Road Trip: Iowa Style - Part III

By Ann Thelen

Iowa's rolling highways and ribbons of county roads are more than just a means to an end, they are part of an interlocking story of hardworking families, modern agriculture, noteworthy attractions and rich history. And of course, great food! Grab your sunglasses, gas up the car and head out on this route through northeastern Iowa. This area of Iowa is a treasure trove of natural beauty and historic preservation.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in our summer series on Iowa road trips. By clicking the links, you will be leaving a partially funded checkoff site. Previous road trips featured during Summer 2018 are available here Part I and Part II.

Begin in Independence

With July marking the anniversary of our nation’s independence, it’s fitting to begin an Iowa road trip in Independence! This community of nearly 6,000 residents is home to the Hazleton Old Order Amish settlement, founded in 1914.

The Wapsipinicon River runs southeast through the heart of the city, making it a hot spot for summer activities. Along the river are several campgrounds, trails for all activities, boat access, golf courses and an amphitheater.

Independence is home to Heartland Acres Agribition Center, an attraction showcasing exhibits of agricultural innovations, implements and displays. Visitors take a journey through the history of farming, from the mold board plows of Iowa’s first settlers to modern biotechnology. The “Cars of Yesteryear” display showcases one of the Midwest’s most unique classic car collections from a horseless carriage to elegant classics and 1960s muscle cars.

On Main Street, along the Wapsipinicon River, a six-story grist mill was built in 1867. The mill, now called the Wapsipinicon Mill, was a source of electrical energy from 1915 to 1940. Some structural restoration occurred in recent years, and the mill now functions partly as a historical museum.

There is something for everyone at Bill's Pizza & Smokehouse, where diners are served up specialty pizzas, sandwiches, pasta and slow smoked barbecue and steaks. Patrons aren’t kidding when they say the barbecue is special. Their meats and poultry are slow smoked over hickory and apple woods in their onsite smoker, then basted in Bill’s own sauce, finished under the broiler and served with sauce on the side! If pizza is your desire, Bill’s offers a choice of Thin n’ Delicious or Chicago Style Pan Pizza. Each has its own special crust and sauce made fresh daily. 

For more Italian food fare, visit Oelwein – a community about 15 miles north of Independence. Leo's Italian Restaurant is celebrating its 97th anniversary this year. Restaurant-goers rave about the homemade Italian choices and American favorites served in style in an Old-World setting. They also serve homemade Italian bread, and you can buy a loaf (or two!) to go.

About 10 miles east of Independence near Quasqueton is the Lowell Walter House or Cedar Rock, a state-owned Frank Lloyd Wright house that is open to the public from May through October. One of Wright's most complete designs, nearly everything at Cedar Rock bears the architect's imprint. Wright designed the furniture, selected the carpets, chose the draperies and picked out the accessories.

Head North to Hawkeye

In Hawkeye, a visit to Country View Dairy is a must. Country View Dairy is owned and operated by Dave and Carolee Rapson and their five children. There are 200 milking cows on the farm. Eighty percent of the milk goes to Waspie Valley for cheese and 20 percent is used by Country View Dairy for their Iowa State Fair award-winning yogurt, which is sold in over 120 stores in seven states, numerous public schools, colleges, hospitals and restaurants in the upper Midwest. A 2,000-pound batch of yogurt is made three times a day! In 2013, Country View Dairy began making premium frozen yogurt soft serve. It’s available for tasting right at Country View Dairy’s store on the farm.

Explore the Elkader Area to the East

Elkader, along Highway 13 is surrounded by the hills of the beautiful Turkey River Valley. You’ll want to see the 1903 Opera House, shop at the Turkey River Mall (antiques), visit nine National Register of Historic sites or stay at a charming bed and breakfast.

About 15 miles southwest of Elkader, resides Backbone State Park, Iowa's first state park. It encompasses 2,000 acres of wooded bluffs along the Maquoketa River. The Effigy Mounds National Monument (25 miles northeast of Elkader) was established in 1949 to preserve ceremonial mounds constructed by Native American mound builders inhabiting the Upper Mississippi River Valley between 450 B.C. and 1300 A.D. The Effigy Mounds National Monument is noted for being in the Driftless Area, an area of North America that escaped glaciation during the last ice age.

In Froelich (12 miles north of Elkader) discover where John Froelich invented the first gasoline- powered traction engine in 1892. The Froelich Tractor could propel itself backward as well as forward. The Froelich’s 1890 Village also includes a Blacksmith's Shop, Iron Clad Store, Train Depot, Schoolhouse and more.

Go to Guttenberg, Balltown and Durango

Guttenberg, a charming city nestled in the scenic limestone bluffs, was named one of "America's 20 Prettiest Towns” by Forbes magazine. The city is home to many unique shops and restaurants, art galleries, a museum, winery, aquarium, Lock & Dam No. 10 and much more.

The Landing – A Riverfront Inn in Guttenberg provides lodging and magnificent views of the Mississippi River. The renovated three-story stone German-architecture warehouse once operated as a button factory, processing river clam shells into pearl buttons. In the 1950s, plastic buttons put an end to this mode of manufacturing. The building was renovated in the late 1990s, and the Inn opened in 2001.

