116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DECORAH - Though Decorah is busiest when it's warm, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty to do during a recent cold, and very snowy weekend in the small Northeast Iowa town.
So much, in fact, that I couldn't find enough time to do it all.
My fiance and I pulled into town on Saturday afternoon, after a two-hour drive from Cedar Rapids. Our first stop was our home away from home for the weekend - the Dug Road Inn, a quaint bed-and-breakfast in the heart of the historic downtown district.
As we walked up the steps to the large front porch, adorned with wrought iron railings, the massive and ornate french-style doors opened to reveal the smiling owner, Doug Sturtz.
We were surprised to be greeted by name. It was understandable, though, once we learned we were his only guests that night.
In their busy season - April through October - don't expect such solitude, as the Inn books up quickly. In fact, Sturtz said the Inn is booked solid two years in advance for big events like Nordic Fest and Luther College's graduation. Stay in the winter, and the second night is 40 percent off, a tempting discount I wished so badly we could have used.
After greeting us at the door, Sturtz took us on a tour of the Inn.
Built in the 1860s, the three level home features five suites - each with their own style and charm. Three of the rooms are intended for two-person occupancy: the Elizabeth Day room, the William Painter room and the Duncan room. The Elizabeth and the Duncan have queen beds, a sitting area and en-suite bathrooms with showers and jetted tubs (a romantic whirlpool for two in the Duncan). The William Painter, where my fiance and I stayed, had a king bed and an attached bathroom with heated tile flooring and a beautiful, crimson claw foot soaker tub.
Up the spiraled - and creaky - wood stairs, is the Baker-Lindy suite, which has two bedrooms separated by a hallway - one room with a king bed and another with two twins. The suite shares a bathroom with a jetted tub/shower with 'multiple massaging shower heads.”
Up a narrow attic stairway, is the Top of the Inn loft with two queen beds, a private bath with another jetted tub and shower combo, a living space with an electric fireplace, a mini fridge and 360 degree views of the property through the 10 windows.
Other spaces in the house are communal for guests to use at their leisure, including the formal dining room, living room and the second floor kitchenette, which has a small stove, microwave, fridge and Keurig coffee maker.
After settling in, Sturtz asked if it was too early for a glass of wine - something they always offer guests upon arrival. I laughed. Is it ever too early for a complimentary glass of wine?
Having arrived in the afternoon, our next stop was lunch. Sturtz suggested La Rana Bistro - he and his wife's favorite - so we took his advice and headed just down the road for a bite.
The Bistro's lunch hours were until 2 p.m., just after we arrived at 1:45 p.m. The atmosphere of the cozy restaurant was calm and welcoming. We ordered our meals - a chicken salad sandwich for my fiance and the special for myself: a bowl of penne pasta with spinach, mushrooms, red pepper and cream sauce. Both arrived moments later and were delicious, though we both preferred the chicken salad, flavored with just the right amount of lemon zest.
Stuffed, we decided it was time to burn off some calories. We made our way to Palisade Park, a popular spot for hiking, biking, kayaking and more.
Despite the chilly weather, we passed multiple cyclists and even a few hikers on our way to Dunning's Springs, a 200-foot waterfall that even in the dead of winter was stunning.
Beware, though, the treacherous landscape this time of year. Constant moisture from the cascading falls keeps the area carpeted in slippery, ice-glazed snow.
Another landmark on our to-do list was The Ice Caves.
It was hard to consider this landmark a true cave, especially having been to Carlsbad Caverns just a couple years ago. Considering it's Iowa and not New Mexico, I tried to give the 15-foot hole-in-the-rock cave the benefit of the doubt.
Even so, the cave was without ice. Evidently the icy part of the caves doesn't form until early spring, when winter starts to thaw. Perhaps come March, they'd be more impressive.
As 4 p.m. neared, we decided to make the most of the day's remaining light to hike a trail into the woods. Everything went well until we veered off course to check out some teepee-like formations made by fellow hikers. Had I watched my feet as I excitedly approached the structures, I may have missed the barbed wire that instead wrapped around my leg and tore into my leather boot. Though the park made for an overall fun experience, I was irritated and a bit scratched up so we turned back for a little rest and relaxation back at the Inn.
A luxurious and relaxing bath in the claw foot tub - complete with mineral salts, a glass of wine and a good book - was just what I needed before climbing into the spacious bed and wrapping myself in the soft down comforter.
The next morning, it was easy to climb out of bed knowing a complimentary three-course breakfast was only a step away from our door.
The meal, cooked by a professional chef using only local, seasonal and organic ingredients sourced from the co-op, would normally be served on the Inn's front porch - but considering the blizzard outside, we were happy to stay indoors. Plus, the table set with a lit candle was a nice touch for a newly engaged couple like ourselves.
The gourmet meal started with a yogurt and fruit dish that woke my taste buds with fruity acidity, crunchy almonds and creamy vanilla yogurt. For the second course, a fried egg - just slightly overcooked for my liking, though my fiance's looked just right - and curried potatoes which paired nicely with the cherry tomatoes, arugula and a side of crunchy (but not too crispy) bacon. Finally, breakfast dessert: a mint gelato with crunchy chocolate chunks and two homemade chocolate mint cookies - a perfect vessel for the creamy treat.
We finished our trip at the Vesterheim - the national Norweigian-American museum and heritage center - as we waited for the snowstorm to subside for our drive back.
The museum houses more than 24,000 Norweigian-American artifacts, the most extensive collection in the world according to their website. Though I'm not usually one for museums, many of the exhibits grabbed my attention - especially the interactive elements, like walking through a traditional Norwegian home.
Now that I know there's so much to do in Decorah, I'll have to go back and check a few more places off my list.
If you go:
We were in Decorah for a little more than 24 hours. If we'd stayed longer - which I wish we could have - we also had these places on our list:
' Food/Drink: Magpie Coffeehouse, Winneshiek Winery, Toppling Goliath Brewing Co., Rubaiyat, Ede's & The Angry Pickle Deli
' Museums: Porter House Museum, Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Bily Clocks Museum
' Outdoors: Cross-country skiing and/or mountain biking in Palisades Park, Trout Run Trail, Malanaphy Springs, kayaking/canoeing on the Upper Iowa River
' Attractions: Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah's Eagles' Nest, Fish Hatchery and Historic Architecture Tour
' Places to stay: Hotel Winneshiek, B&B on Broadway, Whispering Pines Cabin, Cedar Dreams Inn and Palisades Inn to name a few