Things To Do In Western Iowa Along I-80

Things To Do In Western Iowa Along I-80

Read on to see the top things to do in Western Iowa along I-80. You’ll find historic homes, a Danish windmill, and even patriotic boulders!

 

Things To Do In Western Iowa

We were continuing on our Midwest road trip, having just left Lincoln, Nebraska. Our road trip through Iowa was about to begin! We were pretty excited to experience some of the scenic drives in Iowa and to stop at some of the attractions along I-80. We would slowly be making our way east over the next few days…

 

Things To Do In Council Bluffs, Iowa

Council Bluffs is the first city in Iowa that you’ll drive into along 1-80. We recommend that your first stop be the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. It’s 3,000 feet long and the first walking bridge to connect two states. It’s also one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the country.

 

We thought the S-shape design of the bridge was really unique and we also loved that you could stand over a center line and have one foot in Nebraska and one foot in Iowa. It’s no wonder Travel+Leisure Magazine named it one of the World’s Most Spectacular Pedestrian Bridges!

 

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is one of the top things to do in Council Bluffs, Iowa and best Things To Do In Western Iowa

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

The bridge has twin 203 ft pylons as anchors and 80 steel cables supporting its deck.

The bridge has twin 203 ft pylons as anchors and 80 steel cables supporting its deck.

One foot in Nebraska and one foot in Iowa on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

We love doing this!

View of the Missouri River from the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

View of the Missouri River from the bridge

 

Next, we recommend visiting the Historic General Dodge House. This beautiful Victorian home was built in 1869 by Grenville M. Dodge and his wife Ruth. Dodge was a respected Civil War veteran, attaining the rank of Major General. But he was also a politician, banker, and railroad builder. He was considered one of the most influential men of his time and ended up one of the wealthiest men in Iowa.

 

When the Dodge house was built, it was considered very extravagant for the time and had rare amenities like central heating and hot and cold running water. The three story building was built on a hill looking over the Missouri valley. It is currently the only registered National Historic Landmark in Council Bluffs.

 

Historic General Dodge House is one of the top Iowa attractions and best Things To Do In Western Iowa

Historic General Dodge House

We loved the beautiful staircase inside the Historic General Dodge House

We loved the beautiful staircase

Unique things to do in Iowa include visiting the historic General Dodge house in Council Bluffs

Lavish dining room

 

We think another one of the top things to do in Council Bluffs is to head over to the Lewis and Clark Monument Scenic Overlook. The monument honors the expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1804 and their historic meeting with the Otoe and Missouria Indians. There are placards that detail the events of the strategic meeting and visitors will also be graced with expansive westward views.

 

Lewis and Clark Monument Scenic Overlook

Lewis and Clark Monument Scenic Overlook

Lewis and Clark meeting the Otoe and Missouri Indians

Lewis and Clark meeting the Otoe and Missouri Indians

View from the Lewis and Clark Monument

View from the Lewis and Clark Monument

 

Some other Council Bluffs attractions include the Hitchcock Nature Center, Historic Squirrel Cage Jail, and Union Pacific Railroad Museum. Although we didn’t have time to visit them, they came highly recommended.

 

If you’re looking for where to eat, we think one of the best restaurants in Council Bluffs is 712. It’s named after the local area code and offers contemporary American cuisine. They locally source as many products as they can and have 23 craft beers on tap.

 

During our visit, we had the Grilled Cheese on sour dough bread with beer braised pork belly, hot capicola, havarti cheese, yellow cheddar, house cheese sauce, kimchi mayo, and arugula. We were blown away by the amazing flavors!! This is definitely one of the top 3 grilled cheeses we’ve had in our lifetime.

 

712 is one of the best restaurants in Council Bluffs, Iowa

712 is one of the best restaurants in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Amazing Grilled Cheese at 712 in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Amazing Grilled Cheese at 712

 

As for where to stay, we recommend the Ameristar in Council Bluffs. Whether you’re planning on doing some gambling or not, the hotel is in a good location and had clean and comfortable rooms. The hotel also has nice amenities and multiple eateries.

