Looking to spend a fun weekend in Iowa? Here are some ideas for the best weekend getaways in Iowa with friends or family.
A nice quiet dinner or a fun night out is always a great end to a busy week. However, sometimes, that is not enough to satiate our needs for adventure and get us ready for another bustling month ahead.
The good news is, you don’t always have to wait for the holidays to take a short vacation. There are plenty of mesmerizing destinations across the country where you can pack your bags for a weekend getaway.
Some of the best attractions lie in the modest midwest state of Iowa. To help you plan your itinerary, here are my ideas for the ideal weekend getaways in Iowa for families!
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Best Weekend Getaways in Iowa
Weekends aren’t enough to explore a region entirely. Even if you plan your excursion targeting a small town or county in Iowa, you might find that you’ll need to stay for a week at least!
That’s why the best way to plan Iowa weekend vacations is to figure out what you want to do with your family in the first place. If you’re going to spend the weekend shopping and exploring national buildings, including the Old Capitol Building, you should visit Iowa City.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a combination of natural and cultural activities, Des Moines is the place to go.
In contrast, if you’re looking for a relaxing weekend in Iowa for couples, go for Cedar Falls, Decorah, or Okoboji Lake. These places are full of local wineries, luxury spas, golf courses, and breathtaking lakeside views to share unforgettable moments with your loved ones.
If family weekends with kids are your calling, the state of Iowa is full of enthralling state parks, including the Clear Lake State Park, for you to explore.
Go hiking at the Lost Island Park or Cedar Valley trails, or explore the Crystal Lake Cave. Famous educational escapades for children include the National Mississippi River Museum, the Burlington Fire Department Museum, and the Dickinson County Nature Center.
Creating a streamlined itinerary according to your preferences can be a tough job, with many options to choose from.
So instead, refer to my list below with details about suggested weekend trips to plan the best vacation. Let’s get started.
1. National Mississippi River Museum
Visiting the Dubuque landmark site, the National Mississippi River Museum, is one of the best things to do in Iowa on the weekend. Attracting more than 250,000 visitors annually, the park lies in central Dubuque, Iowa.
Along with depicting the cultural and historical aspects of America’s rivers, the museum also has lots of fun and educational activities for all ages. You can book tickets according to the exhibitions and activities you want to explore before leaving your hometown.
Remember, the museum tends to get quite crowded in the peaks season, so make sure you pull your kids out of bed and reach the destination at an early hour.
The indoor aquarium is one of the best attractions in the museum if you’ve got kids. Here, you can spot fish species like giant catfish, sturgeon, river otters, octopuses, and other water animals with your kids and take photos.
The museum is easily accessible by public or personal transport from anywhere in the city. You’ll need to pay a $15 fee per adult to enter the location, with additional charges for guided tours.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hotel Julien Dubuque
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Holiday Inn Dubuque/Galena
- Best Budget Hotel: TownePlace Suites by Marriott Dubuque Dontown
On the other hand, if you’re looking for weekend getaways in Iowa for couples, Dubuque has plenty of destinations for you as well. The Hotel Julien Dubuque is one of the region’s most luxurious and rustic buildings.
With an elegant outlook and rich historical heritage, the place is an ideal haven to spend a relaxing weekend with your better half. In addition, it has a variety of suites to choose from, so you don’t have to worry if you’re traveling on a budget.
Moreover, Caroline’s Restaurant in the vicinity offers delicious American cuisine if you’re looking for comfort food to keep you cozy throughout the weekend. Also, there’s a riverwalk and a shopping plaza to complete your weekend trip.
Besides that, there are many other popular sites to explore in Dubuque. If you’re a nature lover, the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are some of the best escapades for you.
You can give a fun learning experience to your family while enjoying the lush green scenery. The best part is, there’s no entrance fee required, so it is an ideal getaway for families looking for cheap trips.
Similarly, the Fenelon Place Elevator is a great place to ensure your kids have fun while getting an educational experience.
It is a registered historical site in the state known as the narrowest and steepest railroad in the world! You can book a guided tour across the monument to make your trip count.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hilton Graden Inn Dubuque Downtown
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Redstone Inn And Suites
- Best Budget Hotel: The Richards House Bed & Breakfast
3. Iowa City
If you’re looking for romantic weekend things to do in Iowa, then you should stay at the Graduate City Hotel in Iowa City. Located in the beautiful vicinity of the University of Iowa, the hotel is the ideal weekend getaway for nature lovers.
With the luxurious amenities and attractions, you’ll have fantastic accessibility to the entire city by staying at this hotel.
If you don’t mind getting away from the hotel for a bit, there are many romantic activities across the city which you can plan for your better half. Visit Coralville Lake to enjoy the breathtaking lakeside view for a picnic and enjoy the mesmerizing sunset with your spouse.
