. They enjoyed the Mac and cheese but the potato wedges were coated in Cajun seasoning-not exactly kid friendly.
Super yummy restaurant in the Hotel Winneshiek. They were very friendly here and when the kids got restless, we walked them through the hotel to see the Opera House that is connected. My little one enjoyed running back and forth on the dance floor while waiting for our breakfast. We had the sticky buns as an appetizer (do you notice a trend here?). They were soooo freaking good-warm and gooey straight from the oven.
We ordered in from Happy Joe’s which was great after a long day of travel. Yummy pizza with lots of variety.
Your typical sports bar and grill. Great place to grab a burger and have a laid-back meal with your kids. The place is loud so if your toddler has a meltdown, no one will notice which is always a plus in my book!
All in all, it was a fabulous trip with so much to do. We can’t wait to get back again! What are your favorite Iowa activities?