Welcome to Decorah, Iowa, a progressive enclave brimming with natural beauty and warm hospitality. Whether you’re seeking outdoor activities, delectable cuisine, or vibrant cultural events, Decorah has something for everyone.

Although I grew up nearby in Harmony, Minnesota (a guide for that is coming!), I went to college in Decorah, Iowa, and my mom moved there when she retired a few years ago — so Decorah has always felt a little like “home” and is now one of the places I return to when I’m back in the US.

In this travel guide, I’ll take you through a curated list of my favorite spots and experiences that make Decorah a hidden gem in the Midwest. Get ready to immerse yourself in the charm of this delightful little town.

When To Go

Plan your trip to Decorah based on the activities that interest you the most. If you’re a fan of water adventures, summer is the perfect time to visit for tubing down the picturesque Upper Iowa River. Spring and fall offer pleasant weather for biking along the enchanting Trout Run Trail, while winter beckons cross-country skiers and fans of the renowned Christmas at Luther (a seasonal choral festival at my alma mater).

Rooted in Scandinavian heritage, Decorah is known for Nordic Fest, which is always the last weekend of July. This can be a good time to visit if you want to experience a parade, beer tents, live music, and many Nordic-themed festivities. Just be warned that it is also a busy time to visit, with around 10,000 people ascending to the small town for the celebration! If you’re one of my Scandinavian readers, I particularly think you’d get a kick out of witnessing Nordic Fest, although you’ll likely be charmed by the Nordic enthusiasm year-round, and the Vesterheim Museum is always there to enjoy. Fun fact: my college mascot was “The Norse”.

Travel Tips: Decorah, Iowa


The Grey House (Airbnb) – My go-to rental when I’m in town! This charming rental is ideally located for exploring downtown Decorah and enjoying tubing adventures. Don’t miss the opportunity to stay here, as it tends to book up quickly (amazingly, there’s still some availability for this summer!).

Cozy Downtown Loft (Airbnb) – Situated just a block off the main street, this modern loft sleeps up to 6 and will gives you quick access to everything in town.

Backwater Studio (Airbnb) – With room for four guests, this main street studio provides great amenities, outdoor space, and allows pets.

Hotel Winneshiek – Experience history and elegance at this iconic hotel situated on the bustling main street, offering easy access to all that Decorah has to offer.


Rubaiyat – My go-to local restaurant, Rubaiyat offers a diverse menu. Be sure to try their lounge menu, featuring delightful dishes like Duck + Sweet Corn Wontons and an incredible Smoked Salmon Board.

Mabe’s – You can’t visit Decorah without savoring the mouthwatering pizzas at this family-owned pizza joint. I highly recommend the “Around The Garden” pizza paired with a side of their signature ranch dressing.

Luna Valley Farm – Although I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, this spot comes highly recommended by locals. Experience wood-fired pizzas amidst a beautiful outdoor setting, and if time permits, consider indulging in their glamping offerings. Note that they are only open on specific weekends and reservations are required.

Water Street Deli – For a picnic or outdoor adventure, grab delicious sandwiches to-go from Water Street Deli and savor them while exploring the natural wonders of Decorah.


Convergence Ciderworks – Delight your taste buds with a variety of refreshing ciders crafted with locally sourced ingredients. They also feature live music from 4-6 each Sunday throughout the summer.

Pulpit Rock Brewing – Experience Decorah’s vibrant craft beer scene at Pulpit Rock Brewing, known for its wide selection of exceptional brews. I personally think they have one of the best patios in town.

Impact Coffee – This building was a JCPenney for most of my life, so it’s been fun seeing it fully renovated and turned into a large coffee shop + roastery. My favorites are the Honey + Lavender Latte or the Lemon Poppyseed Latte. Their menu also offers bagel sandwiches and other food items. Be sure to check out their events, including live music and an outdoor trivia night every Thursday throughout the summer. They close off the side street, and everyone brings their own lawn chair!

Toppling Goliath – Their beer is world-renowned, and for good reason, but the location can be a bit inconvenient to get to/from if you want to drink a beer or two (it’s a 5-ish minute drive out of town). Their Sweet & Spicy Pizza usually lures me out there at some point, though! A nice little detour if you’re biking the Trout Run Train and are in the mood for a hill climb with a cold beer at the end!