To enjoy some rustic liquor, you can head over to the Driftless Glen Distillery and try out its famous rye whiskey and bourbon. Besides that, you can sample other spirits and take an interactive tour of the vicinity.
Moreover, you can walk along the city’s red-brick downtown streets and catch local music and street food.
The best part is, the city is teeming with festivities and events any time you visit during the year, so you can plan your weekend trip whenever you like. There are many things to do in Iowa City and terrific tours to book at Viator!
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Iowa City Downtown University
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Iowa House Hotel
- Best Budget Hotel: SuperStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Coraville Iowa City
4. Cedar Rapids
If you’re looking for outdoor adventure rich with breathtaking natural beauty, then Cedar Rapids is the ideal getaway for you. Located in eastern Iowa, the versatile nature of Cedar Rapids attractions brings in hundreds of tourists every year.
Visit the Cedar Rapids Museum to teach your kids about the traditional and cultural heritage of the area. If you’re an art buff, you can find original works by many renowned artists on display. Notably, many art pieces created by the Iowan native painter Grant Wood are presented at the location.
Moreover, the admission fee is only $8 with free entry for kids, so you can spend a fun day without burning a large hole in your pocket.
Besides that, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is another excellent place to educate your kids while conducting fun activities.
The Indian Creek Nature Center is ideal for taking walks, riding bikes, and bird watching. At Bever Park, you can indulge in activities like swimming in their massive pool and skating in their ice rink.
Additionally, the Belmont Hill hotel is a beautiful vintage getaway to spend the weekend. Initially, the station used to be a National Register home in 1882 but was later renovated into a bed & breakfast with a Victorian touch.
This means you can spend a relaxing weekend among Victorian aesthetics while enjoying luxurious services. Besides that, the hotel is surrounded by perennial gardens where you can take romantic walks with your loved ones and even take memorable photos.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Residence Inn by Marriott Cedar Rapids South
- Best Budget Hotel: Hampton Inn Cedar Rapids
5. Des Moines
The destination claims to give couples the taste of Spain in Iowa. Besides that, its luxurious gardens and comfy rooms will provide you with the feeling of staying in Europe.
The Victoria’s Vineyard Bed and Breakfast is one of the most sought-after destinations in central Iowa. Believe it or not, people from across the country use the vineyard as the ideal wedding destination.
Apart from the historic hotel, Des Moines has several tourist destinations if you wish to take outdoor excursions with your kids.
You can visit the Des Moines Civic Center for some traditional entertainment. One of the largest theatres in Iowa, this destination offers to perform art displays such as ballets, broadway shows, and other events.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Des Lux Hotel
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hampton Inn Des Moines-Airport
- Best Budget Hotel: Baymont by Wyndham Des Moines Airport
See Related: Best Tropical Vacation Spots in the World
Burlington is a picturesque small town in Iowa, ideal for couple or family weekend getaways. Although a modest station in the Des Moines County, the city attracts thousands of visitors every year.
One of the best destinations in Burlington for couples and families is Starr’s Cave Nature Center. It is a 184-acre nature reserve and park preserved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The park is an ideal getaway for families with active kids jumping out of their seats. Here, you can take up activities like hiking, biking, rock climbing, and exploring the caves. Besides that, you can even set camp at the campground in the vicinity and spend the night under the stars.
The best part is, the park is secure and well-guarded, so you can let your children roam free without any concern.
If the idea of spending the day at a historic hotel appeals to you and your family, then the Garrett Phelps House Museum is a great site to visit. It is an exquisite 19th Century residence converted into a museum.
The house is famous for its well-preserved architecture and interior structures from the Victorian Era. Besides that, the museum also has various exhibitions, including medical exhibitions for visitors.
Moreover, there is no admission fee for families visiting the museum so that you can drop by for a budget-friendly excursion.
In addition, if you book a Stay&Play package, you can enjoy plenty of activities in the hotel vicinity. These include playing golf at the Lake Cooper Golf Club and having a delicious Midwestern dinner at the club restaurant.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Evans Holly Grove Inn Bed and Breakfast
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Comfort Suites Burlington
- Best Budget Hotel: AmericInn by Wyndham West Burlington
7. Cedar Falls
Cedar Falls is another beautiful location in Iowa to visit over the weekend. The breathtaking natural attributes and fun activities are ideal for those who want to spend some days away from the city’s hustle.
Whether you’re a parent looking for something fun to do with your kids or someone looking for a romantic getaway, the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls is a great option.
The park spans over 308 acres and boasts a vast area of lush greenery, trees, and shrubs. Here, you can find unique plants and trees and even learn about them through a guided tour.
You take a relaxing walk or go hiking on one of its several trails. Moreover, the park offers interactive activities to teach newbies about nature preservation. So, if you want a learning experience for your kids, this is the ultimate destination.
