Adventuring Close to Home - Eldora and Iowa Falls Day Trip to Pine Lake State Park
About two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to take a step back and have a reset. We had planned to maybe go somewhere for the entire weekend, since Zac and I both got Monday off and had two entire days off together instead of the typical Sunday-only weekend for him. However, it worked out that we ended up hanging at home for a good portion of the weekend, only venturing a few hours away for our adventures.
I started that Sunday off with a fun girls’ morning with my amazing mother-in-law and one of her good friends at the Above + Beyond Elevate festival. We did some meditation and yoga, walked a 5K, and finished off with some food and drinks at the Des Moines Biergarten. Then, that Sunday afternoon, we got our new hot tub set up and did some rearranging to make our backyard even more of an oasis for us.
Monday was where our weekend “away” felt like it truly began. We started the morning with some self-care and massages for the both of us. After that, we were off and ready for some adventure.
Our main attraction was a new (to us) state park to cross off our bucket list, Pine Lake State Park. I had seen that the best time to see the fall colors for most of the state was the week of October 10th (found here), and could not pass up the opportunity to be absolutely engulfed in those colors at a state park.
The drive to Eldora is only about an hour and a half, which gave us plenty of time to do some hiking while there. We got a few miles of hiking in, but barely scratched the surface on the trails they had available (Pine Lake Trail Map). We took the Wildcat Trail, thinking it would bring us directly into the Wildcat Cave Trail. It didn’t, but did allow us plenty of time along the river, soaking in the views of the fall leaves. Zac even saw a snake (let me just say that I am so glad it was him that saw the snake because if it had been me, I would’ve been out of there).
We found the Wildcat Cave Trail just outside of the park boundaries. We drove out, parked at the trailhead, and discussed whether we should hike the trail too. Unfortunately, we decided against it. It was much hotter than expected for mid-October, and Buzz was still panting like crazy from our hiking in Pine Lake. I decided for his best interest, we better keep moving to the next adventure. Besides, at an hour and a half away, we will definitely be back to explore more of Pine Lake and the Cave.
What we decided to do, instead, was head over to Iowa Falls to have a look at (and walk over) the Iowa Falls Swinging Bridge. I honestly had no idea there was one until I was searching Google Maps to try to find the trailhead to the Wildcat Cave. The swinging bridge popped up as a nearby attraction, and off we went. We found, while there, that the bridge was originally built in 1897 and has been rebuilt multiple times since to ensure that it stays stable enough to enjoy.
One thing we found right away was that Buzz didn’t seem to mind the swinging bridge when it was just us. When he did start to mind was later, when a bunch of boys came absolutely flying from one end of the bridge to the other, making the entire bridge rock. Poor Buzz put his paws out as far away from each other as possible to brace himself, and stood frozen. For those that are concerned, being the great dog mom that I am, I scooped him up and carried him the rest of the way off the bridge to safety.
On the way back home, we swooped through Ames to stop at a Cold Stone Ice Cream because I honestly don’t think any day trip or vacation is complete without coffee or ice cream (but maybe even both, if I’m really lucky).
What we do know is that we missed out on a lot since we were only there for a few hours – the Wildcat Cave is obvious proof of that. With that, as is my style, I have decided to compile a list of other things to do in the area – whether it be for when we decide to go back or for others to check out on their own.
Before I get to the list, though, I have to share that I found out with this trip that Iowa has not only one swinging bridge, but three.
Estherville Swinging Bridge – Built in the early 1900’s and rebuilt to ensure safety and continued use.
Iowa Falls Swinging Bridge – There is even a cottage that can be rented out right next to the swinging bridge, to soak in all of the views of the river.
Columbus Junction Swinging Bridge Park – This bridge, called “Lover’s Leap” by the Columbus Junction locals, seems to be more in the woods than the others, and has ghost stories and legends surrounding its history. This is the oldest of the three bridges, dating back just before the Iowa Falls bridge to 1880.
Alright, now that I’ve shared the swinging bridges of Iowa, let’s get right into things to do around Eldora and Iowa Falls, for those that might have a bit more time than just a few hours.
Museums and Indoors
Adventure and the Great Outdoors
Iowa River Greenbelt, which has multiple wildlife areas, including (but not limited to):
Hoover Ruby Wildlife Area
Fallen Rock Wildlife Area
Sac & Fox Wildlife Area
Eat and Drink
Firehouse Saloon & Grill – we stopped here during Relay Iowa this year for some food, and I can say that they have the BEST bar food and appetizers around (although that may arguably be because we had just finished running miles and miles prior to our meal)
Museums and Indoors
Iowa Falls Historical Dow House – open by appointment only
Adventure and the Great Outdoors
Empress Boat Club – boat down the river in a pontoon!
Trail of the Whispering Giants – I know, I know, this is a Wiki page, but even the Iowa Falls site references this page directly. The “Trail” is actually all over the United States too! Learn more here or here.
Eat and Drink
Timbukbru – a highly rated brewery
Coffee Attic and Book Cellar – books and coffee, because is there really a better combination than that?
The Popcorn Stand – Iowa’s oldest-running popcorn stand!
Princess Grill & Pizzeria – a place to eat back in time, where the architecture is still from the 1930’s
Now, we are a few weeks removed from our day trip and fully focused on an upcoming trip that will actually take us out of the state. We are 99% sure where we want to go, but still have to book our tickets (procrastination at its finest!) so I'm not going to release any details just yet. Until then, I'll continue dreaming about the upcoming vacation we have on our docket while trying to make the most of every day. I won't lie – some days are pretty rough with the new season that we are in (parenthood in the form of fostering), and I know that I still haven't fully found my groove. Until I can find my groove, though, I'll be over here living on caffeine, rap music (when the kiddo is not around, of course), and dreaming up our upcoming vacation plans.