 

The Ameristar in Council Bluffs

The Ameristar in Council Bluffs

Our room at the Ameristar in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Our room at the Ameristar

Inside the Ameristar in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Inside the Ameristar in Council Bluffs

 

Things To Do In Elk Horn, Iowa

As we continued on our Iowa road trip, we headed east to Elk Horn. There is a rich Danish history in Iowa, so we wanted to visit the Danish Windmill. It is the only authentic and working Danish windmill in America. It was originally built in 1848 in Norre Snede, Denmark but like many other windmills, had deteriorated over time.

 

Then in the mid 1970s, Harvey Sornson thought it’d be a good idea to bring over a windmill and place it in Elk Horn because it has one of the largest concentrations of Danes in the US. So with the support of the local towns people, he was able to raise enough money to purchase a windmill in Denmark, have it disassembled, shipped, and reassembled in Elk Horn.

 

Fun Fact: There’s a Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach that was also taken apart at it’s original location in Spain, shipped, and reassembled in Florida.

 

Visitors can now take a tour around and inside the windmill. There is also a short video included in the tour that goes more in depth about the history of the windmill. Many of the windmills parts have been restored over the years, but they are currently collecting money to replace the 76 foot sails. Unfortunately, that meant that during our visit we didn’t get to see the sails turning.

 

Just outside of the windmill is a bust of Hans Christian Andersen. The popular thing to do is to kiss his nose, so of course we had to do it too. It’s tradition! And a fun photo op lol!

 

Danish Windmill in Iowa

Danish Windmill in Iowa

Inside the Danish windmill in Iowa is a 2,000 pound grindstone

Inside the windmill is a 2,000 pound grindstone

Kissing Hans Christian Andersen's nose at the Danish Windmill in Iowa

Kissing Hans Christian Andersen’s nose

 

While at the windmill, we heard that there was also a Danish museum nearby, so we decided to stop there too. The Museum of Danish America was originally called the Danish Immigrant Museum and its mission is to preserve the history of Danish immigration to America.

 

The museum has over 35,000 artifacts, many of which have been donated after being passed down through generations of Danish families. We also read personal stories of Danes who came to America, looking for a better life. It was quiet interesting.

 

Danish Museum in Iowa

Danish Museum in Iowa

Learning about Danish heritage at the Museum of Danish America

Learning about Danish culture and heritage

Learning about the relationship between Denmark and the US

Learning about the relationship between Denmark and the US

 

Things To Do In Kimballton, Iowa

Just 5 minutes north of Elk Horn is the town of Kimballton. We didn’t know about it until we chatted with one of the women working at the museum. She recommended we drive up to see the Hans Christian Andersen Little Mermaid and Sculpture Garden. It sounded interesting, so off we went.

 

At the garden, we found an exact replica of the famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark. There were also 8 other smaller statues depicting some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other fairy tales.

 

Hans Christian Andersen Little Mermaid and Sculpture Garden in Kimballton, Iowa

Hans Christian Andersen Little Mermaid and Sculpture Garden

Thumbelina statue in Kimballton, Iowa

Thumbelina

Little Mermaid statue in Kimballton, Iowa

Little Mermaid statue

 

Things To Do In Menlo, Iowa

Visiting the original Freedom Rock was an absolute must for us. As we continued east on I-80, we stopped in the town of Menlo. There we found The Freedom Rock, a 12 foot tall boulder that weighs over 50 tons. Every year in May, artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen repaints the boulder to honor veterans on Memorial Day.

 

While there, we learned that Sorensen plans to paint smaller Freedom Rocks and put one in each Iowa county (there are 99) in order to continue to honor veterans and to promote Iowa tourism. Eventually, he’d also like to have a Freedom Rock in each US state. You can read more about Sorensen’s goal by clicking here.

