Day Trip to Winterset, Iowa

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Winterset City Park was on this year’s Central Iowa Trek the Parks Challenge and I knew we needed to designate a day for our family to wander through Winterset Iowa. We loved exploring the amazing park, as well as the charming town. 

I am a huge fan of day trips. It is the perfect way to explore different communities around Des Moines, Iowa. I love to discover restaurants and hidden gems all over and Winterset did not disappoint.

Our day trip to Winterset IA started with a pit stop in Van Meter. It was mid-July and the sunflower field located at Badger Creek State Recreation Area was in full bloom. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning and the kids were shocked to see flowers bigger than them! 

Sunflower field in Van Meter, Iowa

After wandering the sunflower field, we jumped in the car and headed on a back road to Winterset. We had not planned for the 20-minute drive to be so exciting, but we saw a pony farm, deer, sheep and goats along the way!

Visiting Winterset City Park

Winterset City Park is huge and there is so much to see and do. You could easily pack a lunch and spend the entire day there. 

We first let the children play on the playground to burn off some energy. There are swings and plenty of places to climb. Of course, I forgot to snap pictures but the kids had tons of fun.

As we were walking to see one of the last covered bridges in the area, we came across the Rotary Hedge Maze. I was surprised at how large and fun the maze was! I got lost and the kids loved wandering through to find the exit. It was also a great learning moment because the kids had never seen or heard of a sundial.

Boy and girl looking at sundial and walking through hedge maze.

After getting lost in the hedge maze, we wandered down to the covered bridge and walked through. There was also a stone bridge nearby, and the kids had fun running under and climbing.

Clark Tower in Winterset IA

After exploring Winterset City Park, we hopped back into our van and headed to Clark Tower, a 25-foot limestone castle built in 1926.

We could have walked from the park to the tower. There are plenty of hiking trails. We decided to drive because the walk was pretty steep and we didn’t think the kids would make it all the way there and back.

Once we arrived at the Clark Tower, the kids were so excited! Amelia referred to it as “Rapunzel’s Castle.” 

Clark Tower with boy and girl posing inside.

The kids would have spent hours and hours climbing, playing and using their imaginations, but we were getting hungry!

We headed for the old town square of Winterset. In the center of the square was the courthouse building and we wandered around until we came to Northside Cafe. They had amazing food! I had one of the best tenderloins I have ever had. Sorry, no picture, I was too busy chowing down. This was the perfect place to cool off and eat some great comfort food.

Afterward, we headed to Montross Pharmacy, just across the street from Northside Cafe. This is  Madison County’s oldest family-owned restaurant. They are famous for their old-fashioned soda fountain and Montross fountain milkshake. The kids enjoyed their special dessert!

Boy and girl sitting at a counter with milkshakes.

More Things to Do in Winterset IA

Winterset is in Madison County, which you may be familiar with from the movie “The Bridges of Madison County.”  There are six covered bridges in the area and you’ll need a couple hours to drive the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway to visit them all. If you’re short on time, check out the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge or Cedar Bridge in Winterset.

Brother and sister outside a covereed bridge.

Winterset is also the birthplace of actor John Wayne. You can visit the home he was born in, which is now the John Wayne Museum.

We had a wonderful time exploring some gems in Winterset, Iowa during our day trip. I highly recommend adding it to your list of things to see and do in Iowa.

Kids on a covered bridge in Winterset Iowa.

Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

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