small towns near des moines iowa

Exploring Quaint Small Towns Near Des Moines, Iowa

Small Towns Near Des Moines Iowa

Sometimes, uncovering those perfectly quaint small towns feels like a treasure hunt. We get it—looking for places that still feel untouched by the waves of tourists can be tough.

Have you ever heard about Pella, Iowa? It’s like stepping into a little Dutch wonderland with its charming bakeries and picturesque canals. After some serious digging, we’ve put together a list of the most enchanting small towns near Des Moines, each offering something unique, from cultural landmarks to breathtaking natural scenery.

This guide will walk you through these tucked-away treasures, giving you all the good reasons to visit them and handy tips for your journey. Get ready to stumble upon something truly special!

Key Takeaways

  • Pella, Iowa is a Dutch town with tulip gardens and windmills. It’s great to visit during Tulip Time for flowers and treats.
  • Le Claire offers views of the Mississippi River and has many shops and eateries. It’s known for events celebrating local culture.
  • Winterset is John Wayne’s birthplace. You can see his museum and explore covered bridges in Madison County.
  • Johnston provides green spaces and trails perfect for outdoor activities. Its history adds unique charm to visits.
  • Decorah showcases natural beauty in the Driftless Area, offering hiking, art scenes, and Scandinavian heritage celebrations at Nordic Fest.

Top Small Towns Near Des Moines Iowa to Explore

A group of friends exploring a charming small town square.

Discover charming downtown areas, historical and cultural sites, and unique local shops in Pella, Le Claire, Winterset, Johnston, Decorah, Bonaparte, and Keosauqua. These quaint small towns near Des Moines offer a delightful mix of attractions for visitors to enjoy.


We love exploring Pella, a quaint Dutch town nestled in Iowa. Founded by immigrants from Holland in 1847, this place beams with unique European charm. It’s famous for its colorful tulip gardens and authentic Dutch windmills.

Walking through the downtown area feels like stepping into another country, with bakeries that fill the air with the sweet smell of pastries and canals that remind us of Amsterdam.

Visiting during Tulip Time is an experience we always recommend. The whole town bursts into life with vibrant flowers everywhere you look. It’s not just about the beauty; it’s a celebration of Pella’s rich history and heritage.

And who can resist those delicious Dutch treats? We make sure to stop by local shops to pick up some goodies every time we’re there.

Le Claire

Le Claire charms visitors with its scenic views along the Mississippi River. Our town thrives on a lively downtown district filled with unique shops and eateries, making it an ideal spot for day trips.

The river town’s history is alive in every corner, from the antique stores to the historical sites that tell tales of a bygone era.

Our community takes pride in hosting events throughout the year that bring people together, celebrating everything from our rich cultural heritage to modern local crafts. With access to outdoor activities along the river, Le Claire offers adventures for everyone.

Whether you’re into exploring nature or browsing through quaint shops, our town welcomes all who seek a peaceful retreat away from city life.


We discovered Winterset offers much more than its small size suggests. It’s the birthplace of John Wayne, making it a must-visit for fans of this Hollywood legend. Walking through Winterset, we felt a connection to the past, especially visiting the John Wayne Birthplace Museum.

The experience was like stepping into a bygone era—a genuine trip down memory lane.

Winterset also charmed us with its collection of covered bridges—each telling its own story. Exploring these iconic structures amid Madison County’s picturesque landscapes was truly unforgettable.

We strolled through lush parks and quaint downtown areas, finding hidden gems at every turn. From unique local shops to cozy restaurants offering tasty dishes, our day in Winterset was filled with discovery and delight.


Johnston, Iowa is a hidden gem nestled just north of Des Moines. It’s an ideal spot for those seeking a quieter and slower pace. The town offers lovely green spaces and well-maintained parks—perfect for unwinding or enjoying leisurely strolls.

Johnston also boasts an extensive trail system that’s great for biking and walking, presenting ample opportunities to explore the picturesque surroundings.

For history enthusiasts, Johnston has its own unique charm with historical sites offering insight into the town’s heritage. Exploring this quaint town will surely uncover delightful surprises at every turn!


Iowa’s hidden gem, Decorah, boasts breathtaking natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. Nestled in the Driftless Area, this town offers outdoor enthusiasts spectacular hiking trails and stunning limestone bluffs at Pikes Peak State Park.

One can explore the mesmerizing Ice Cave and witness the impressive views from Palisades Park.

Decorah also presents a vibrant art scene with its various galleries, showcasing local talent and creativity. Take a stroll through downtown to uncover unique local shops offering handmade crafts, antiques, and artisanal goods.


Nestled in the heart of the Des Moines River Valley, Bonaparte, Iowa, with its historical charm and scenic beauty, offers a delightful escape for those seeking more than just the ordinary.

This quaint town is home to an array of bespoke shops housed in meticulously preserved historic buildings. Uncover the secrets of local craftsmanship as you stroll through this picturesque village, amongst locals who take pride in their community’s unique heritage.

Don’t miss out on exploring Bonaparte’s locally owned shops and experiencing its rich history firsthand.

Immerse yourself into an era where local artisans craft beautiful pieces right before your eyes – from handwoven textiles to exquisite pottery. The ambiance here exudes a vibrant mix of old-world allure with a touch of modern creativity that is designed to enhance your visit.


Keosauqua, a picturesque town nestled along the Des Moines River, is steeped in history and natural beauty. The historic downtown area boasts charming buildings and unique shops that offer a glimpse into Iowa’s past.

As we strolled through the town, we couldn’t resist exploring Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, with its scenic hiking trails and tranquil lake – a perfect spot for nature enthusiasts like us to unwind.

