15 Must-Visit Small Towns in Iowa

Small towns abound in the United States, each having its own distinct history, culture, and local attractions. A tiny town is an incorporated place with fewer than 5,000 persons, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even bigger places, meanwhile, may have a small-town feel to them. Midwestern state Iowa is home to a number of charming small and medium-sized towns that are well worth seeing. Learn about 15 Iowan tiny towns you should definitely include on your next vacation by reading on.

1. Polk City

Polk City, one of the fastest-growing cities in the Des Moines Metro area, provides a convenient location close to a major city while maintaining the charm of a small town. Polk City, which has a population of about 5,500, has a bustling “Square” with stores, eateries, and office buildings.

Thanks to its various parks, hiking trails, and the Tournament Club of Iowa golf course, Polk City provides year-round recreation. Saylorville Lake, which is close by, also provides lots of opportunities for boating, fishing, and birdwatching.

2. Carroll

With a population of about 10,000, Carroll is a flourishing small-to-midsize town in western Iowa. In addition to two theatres for movies and Carroll Arts Council Community Theatre events, Carroll’s downtown district has a number of eateries and retail establishments.

Swan Lake State Park is conveniently accessible to Carroll residents; it’s three miles south of the town. With campsites and boat rentals, the park spans more than 500 acres. Furthermore, the park has connections to the 33-mile Sauk Rail Trail, which leads to Blackhawk Lake State Park.

3. Creston

Richmond has managed to hold onto its small-town charm in spite of its continuous growth. Despite having a population of little over 7,800, Creston is home to a satellite campus of Buena Vista University as well as Southwestern Community College. Creston’s status as a regional hub is further strengthened by the presence of Greater Regional Medical Centre.

McKinley Park, which spans more than 225 acres on the western edge of Creston, including a skate park, pond, disc golf course, and playgrounds. McKinley Park and Green Valley State Park are connected by an eight-mile asphalt walking path.

4. Fairfield

With fewer than 10,000 citizens, Fairfield is a thriving city in southeast Iowa. Fairfield, home to both a Transcendental Meditation training centre and Maharishi University of Management, was named one of the best little towns in America by Smithsonian Magazine. Chautauqua Park, which borders the city to the east, has playgrounds, picnic spots, and a disc golf course.

5. Decorah

With a population of slightly over 7,500, Decorah is a quaint little town in Iowa nestled along the banks of the Upper Iowa River. In addition to its thriving downtown with shops and restaurants, the city is home to a number of museums and historical landmarks, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum.

There are lots of outdoor activity choices available to Decorah residents. It’s common to go swimming, fishing, hiking, and camping along the Upper Iowa River. The Decorah Community Prairie also offers quiet strolling paths that meander through community gardens and gardens with butterflies.

6. Clear Lake

Located in north-central Iowa, the city of Clear Lake is home to about 7,000 residents and is situated on the shore of a lake by the same name. The lake is a prominent feature of the city, offering swimming, fishing, and various boat ramps.

As far as notable American musicians go, Clear Lake was the last to entertain Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper. After the three performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, they tragically perished in an aeroplane crash on their way out of Mason City. Clear Lake hosts an annual homage to these performers to help preserve their memories.

7. Pella

Pella, which has a population of just over 10,000, is a must-see location when exploring Iowa’s small towns. The quaint brick-paved lanes of Pella’s downtown are dotted with eateries, boutiques, and regional breweries. Every year, the city hosts the Tulip Time Festival to highlight its Dutch cultural heritage.

The largest lake in Iowa, Red Rock Lake, is located south of Pella and spans more than 15,000 acres. With more than ten miles of trails, tourists can spend a day hiking, swimming, or boating here.

8. Waukee

In 2022, Milwaukee’s population is expected to rise by 10%, meaning that the town may no longer feel like a small one. Waukee is home to slightly over 25,000 people and is situated roughly 15 miles west of Des Moines’ downtown.

The Sugar Creek Municipal Golf Course, a 25-mile network of walking trails, and multiple parks are all maintained by the City of Waukee. For the enjoyment of the locals, the city also offers a number of camps, festivals, and activities each year.

9. Knoxville

Approximately 8,000 people live in Knoxville, which is referred to be the “Sprint Car Capital of the World” and is situated in south-central Iowa. Attend a race at Knoxville Raceway, or visit the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum to discover more about the history of racing in the community. Along with a number of eateries and breweries, Knoxville’s historic Grand Theatre can be found in downtown.

10. Spirit Lake

The centre of Iowa’s Great Lakes region is the city of Spirit Lake, which lies tucked between Big Spirit Lake and West Okoboji Lake. Spirit Lake is a small town with 5,000 residents that offers amenities on par with bigger towns.

Spirit Lake boasts a strong industrial sector that serves as a stable economic foundation for the city’s expansion. West Okoboji Lake is the border of downtown Spirit Lake, offering residents and tourists a picturesque setting for dining, shopping, and sightseeing.

11. Coralville

Coralville is a larger city with a small-town feel, home to slightly over 20,000 people. Just south of Coralville is the University of Iowa, which brings a surge of energy, sports, and students to the area.

Coralville also has a weekly farmers market, a performing arts auditorium, and a number of annual events. The Iowa River is Coralville’s eastern boundary. In 2013, the city established the Iowa River Landing Sculpture Walk, which consists of 11 sculptures.

12. Boone

Boone, a city in central Iowa, was formed in 1866 as a result of the construction of a railway station in the expanding town. Almost 30,000 people attend the town’s yearly Pufferbilly Days Festival, which honours its heritage as a railroading community.

Boone has a long relationship with the railway and is significant to the state’s agriculture industry. Hundreds of exhibitors showcasing brand-new farming supplies and equipment are present at Iowa’s annual Farm Progress Show, which is held in several locations, including the city.

13. Muscatine

Muscatine is a thriving city with a rich past and a bright future that is situated in eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River and the Illinois state line. Stop by Riverside Park, stroll along the Running River Trail System, or visit places like the Pine Creek Grist Mill and the National Pearl Button Museum to learn more about Muscatine’s past.

14. Riverside

Fans of Star Trek have a special place in their hearts for Riverside, an unusual small town in Iowa with a population of just over 1,000. A Star Trek fan and city council member from Riverside was motivated in 1985 when she learned that the show’s fictional Captain Kirk was raised in a small Iowan village.

For its next celebration, he proposed that Riverside take on the concept of “Trekfest” and declare itself the “Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk.” Trekfest was a huge success the first time around, and people still come to Riverside for the event every year.

15. McGregor

McGregor is a little town of less than a thousand people, situated in eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River and the state border with Wisconsin. By the 1870s, McGregor had grown to be a thriving city with over 5,000 residents, thanks to its riverfront location that made it a popular steamboat stopover.

McGregor is a part of the “Driftless Area” of Iowa, an area distinguished by its distinct terrain as a result of escaping the Wisconsin Glaciation during the previous ice age. Today, visitors can explore the Effigy Mounds National Monument or enjoy a leisurely drive along the River Bluffs Scenic Byway.

Highlights of the Must-Visit Small Towns in Iowa:

City Name Population
Polk City 5,604
Carroll 10,270
Creston 7,519
Fairfield 9,474
Decorah 7,611
Clear Lake 7,642
Pella 10,556
Waukee 25,045
Knoxville 7,523
Spirit Lake 5,409
Coralville 22,494
Boone 12,482
Muscatine 23,671
Riverside 1,090
McGregor 686