An Iowa Family Vacation


Last year’s family vacation was the stuff of dreams: Four days in St. Petersburg, Florida, with nothing but the beach to dictate our schedule. One can imagine my sincere shock, disbelief, and anger when I discovered we were unable to visit Florida again this summer. You mean I have to vacation in the Midwest this year?! It was every Iowan’s nightmare.

But when my parents proposed this year’s vacation plans, I realized that this summer might not be so bad after all. This year, we decided to tackle “famous” places in Iowa—places we had seen in movies and read about in books but had never actually visited.

We started the vacation by heading west towards Villisca, Iowa.  The town of Villisca was made famous by the eight-person axe murder that occurred there more than a century ago on June 10, 1912.

We toured the Axe Murder House and learned all about the horrific event: the murder left the entire Moore family of six and two young Stillinger girls (friends of the youngest daughter) dead.

There were suspects, but nobody was ever found guilty of this appalling crime.

Visitors can stop by the Axe Murder House from 1-3:30 PM daily (closed Mondays) for guided tours and an all-access look through the entire house.

Visitors under 7 are admitted free; ages 7-11 admitted for $5; ages 12-64 admitted for $10; ages 65 and over admitted for $5.

For a different Villisca experience, visitors can stay in the house overnight for a minimum charge of $428 for up to 6 guests.

More information on overnight reservations, historical background, and tour hours can be found at


That same day, we headed northeast towards Madison County, Iowa with a plan to see [at least one of] the famous Covered Bridges of Madison County.

The Winterset area is home to six covered bridges in all: Roseman Covered Bridge, Cedar Covered Bridge (not original), Imes Covered Bridge, Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, Holliwell Covered Bridge, and Hogback Covered Bridge. We made it to four of the six.

The bridges were scattered all throughout the county, but a visitor’s guide of Madison County and several bridge-marking road signs assisted us in our journey.

Coincidentally, while in Winterset, we ran into the family home of John Wayne and paused for a photo and a fond recollection of Iowa’s iconic native-born star.

For more information about local attractions in and around Winterset, Iowa, visit


The following day, we packed our bags and headed northeast for the town of Dubuque.

Dubuque, like Ottumwa and many other cities in the southeast Iowa area, is a river town. It sits on the bank of the Mississippi River across from states Wisconsin and Illinois.

The city offers fine dining and similar attractions in addition to customized river access points and overlook areas along the banks of river.

We stopped by the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, which houses saltwater and freshwater creatures in addition to rotating exhibits, 4D films, and an extensive water awareness and protection center.

The museum was full of historical information about the river as well as conservation facts and awareness exhibits.

While on campus, we also toured the Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum and the William M. Black Steam-Powered Dredge Boat as well as outdoor equipment on display and outdoor wildlife exhibits.

The museum’s powerful array of exhibits and presentations left my family with an idea of how we can better serve Iowa’s rivers.

For more information about the museum, visit


On our way home from Dubuque, we stopped in Dyersville for a stretch at the Field of Dreams Movie Site.

Although I have not seen the film Field of Dreams, our visit to the family farm-turned-ball diamond was spectacular.

We snapped pictures, read the posted information about the movie and its impact on the small Iowa town, enjoyed the ballfield, and stopped for a treat at the souvenir stand.

The field has no admission charge and is open from 9 AM to 6 PM each day during the April to November season.

Visit for more information about the site.

So this summer, give Iowa a try for all of your vacation needs. Check out the many hidden surprises and special features that the state has to offer. You might find yourself wanting an “I love Iowa” t-shirt after it’s all over.

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