The 1840s-era Pearson House Museum provides an interesting peek into Keosauqua’s rich heritage, while birdwatching opportunities abound at the nearby Shimek State Forest. In Keosauqua, one can truly embrace the slower pace of life amid breathtaking landscapes and fascinating historical sites.

Reasons to Visit These Adorable Small Towns

Visitors stroll through a colorful, bustling small town street.

Discover charming downtown areas, natural attractions like the Mississippi River and state parks, historical and cultural sites, as well as unique local shops and restaurants that make these small towns near Des Moines delightful destinations to explore.

Read on for more fascinating details!

Charming downtown areas

Explore the charming downtown areas of these small towns near Des Moines. Discover quaint shops, cozy cafes, and historic architecture that exude a unique charm. Immerse yourself in the local culture by strolling through vibrant main streets filled with boutiques and locally-owned restaurants.

Don’t miss out on the captivating atmosphere of these delightful downtown areas – you’ll find hidden gems at every turn, from artisanal crafts to mouthwatering treats!

Embrace the allure of these downtown districts where history meets modern-day vibrancy. Uncover fascinating cultural sites and community events that showcase the authentic character of each town.

Natural attractions (e.g. Mississippi River, state parks)

We found the Mississippi River to be a breathtaking natural wonder, offering picturesque views and serene vibes. The state parks nestled alongside are perfect for leisurely strolls amidst lush greenery, making it an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts like us.

The captivating trails allow for birdwatching and wildlife spotting – a delightful experience we were fortunate to enjoy. Additionally, the tranquil ambiance by the river was truly rejuvenating, providing us with a peaceful escape from our usual hustle and bustle.

The wide range of activities such as fishing or simply relaxing in this scenic setting made our visit an unforgettable one. Alongside the impressive Mississippi River, we explored several state parks that boasted stunning landscapes and immersive outdoor recreation options—making them distinctive additions to our adventure-packed escapades throughout Iowa’s charming small towns.

Historical and cultural sites

When exploring the small towns near Des Moines, Iowa, we found an array of captivating historical and cultural sites. Pella boasts a fascinating Dutch heritage with charming canals, bakeries, and tulip gardens dating back to the town’s founding by Dutch immigrants in 1847.

The Amana Colonies offer a unique peek into communal life as well as German culture at the turn of the century. Elk Horn showcases Danish heritage through its iconic windmill and rich immigrant history.

These sites provide an enriching experience that uncovers the diverse cultural tapestry woven into these quaint towns.

Decorah, renowned for its Norwegian influence, is home to Vesterheim – America’s largest museum dedicated to Norwegian-American history – offering insight into Nordic traditions and lifestyles.

Unique local shops and restaurants

Discover unique local shops and restaurants in these charming small towns near Des Moines. Pella boasts delightful bakeries and Dutch-inspired delis, while Johnston offers quaint boutiques and cozy eateries to savor the local flavors.

In Decorah, explore artisanal craft stores and farm-to-table dining experiences that capture the essence of the region. Winterset’s Main Street is lined with eclectic shops offering antiques, handcrafted gifts, and homestyle cafes perfect for a relaxing break.

Meanwhile, Bonaparte presents an array of specialty stores and historic taverns serving up authentic dishes amidst its timeless surroundings.

Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of local businesses in Le Claire, where antique shops stand alongside welcoming bistros overlooking the Mississippi River. Keosauqua invites you to sample regional delicacies from its locally-owned diners surrounded by picturesque views of nature’s beauty.

Practical Tips when Visiting Small Towns Near Des Moines

Plan for road trips

We plan our road trips thoroughly, taking into account the distances between small towns. We discover historical sites and local shops along the way. It’s important to map out our route in advance based on attractions and activities available in each town.

When visiting these smaller towns near Des Moines, we ensure that we have enough time to fully explore and appreciate their unique charm.

Researching the cost of living helps us budget wisely for accommodations, meals, and activities during our road trip. This allows us to make the most of our time without overspending.

Research the cost of living

Before heading out to explore the small towns near Des Moines, it’s prudent to research the cost of living in each area. This ensures that we have a good understanding of what to expect and can plan our budget accordingly.

Considering factors such as accommodation costs, dining expenses, and activity prices will help us make informed decisions about where to visit and how long to stay.

We found that exploring these charming small towns can be more enjoyable when we’re well-prepared financially. For instance, Pella may offer different cost dynamics compared to Winterset or Le Claire.

Small Towns Near Des Moines Iowa Conclusion

We’ve uncovered some remarkable small towns near Des Moines, each with its own unique charm and attractions. From Pella’s Dutch heritage to Winterset’s Hollywood history, there’s something for everyone.

With picturesque landscapes, historical sites, and quaint downtown areas, these towns offer a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Embark on a road trip to explore these hidden gems and immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry that Iowa has to offer.

Dive into a world of discovery and create lasting memories in these adorable small towns just waiting to be explored!

Small Towns Near Des Moines Iowa FAQs

1. What makes small towns near Des Moines, Iowa, special?

Small towns around Des Moines stand out because they offer unique experiences… like exploring charming hole golf courses and enjoying the close-knit community vibes that residents cherish. They’re perfect spots for a quiet getaway.

2. Can I find golf courses in these quaint towns?

Yes, indeed! Many of these small towns boast well-maintained hole golf courses that welcome both beginners and experienced players. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and relax.

3. Are there any historical sites in these small towns?

Absolutely! Beyond their cozy cafes and shops, many of these towns near Des Moines have rich histories waiting to be discovered… From old buildings with stories to tell to museums that showcase life in Iowa City and beyond in North America.

4. What activities can families do in these areas?

Families will find plenty of fun things to do – from picnicking in scenic parks to attending local festivals that celebrate the unique culture of Iowa. Plus, those golf courses? They often have family-friendly options too.

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