American Byways is a term the DOT use’s for the 150 specific and diverse roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Specifically, 14 out of the 150 are located in Iowa and one of the trails is located in the heart of NW Iowa. If you are looking for a grand traveling adventure and want to drive in the excitement and beauty of rural settings, check out scenic byways AND if you are going on vacation (and DRIVING), I recommend checking out a scenic byway on your next trip. They are breathtaking and eye-opening on how vast and gorgeous the landscape is right at home, from sea to shining sea!
For this scenic route adventure…I took the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway.
What a trip! I was fortunate enough to have a beautiful sunny day and time to explore.
TIP: Take time to explore settings around the trail. I’ll mark some of my favorites on this scenic drive.
The trail is fairly short across 4 different counties of O’Brien, Clay, Cherokee, and Buena Vista, and covers over 36 miles of breathtaking, rolling hills.
Here’s what my day looked like with a few suggestions of where to stay and play along the way.
TIP: The route circles around 4 different counties, my suggestion is to start in the Northeast corner of the route at the corner of Hwy 10/M-36; and here’s why, if you start in the morning you can have the sun at your back making for a more enjoyable ride with the sun out of your eyes and providing you back-lighting as you approach bluffs and other picture moments. Naturally, you can start and end ANYWHERE you choose, but my preference is the sun behind me.
#1 Explore the town of Peterson! “Fort Peterson”
Taking off from the corner of M-36 and Hwy 10 it leads you west down Highway 10 headed straight into Historic Peterson, Iowa. This is a place for a short stop to explore the town of Peterson.
Peterson has a population of roughly 310 people, but the charm of the town is with the locals and it’s worth a journey down their main street, just to get a feel for rural main street. Some of the shops are closed, some are open, but the possibility is there for this beautiful small town. It runs beside a scenic byway and hosts opportunities with tourism. Let me show you downtown:
Right down the street from Main street is Park Street and here is some of the history surrounding this town of possibility. In the park sits the historic Fort Peterson Block House. A fort built-in 1862 by settlers to defend against anticipated Dakota attacks during the Dakota War of 1862. The fort was never attacked but it still stands near its original location at the corner of Second and Park.
Walk up closer to the fort and explore and you can still see the gun holes in the side of the structure to allow those inside a chance to fire their weapons. The structure came about by a military group known as the Northern Border Brigade, and they constructed a string of forts in the area. The Peterson location is the only block house left in the entire chain of forts. Below you can see the gun holes used in the fort.
In addition, Peterson has several museums, from the Barn Museum, and the French memorial museum and the Kirchner Park Museum and J.A. Kirchner House (1860 – First settlers in Peterson area- Kirchner Family) Pictures below:
TIP: Don’t forget to check out Wanata State Park nearby by on the South East Side of town. The wildlife watching, hiking and more are fantastic!
#2 Explore Wanata State Park
(I’ll add more pics of this park as the season opens as well)
#3 Explore the Prairie Heritage Center
Get back on Highway 10 and head west, as you come closer to the Little Sioux River there’s a side river park on the south side of the Highway. There is a small ramp if you like to canoe or kayak and other great views of the Little Sioux and if you turn around towards the north, you can check out some of the amazing bluffs lining the Little Sioux River Valley.
A few miles out of town as you stay on Highway 10, at 4931 Yellow Avenue, is the Prairie Heritage Center. Stop and check this place out! (Closed Monday and Tuesday – BUT OPEN the rest of the week Tues-Friday 9-4 and Sat, Sun 1-4:00). The center is a fun place to explore the natural surroundings of the area, including Bison roaming nearby!
#4 Explore Dog Creek
After exploring the Prairie Heritage Center, head back to Highway 10 and head West. You’ll go a few miles before turning left (South) on M-12. Take this a few miles south until you come to Dog Creek (on your right. West Side of the road).
I was bummed out that part of the park is technically closed until around memorial day weekend, but you can see part of the recreational water area, where you can canoe and kayak. The other part that is cool about this place is the corn bin cabins at the top of the hill (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a good pic of the cabins…so I will return later this early Summer and get some of my own pics. Below you can BARELY make out the top of the cabins. Below that pic, I’ll post the conservation board picture until I upload different pics.
Here are the Corn Bin cabins up close!
TIP: I would consider staying overnight at this spot. It’s a fun park, with recreation area, plus its a nice place to have a fire and camp out under the stars in a GRAIN Remodeled Grain BIN!!! The cabins fill up fast for the summer, you can reserve by contacting www.prairieheritagecenter.org As well as get any additional information on the heritage center, plus nearby parks.
The other half of the trip takes you through rolling hills as you head south on M-12 and hang a left heading south on C-18. This stretch of highway will take you over the Little Sioux River and opportunities to see Little Sioux River access areas on your right side (south of C-18), heading up the big hill on your right (along the south side of the highway is the Barnes Rodeo Horse Ranch. You’ll take this east until you come upon M-27. Hang a right, and head south on M-27 for a couple miles until you come upon “Wind Mill City”. Here along C-16 you will drive East until the road comes to an end (about 5-10 miles) and if you look off to your right and left you can see where the land is being used for wind energy and hundreds of windmills.
This route is taking you to the town of Linn Grove, and it’s along this route where more possibility sits. The scenery is beautiful here, and you’ll come upon M-26 (T-intersection) hang a left and head north until you come to Linn Grove.
Coming through Linn Grove you’ll wind down a small hill and it will remind you of a miniature version of a hillside town in the Black Hills. (Miniature meaning about a block or two). Again, the possibilities are endless for this little town of approximately 150! The storefronts and business areas are rustic and unique:
#5 Explore Linn Grove Dam and Park
(The photo was taken by the Buena Vista Conservation Department)
The Dam area was still frozen the day I traveled to the park, so I’ll be back in the area to get some more pics of the park and Dam to give it justice. It’s a beautiful area and you can stop, do some hiking around and if you have a canoe or kayak do some paddling around the area.
#6 Explore INNspiration Vines and Wines
The last part of this beautiful roadside adventure takes you to a fun little place where you can stay and have a glass or two of wine, they have several different types of wines to taste and to the side, they have about 370 acres of timber lining the property, and sitting near the vineyard they have another unique opportunity to stay at several rental properties available. The Vineyard wasn’t open the day I went due to it being early yet HOWEVER, I will be back here yet in a month or two around May to blog some picks with wine tasting. In the meantime, before I update this post with additional pics, you can check out their website at www.innspirationwinery.com
Hopefully, you get a chance to check out other scenic routes near you, but if you are traveling close to the NW corner of Iowa, check out Glacial Scenic Byway, and take the time to explore the rich natural history of the area.