Decorah, Iowa

A tiny town with fall colors, sophisticated dining and plenty of outdoor activities

If October brings the urge to get out and appreciate the turning of the leaves and the arrival of fall, one of the most off-the-beaten-track destinations, at least for Kansas Citians, can be found in extreme northeast Iowa around the small town of Decorah.

Using Decorah as your weekend base, there are actually quite a few things to occupy your time, as long as you’re up for a little walking or a little bike riding. OK, you can stay in the car too. There’s plenty to take in. Iowa officials say the first week of October is the prime leaf-viewing period in this part of the state.

Where is it?

Decorah is located on Iowa Hwy. 150, approximately 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, about a 90-minute drive northeast from Waterloo, via U.S. 63, Hwy. 24 and Hwy. 150.  395 miles from Kansas City.

Trout Run Trail

Get out among the colorful trees and fields in this 12-mile paved trail that completely encircles the town. Some of the favorite destinations are right on the trail, including the historic Decorah Fish Hatchery on the Upper Iowa River and a well-known family of eagles. Walk a portion or ride its entirety as it crosses the trout stream five times. Much of the trail is flat, with a few hilly stretches.

Drive to the Mississippi

If you’d prefer to view your scenery through the windshield, Decorah is the hub of several scenic byways. Take Hwy. 76 east to the river town of Marquette, located on the Great River Road, which parallels the Father of Waters for its entire length. Then turn back west on U.S. 18 to West Union and take Hwy. 150 north back to Decorah.

While in Decorah

Don’t miss Vesterheim, a surprisingly engaging museum focusing on the region’s Norwegian heritage. 502 Water St.

The annual Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour is Oct. 7-9. The tour is Iowa’s largest and longest-running tour of artist studios with more than 50 participants. Studios are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Where to Stay

Dug Road Inn

An 1860s Italianate villa with elegantly appointed rooms that’s within walking distance of downtown. Known for their organic gourmet breakfast.  Rooms from $150/night. 601 West Main St.

Hotel Winneshiek

An historic 34-room boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Decorah. Beautifully restored. Rooms from $139/night. 104 East Water St.

Where to Dine

Rubaiyat Restaurant

Belying its Persian name, this is one of the best New American-cuisine restaurants found anywhere, with plenty of regional and local sources for the food. 117 W. Water St., 563-382-9463


Start your day with breakfast at Ruby’s, a classic family-run restaurant downtown. Noted for its cinnamon rolls and various Norwegian dishes. 120 E. Water St., 563-382-2558

The Tap Room

Cocktails and appetizers are the name of the game at this lobby bar of the Hotel Winneshiek. 104 E. Water St., 563-382-4164