We crossed over the Iowa-Missouri border recently on our way home from a getaway to escape the heat. The weekend in Waterloo, Iowa, was cool, perfect for riding the area’s 100-plus miles of paved bike trails without sweating your pedal pushers off.
Coming home our van was heaped with Iowa goodies, a 75 percent corn-based bourbon from Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery in Swisher; a six-pack of Juicy IPA from Reunion Brewery, in Iowa City, and half-a-dozen ears of corn, a seedless watermelon and fresh tomatoes from a roadside stand.
More Than Just Corn
There’s little to dislike about Northeast Iowa, typically Midwestern, peopled with friendly folks and a new brewery in Waterloo that’s lights-out amazing. SingleSpeed Brewing was within walking distance of our rental, a new Airbnb condo I found online. It was smartly decorated and a good deal, but was surrounded by construction. No matter — its location was perfect.
We could access the Cedar Valley Nature Trail right from the condo, and we did, biking 6 1/2 miles to Cedar Falls. The pride in community is obvious there, a town of 41,000-plus with white clapboard houses, neatly manicured yards, independent shops and a thriving downtown, near the banks of the Cedar River.
By contrast, Waterloo is bigger in population and more industrial.
“It seems to be a city on its way back, is that right?” I asked one of the staff at Bike Tech, in Cedar Falls. The man said that was correct, and then talked a bit about Cedar Falls and the bike shop. The shop is located in what once was the town’s post office, a handsome yellow-brick building doomed by the city until concerned citizens got behind a movement to save it.
It was awesome to see history preserved, something we also observed in Waterloo at SingleSpeed. The brewery is housed in huge Wonder Bread building that’s been converted into a brewery with a beer garden and beer hall like you see in Germany, with abundant long tables and benches. A number of beers are offered and a delicious array of menu items, from chipotle infused corn humus, to tacos, to salmon, to fried chicken on waffles with maple syrup.
Pretty and Plenty to Do
It’s entirely possible to spend a week in Northeast Iowa and not run out of things to do. This was our third trip to the state, the other two times we stayed in Decorah, Iowa, which is lovely.
A sample itinerary might include several nights in Cedar Falls, which has a number of airbnb rentals, as well as chain hotels and restaurants. Road trips from Cedar Falls could include a visit to the scenic small towns of Iowa Falls, 57 miles to the west, and Elkader, 73 miles northeast.
Then drive north to Decorah for a three-night stay. The college town of nearly 8,000 has a boutique hotel downtown, plenty of airbnb rentals, lovely parks, restaurants, and the Trout Run Trail that runs beside the Trout Run Hatchery, so if fishing is more your thing than biking, you’re in like Flynn.
Check out Decorah’s historic district while you’re there and cool off with a cone at the Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Company.
Iowa is a humble state that doesn’t have to be, and is considered Plain Jane in many people’s minds, but it’s never failed to disappoint us. Driving home, I wished we could have stayed longer, to explore its country roads where tidy farms stand out like islands in acres of tasseled corn, red barns peeking hayloft eyes over gently undulating ridges, the fields cut with paths leading to farmhouses where children play on tire swings and laundry flaps in yards bordered with sunflowers and zinnias.
Americana at its best sums up Iowa, and though our goodbye to the Hawkeye State came too quickly, I took solace in the fact that we’d be back, sooner rather than later.
For information on SingleSpeed Brewing go to www.singlespeedbrewing.com/; Cedar Ridge Distillery and Winery, https://www.crwine.com; picturesque towns in Iowa, http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/iowa/10-charming-river-towns-ia; and to discover places to stay in Cedar Falls, www.cedarfallstourism.org/places-to-stay, or airbnb.com.
For bike trail info, go to https://midwestweekends.com/plan_a_trip/outdoors_recreation/bicycling/bicycling_iowa_trails.html.