River Float on the Upper Iowa River – Decorah is nestled among the bluffs of the Upper Iowa River, with it snaking right through the center of town. This makes it a perfect spot for tubing! When I’m in Decorah, I rent tubes from Decorah River Tubes, which is located in town. The $15 rental fee includes your transportation up the river, and after a relaxing float, you’ll end in town, where you can return your tube and walk back to your lodging. They also rent “cooler tubes” that include ice. You should contact them to make a reservation in advance, as tubes can sell out on busy summer weekends. See the bottom of this post for more info on tubing!

Dunning’s Springs – Don’t miss your opportunity to see a waterfall in Northeast Iowa! This is easily accessible from town (a short walk), and the hike to the falls is pretty accessible for most. However, the hike to the top is a bit more strenuous, so proceed with caution. Dip your toes in the water for a little good luck! Ice Cave is also just down the road and is another scenic spot with a short hike (bring a flashlight!).

Trout Run Trail – Decorah is surrounded by a biking path that stretches 11 miles, with an additional 3 miles stretching to the nearby township of Freeport. You can rent bikes from Decorah Bicycles or bring your own. Note that they don’t take reservations and only rent e-assist bikes.

Decorah Fish Hatchery – As the daughter of a former fish hatchery manager, I can always recommend the local hatchery for an afternoon of entertainment! You can learn about the fish-hatching process and even feed the fish! You might even spot the famed Decorah Eagles.

Phelps Park and Palisades Park – Both of these parks are on top of local bluffs and offer perfect spots for short hikes, picnics, sunsets, and panoramic photos (photo above was taken at Phelps Park).


Modish – While plenty of cute shops line Water Street, the town’s main drag, be sure not to miss Modish. This local, woman-owned boutique sources a curated collection of clothing, as well as great accessories and personal-care items.

Driftless Yoga Center – Start your morning off with an incredible class at the Driftless Yoga Center. You’ll love the bright, airy space conveniently located upstairs at Impact Coffee — making it very convenient to grab that post-workout smoothie.

Kum and Go – In light of the state’s restrictions on reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights, I suggest getting your gas exclusively from Kum and Go locations if you travel to Iowa. They are vocal about social justice issues and take no sh*t in their comment sections.

How To Tube

One reader said I needed to include a section called “Tubing for Idiots,” so here we go! I forget that not everyone grew up tubing, and now living in Europe; I understand that it’s not a very common activity that is available everywhere (I have no idea where to even do it here!). So, here are some basics if you’ve never tried it:

You’ll go to an outfitter and rent gear (tubes and a cooler if you need one). Depending on the outfitter, you’ll then get into the water there or get shuttled upriver to your starting point. You’ll be able to choose between different lengths of time (a 1-hour float or 2-3 hour float, etc.). When you finish, you’ll either end at the outfitter or need to call them to have the shuttle pick you up and drive you back. This is much easier nowadays with cell phones than it was when I was doing this constantly as a teenager!

The innertubes are generally hollow in the middle. Your legs go over one side, and your butt will be hanging down in the water. You’ll want to wear a swimsuit and shoes you can walk in. This is important because rivers in this area are generally rock-bottomed and shallow, so you’ll need to get up and walk from time to time. You don’t want your “flip-flops” to slide off and go floating down the river, leaving you shoeless. I recommend water shoes or Crocs (crocs are great because they also float). A strap for your sunglasses can also be helpful.

Packing a cooler’s also a good idea, particularly if you plan to do a 2-3+ hour float down the river. Some outfitters will rent you a “cooler tube” (a tube with a cooler already squeezed into it), or you can bring your cooler and rent an extra tube for the cooler to sit in. The nice part about a cooler is that you have a place to store some cold drinks and snacks, but it also serves as a center point for your group so you can float together. Usually, everyone uses it like a footrest, but you can also bring rope to tie yourselves together (just be careful about this, especially with kids, as it creates a large floating surface people can get trapped under if they fall in). If you have young kids, you might consider bringing short lengths of rope so you can tie them to an adult to avoid being separated. You’re little floating oasis will end up looking like this:

More Travel Guides

Hope you enjoyed this guide for Decorah, Iowa. If you’re looking for more of my trip itineraries, such as Kayaking + Camping the Exuma Cays, or A Night on the Oslo Ferry, please visit this page.

If you are planning to visit Copenhagen, Denmark, and would like all of my best travel tips, I’ve assembled them into an interactive guide. You can learn more about “The Insider’s Guide to Copenhagen” here.

Discover Decorah, Iowa: A Travel Guide to Hidden Gems and Local Delights

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