A view of the Mississippi River in northeastern Iowa
Catch this drift: Sweeping views of the Mississippi in northeastern Iowa

The Hills are Alive

If you’re looking for a tranquil pre-fall drive rich in rural scenery, Iowa’s Driftless Area Scenic Byway lives up to its name. The route through northeast Iowa’s Allamakee County winds for 100 miles through forests, valleys, and atop limestone cliffs. The “driftless” descriptor comes from the fact that the area was untouched by the glaciers that drifted through and flattened portions of Iowa, resulting in a topography that can be rather roller coaster–like. On the cliff-top sections of the route, you’ll get panoramic views of the Mississippi, Yellow, and Upper Iowa Rivers far below. You’ll also drive through five small communities along the route: Lansing, Churchtown, Waukon, Harpers Ferry (where you’ll find more than 200 ancient effigy mounds), and Postville.

GO The Driftless Area Scenic Byway in northeastern Iowa’s Allamakee County. For maps and more information, click here or call 563-864-7112.

While you’re in the area: To explore the scenic waterways of the area, pilot a houseboat for a weekend. S and S Houseboat Rentals (990 S. Front St., Lansing, 800-728-0131, ssboatrentals.com) provides both river-borne accommodations and pre-departure training in navigating a Friday to Sunday voyage (no prior boat operation experience needed) from the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge to one of several ports of call down river. Rates range from $1,355 to $2,375 for the weekend.

Where to stay: Point of View Bed and Breakfast (416 Luster Heights Rd., Harpers Ferry, 563-586-2061, pointofviewbedandbreakfast.com) has four guest rooms and a farmhouse suite on a secluded property near the Yellow River State Forest and Effigy Mounds National Monument; rates range from $100 to $150 a night. The Stonehaus Farm Guest House (1445 Elon Dr., Waterville, 608-333-6093, stonehausfarm.com) is a 165-year-old former Norwegian farmstead that merges the rustic architecture of the past with the amenities of the present; rates start at $375 for two nights.

Where to eat: Rubaiyat (117 W. Water St., Decorah, 563-382-9463, rubaiyatrestaurant.com) prepares seasonal dishes with ingredients from local farms. Albert’s (104 E. Water St., Decorah, 563-382-1837, hotelwinn.com/alberts-restaurant.htm) offers pub food, steaks, seafood, and vegetarian entrees in a dining room with a floor-to-ceiling view of downtown Decorah.


Photograph: Courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office