 

The Freedom Rock in Menlo, Iowa

The Freedom Rock in Menlo, Iowa

 

Final Thoughts On I-80 Attractions In Western Iowa

The first couple of days of our Iowa road trip really set the stage for what would be an incredible week. There are so many unique things to do in Iowa! We loved the history of the area and its quirky I-80 attractions. And knowing we were just getting started made it even more exciting. We quickly realized there’s a lot more to Iowa than people think!

 

Stay tuned! We’ll soon have more blog posts about the top attractions in Central Iowa and Eastern Iowa.

 

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Click to see the top things to do in Western Iowa along I-80. You'll find historic homes, a Danish windmill, and even patriotic boulders!

**A big thank you to Travel Iowa for helping us set up this fantastic itinerary. As always, all opinions are our own.**

 

14 Comments
  • The Dodge House looks neat Vicky; I love the building architecture. Also digging the border crossing which is quite cool. I love a good state-state or country-country border too.

  • John Cowgill says:

    I was there years ago. I wish I had more time there because there was much to see other than the windmill and the two railroad museums in Council Bluffs plus the Golden Spike Monument.

    • Buddy says:

      As we stopped in places we learned of 2 or 3 more places that sounded interesting. So we definitely hope to go back and venture further away from I-80.

  • I love the look of the General Dodge House – so quinessentially American. I didn’t realise you had Danish settlers,so that is a fascinating thing to learn about. As for the patriotic boulders – they are just weird!

  • Danik says:

    How cute is that! There is a Little Mermaid statue in the Danish village. A little piece of home. he he. I didnt even now this. Loving the looks of the dodge house.

  • We didn’t know that there’s another replica of the Little Mermaid in Iowa! We say one in Solvang, California and thought it’s the only one (must admit that the original one in Copenhagen is not that spectacular haha…). Anyway, Iowa looks like an interesting destination, although it never crossed our mind to visit it. This post of yours will certainly change our mind now! Thanks for sharing. 😉

  • Hannah says:

    I didn’t realise Iowa had such a high concentration of Danes. I love that there is a Danish windmill there, and that they are restoring it so beautifully. Perhaps once I get to Iowa the sails will be attached and working! I’d love to visit General Dodge House – that staircase is exceptional!

  • Linda says:

    Love to stop in interesting towns on a road trip. Thanks for sharing Western Iowa. The S-shaped bridge in Council Bluffs looks like an interesting catch. How cool to have a foot in each of the two states. Your meal in Council Bluffs sounded delicious. I would have to try something labeled as one of the top grilled cheese sandwiches! Such a cute kiss picture with Hans Christian Anderson! We loved sculpture gardens so might detour to Kimballton. It would bring back memories of Copenhagen!

  • noel says:

    Fantastic tour, I don’t know that much about the area and great to see the unique features and fascinating places and heritage in the area. Thanks for the fun tour!

  • I’ve never been to Iowa before but now I really want to. First reason would be the Grilled Cheese! I kept re-reading the description of sour dough bread with beer braised pork belly, hot capicola, havarti cheese, yellow cheddar, house cheese sauce, kimchi mayo, and arugula….and staring at your delicious picture for a long time 😂 Oh! And of course I’d really love to see the Freedom Rock too!

  • Jim says:

    Not gonna lie, having been through Iowa a couple of times and most of them by accident or just passing through, I never knew about any of these things. It would have been such a thrill to have done some research ahead of time and check out the Lewis and Clark expedition and to see the replica of Little Mermaid as we’ve seen the original

  • What a beautiful pedestrian bridge that is! So many touches of history everywhere and tons of delicious food. Not to mention a cozy and comfortable hotel. The Dodges House is lovely, specially the staircase.

  • Mansoureh says:

    I haven’t been to the US, and I didn’t have clue where Lowa is before reading this post. Apparently, this place has a lot to offer. My favourite part is the Freedom Rock. It is interesting to know that they want to put Freedom Rock in each American state.

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Hi! I'm Vicky, a South Florida-based blogger traveling around the world with my stuffed monkey Buddy. Tired of the 9-5, we recently sold all of our stuff and started traveling full time. Click on the photo to learn more!

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