Family Fun in Decorah, Iowa

Nestled among the coulees and deep river valleys of Northeast Iowa, Decorah is idyllic. Home to Luther College the local population is heavy on Norwegians, wooden trolls, and a progressive way of thinking.

A community that supports local artists and farmers, downtown Decorah is lined with enough coffee shops, restaurants, and gift shops to plan a weekend long girlfriends getaway. We’ve been visiting Decorah for years now, as it’s the closest “big city” to the sleepy farm community my husband calls home.

Phelps Park Trailhead

Phelps Park Trailhead

Upper Iowa River and Decorah Swimming Pool

In the summer, tube down the Upper Iowa River and then catch an indie band at one of the local eateries. If you aren’t comfortable taking your kids down a river, consider the Decorah Swimming Pool with its zero-depth entry and water slide (make sure you call before you go, as the pool may be closed during swimming lessons).

Whippi Dip

Whippi Dip

Phelps Park and Whippi Dip

Other “must do” activities in the summer months are driving up to Phelps Park playground and network of hiking trails (not especially stroller or toddler friendly, but fun for elementary age kids and older). Phelps Park is an ideal picnic spot, but close enough to the Whippi Dip ice cream shop you might have a hard time making a decision. Whippi Dip is extremely popular with visitors and locals and is totally the worth the wait (we like soft serve dipped in butterscotch).

Dunning Springs Falls

Dunning Springs Falls

Dunning Springs Park and Ice Cave Hill Park

Decorah has a beautiful waterfall at Dunning Springs Park. Parking is relatively close to the base of the falls and a network of stairs leads you to the mouth of a cave at the top of the falls (alternately, you can scramble up the rocks on the other side of the trail). While you are in the area, make sure and drive along Ice Cave Road and find the pull-off for the natural spring located within Ice Cave Hill Park.

Decorah Ealges

Decorah Ealges

Perhaps the most famous Decorah residents are the eagles nesting near the Decorah Fish Hatchery (read more in this story). Our kids love feeding the trout (bring extra quarters to purchase food pellets from the vending machines) and exploring the small park and waterfall behind the hatchery building. The Trout Run Trail paved pedestrian/bike path now runs this direction and you could easily ride or hike in from downtown. In general, bicyclists will enjoy miles of designated paved trails, single track, and bike shops to get you outfitted and on your way.


Pinters Gardens & Pumpkins

Luther College and Pinter’s Gardens & Pumpkins

Luther College offers public viewing sessions through the astronomy department on the third Friday of every month (more info here).  We’ve also enjoyed fall-themed fun at Pinter’s Gardens & Pumpkins on the edge of town. During the holiday season, make sure to visit the Decorah City Campground after dark for a lovely light show.

Fish Hatchery

Decorah Fish Hatchery

Outside of town, a few adventures worth exploring are Lake Meyer County Park in nearby Calmar and Spook Cave and Campground near Beulah (read more in this story). Happy trails!

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine,, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at

2 Comments on "Family Fun in Decorah, Iowa"

  1. Are the Story People still there? That’s my favorite thing about Decorah.

  2. Yes! They have a store just off the main drag. 🙂

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