Additionally, The Blackhawk Hotel in Cedar Falls is a great place to visit Cedar Falls.
One of the oldest hotels in the state, it offers modern amenities with great activities you can enjoy with the whole family.
If you’re traveling with kids, make sure you book the rooms overlooking Main Street from the pre-Civil War era. This way, you can educate them about the region’s historical significance while enjoying a relaxing view from your window.
Another popular attraction in downtown Cedar Falls is the Performing Arts Center.
Here, you can enjoy exhibitions and theatre performances with your kids. Make sure to check for pre-bookings for these attractions before leaving your hometown so that you don’t face any inconvenience during your stay.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Cedar Falls Conference Center
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Comfrot Suites Cedar Falls
- Best Budget Hotel: AmericInn by Wyndham Cedar Falls
Honestly, I have not met kids who enjoy themselves at water parks. But, if that’s the case with your family, then Waterloo is one of the best fun weekend trips in Iowa for you.
The Lost Island Water Park in Waterloo is the largest in the state! It is a tropical escapade with many slides, water sports, and other activities to enjoy. Some of the main attractions for kids include the Emerald Adventure, Jade Rapids, and the Blue Iguana Lagoon.
However, that doesn’t mean there are no fun activities available for adults. While your kids enjoy the water sports, you can head over to the mini-golf course or indulge in the thrilling slides designed for adults. These include the Molokini Crater and the Lost Soul Falls slide.
Besides water sports, your kids can have fun in the go-kart area, recline in the pool hall, or have heated gaming sessions at the arcade.
The best part is, the park is surrounded by scenic natural beauty where you can take walks or even plan a picnic with your kids.
Moreover, there are plenty of other kid-friendly attractions in Waterloo. For example, you can stop by the riverside amphitheater to watch live performances and concerts.
Besides that, the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum is also an educational and recreational experience designed for kids.
If you’re up for a day of hiking, picnicking, and camping, the Cedar Valley Arboretum in Waterloo is a must-visit with your family or spouse. The park only charges a nominal entrance fee for adults with free entry for kids, making it an affordable getaway.
Find great RVs and camping supplies for your trip at Camping World.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Isle Casino Hotel- Waterloo
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Waterloo Cedar Falls
- Best Budget Hotel: Comfort Inn & Suites Waterloo – Cedar Falls
9. Lake Okoboji
Who knew you didn’t necessarily have to travel to Miami or Maui for a beach vacation? Even though Iowa does not have a beach, the Great Lake Okoboji provides families with the ultimate Iowa weekend getaways.
The Fillenwath Beach Resort located in Northern Iowa is ideal whether you want to spend a romantic getaway or a fun vacation with your family. Built alongside the mighty West Lake Okoboji, the resort offers beautiful lakeside rooms with a relaxing interior and comfortable amenities for the whole family.
The best part is, you can book an entire luxurious lakeside suite complete with top-notch mod-cons at the resort!
These suites give you your private deck, along with a grill, lakeside patio, and a private walkway. You can plan a barbeque with your family and enjoy the serene lakeside views while your kids play in the water.
Another aspect that will convince you to plan a family vacation at this beach resort is its complimentary cruises. These cruises offer a fun excursion of the lake with light snacks and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. So you can munch on your favorite snacks while enjoying the serene views of the lake.
During your stay, you can enjoy excellent watersports on Lake Okoboji. These include swimming, fishing, and boating. Wintertime sports include ice-fishing, ice-skating, and cross-country skiing.
You can also explore other destinations at the resort, such as Arnold’s Park Amusement Park, to enjoy thrilling rides with your kids. Or, head over to the Dickinson County Nature Center to spend a fun day hiking and camping with the whole family.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: Super 8 by Wyndham Spirit Lake/Okoboji
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: The Oakwood Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: Okoboji Inn & Suites
Bentonsport is a small riverside village in Iowa. The picturesque town makes the perfect background for making family memories and sharing romantic evenings with your loved one.
Travel back in time with your spouse by staying at the luxurious Mason House Inn in Bentonsport. This 170-year old mansion is one of the most romantic places to stay in Iowa. With its antique furniture and relaxing interior combined with delicious cuisine and luxury amenities, the location is the ideal weekend getaway for couples.
You can even book the delightfully named Caboose Cottage in the Inn’s vicinity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This cottage is an actual railroad caboose from 1952, converted into a private suite for tourists!
Decorated in a themed style, including carved bedframes, quilted bedding, and handcrafted showpieces. Enjoy the themed country breakfast served every morning before heading to the multiple tourist attractions nearby.
Where to stay?
- Best Luxury Hotel: AmericInn by Wyndham Fairfield
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Super 8 by Wyndham Fairfield
- Best Budget Hotel: Quality Inn & Suites
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