Guttenberg’s past is preserved today in the many limestone buildings built by German immigrants in the mid- to late-1800s. Many are pre-Civil War era and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Step into Rausch’s Café, a classic American diner, for a meal you won’t soon forget. The old gas station turned restaurant serves up a hearty and wholesome breakfast that keeps patrons coming back. Lunch is equally delicious, and guests rave about their burgers, fries and roast beef sandwich.

At Breitbach’s in Balltown, everything is made from scratch. They won the James Beard America’s Classics Award and people travel from miles around for the fried chicken and homemade pies. Opened in 1852 by a federal permit issued from President Millard Fillmore, Breitbach’s is Iowa’s oldest food and drinking establishment. Through six generations, the Breitbach family has owned the restaurant.

Breitbach’s is a featured stop on the Tenderloin Trail – an event by the Iowa Pork Producers Association, featuring 14 unforgettable sandwiches while celebrating the passionate families around the state who work diligently to provide safe, affordable and delicious pork.

In Durango, Park Farm Winery's chateau-style facilities, together with the surrounding vineyards, pastures and woodlands, evoke an old-world charm that perfectly complements hand-crafted artisan wines. In addition to sampling delicious wine, gourmet wood-fired pizza is baked in their on-site brick oven.

Explore Dubuque

Dubuque – both the city and the county with the same name – are rich in history. In fact, this county has more places on the National Register of Historic Places (83) than any other county in Iowa.

Hotel Julien Dubuque is an elegant, renovated boutique hotel that marries modern amenities with historic charm in the heart of the Old Main District. Guests often find that a Hotel Julien experience isn’t complete without a visit to Caroline’s Restaurant. Caroline’s delivers a distinctive blend of exceptional food and welcoming character.

Hotel Julien began as the Waples House in 1839. It was the first building visible to the travelers entering Dubuque from across the Mississippi and was furnished extravagantly and known for its gourmet cuisine. This old “Julien Hotel” survived a fire, hosted famous guests, such as Abraham Lincoln, Buffalo Bill, Cody and Mark Twain, gained notoriety thanks to Al Capone and was ultimately purchased by the current ownership in 1962.

Just a short walk from Hotel Julien is an Italian-inspired restaurant gem. The moment you step into Vinny Vanucchi's, you'll smell the slow-cooking marinara sauce and immediately feel like you are at a gathering of your long-lost Italian family.

Co-owner Deb Coulter follows her grandmother's advice to always cook with fresh ingredients and never freeze any of the dishes. Whether it's Nana Lu's Meat Lasagna, Uncle Paulie's Baked Penne or any pasta bowl or house specialty, while dining at Vinny Vanucchi's patrons are guaranteed a delicious "Taste of the Old Neighborhood."

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque is home to the fifth largest collection of Tiffany Windows in the U.S. St. Luke’s welcomes visitors who want to experience the beauty of the windows and offers summer guided tours – the best time to visit the church for the most stunning views.

The Fenelon Place Elevator is described as the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway, 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place. A magnificent view of the historic Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River and three states provide visitors a treat for the eyes.

A Field of Dreams in Dyersville

From Dubuque, it’s not far to the iconic Field of Dreams – a baseball field and pop-culture tourist attraction originally built for the movie of the same name. While visiting the farm, people can tour the baseball field and house. The annual Team of Dreams is Sunday, September 1. On that weekend, thousands will experience the corn, the field, the ghosts and the charm of the movie site that has delighted thousands since its debut in 1989. This year’s lineup of players for the seven-inning celebrity softball game includes Wade Boggs, Bob Griese, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, David Ross, Ozzie Smith and many others!

The National Farm Toy Museum specializing in preserving and displaying scale models, replicas and toys based on farm equipment also calls Dyersville home. The museum has nearly 30,000 farm toys!

Make Your Way to Manchester

Manchester boasts Iowa’s largest whitewater park. The park is located on a section of the Maquoketa River that runs through downtown. This park is approximately 900 feet long and features six 18-inch drops.

Stop at The Bread Basket on Main Street for good food, local wine, great service and homemade desserts. In 2017, The Bread Basket was selected as one of the 99 Best Restaurants to Try in Iowa. Signature desserts are made from scratch every day.

End your trip by stepping back in time and enjoying a hotel stay in turn-of-the-century splendor at the Franklin Hotel in Strawberry Point, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Franklin was built in 1902 and remains much the same today as it was then. When you register at the original front desk in the hotel lobby, you immediately get a feeling for the stories and legends that have become part of this historic hotel over the last 116 years.

If you visit, make sure it’s a Saturday night, where their delicious, hand-seasoned and slow-roasted Prime Rib is the star of the menu!

There you have it! A glimpse into numerous stops for a summer road trip! Part I of this series focused on north central Iowa, and Part II focused on south central Iowa. For a robust list of additional attractions, events and places to enjoy great Iowa food visit