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Home » Midwest, Our Trips, US

Family Vacation in Dubuque, Iowa

Submitted by on September 17, 2012 – 7:19 pm 3 Comments

Built on the Mississippi River and right up the bluff, Dubuque, Iowa is progressive in addition to beautiful. Renovating the Port of Dubuque as well as the historic downtown, great vision has transformed the city into a tourist destination worth planning a weekend around. With fine dining, museums, shopping, and sports, Dubuque has not forgotten the vacationing family.

A day trip for those of us living in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Rockford, Des Moines, Rochester, and the Quad Cities, here are some suggestions for spending the weekend in this accessible and affordable Midwestern city.

Fenelon Place Elevator

The world’s steepest and shortest scenic railway, the Fenelon Place Elevator has been elevating passengers up and down the Dubuque bluffs for most of the city’s history. Operating on the physics of counterbalanced cars (one goes down while the other goes up), a ride to the top will cost $1.00 for adults and $0.50 for children age five and older. Offering spectacular views of the city and river (particularly at sunset) this is an adrenaline-infused adventure for those of us with lots of life insurance. Note that that stairs are located just down the street in the event you bring enough money for a round-trip fare (sigh).

Dubuque River Rides

In the spirit of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, a trip near the Mississippi River seems incomplete without spending time in Mark Twain’s medium. Offering both sightseeing, dinner, and themed cruises in time intervals ranging from two to six hours, Dubuque River Rides is conveniently located in the Port of Dubuque. Setting out on theĀ SPIRIT of Dubuque, an authentic dual paddle wheeler, our family enjoyed two hours on the river. A nature cruise as much as a history lesson on the city and surrounding area, families with toddlers may want to plan ahead and pack snacks and games or coloring books.

Getting Around: Trolley Rides

One option for getting around downtown in style is by the City of Dubuque Trolley. Running on a 20 minute loop, visitors and residents can navigate the one way streets in style, for FREE. Catching a ride from the Grand Harbor Resort to the Fenelon Place Elevator, the ride was part of our adventure. Clean, safe, and fun, the trolley runs Memorial Day through Labor Day (with a limited schedule through the end of October). Consult the trolley map and plan to let someone else navigate the one-way streets for you.

Where to Stay: Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark

The home of Iowa’s first indoor waterpark, the ten year old Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark is a little bit of the Wisconsin Dells on the Mississippi riverfront. Complete with arcade, kids club, and 25,000 square foot waterpark, guests of the resort will enjoy the views as much as the convenience of the waterfront. A short walk to the National Mississippi Museum and Aquarium, The Riverwalk, shopping, area casinos, and sporting venues, note that the facility and rooms are under swank renovation.

But wait, there’s more!

We loved the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and Field of Dreams movie site enough to recommend them in their own stories. Read more here and here. Geocaching at Murphy Park and/or driving up the bluff to the neighborhoods and restaurants surrounding the University of Dubuque, Loras College, and Clarke University are also worth the detour.


  • Adam Sommer says:

    Looks like a great place to visit….its been on my to-do list for awhile, just haven’t fit it in my plans. After reading your post(s) I think I need to may Dubuque a priority!

  • Adam, thanks for reading the Dubuque story. We live in Madison and really enjoyed visiting the area – not only for the convenience, but for the natural beauty. If you’re looking for more ideas, Decorah (and any of NE Iowa is worth a meander). Take care!

  • Thanks for your comment! Actually, Galena is on our list. We’re going to visit the second week in December and write about the experience. Any tips for our trip?