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North Iowa Staycation

Rockford Fossil Park and Prairie Center | Clear Lake Lady of the Lake


With inflation on the rise across America, many families are feeling the crunch in their bank accounts.  Between gas and groceries, the squeeze is tightening on disposable incomes, making our vacation budgets dwindle into oblivion.   

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to skip the scheduled summer-time fun! 

You might not realize it, but North Iowa is riddled with hidden gems.  Attractions, restaurants, activities in the great outdoors – you can do it all with little or no travel costs.  In fact, by removing that expensive line item from your vacation budget, it frees up funds to maximize your staycation fun!

Being the largest city in the North Iowa area, Mason City is home to a slew of incredibly cool places to visit.  History buffs and music lovers alike can enjoy Music Man Square, MacNider Art Museum, or the Kinney Pioneer Museum.  Take a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic “Stockman House” or book an evening to dine and stay in the fully restored Historic Park Inn.  Art lovers can feed their soul with a stroll through the half acre of land filled with outsider art called Rancho Deluxe.  Become one with nature out at East Park and Lime Creek Nature Center.

Mason City is also home to The Cannonball 457.  Built in 1912, the Cannonball 457 is the last remaining Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway steam locomotive.  It has been restored to look as it did in the 1920s and is surrounded by the Cannonball Gardens which features a relaxing landscape of patios and terraces. 

Clear Lake packs a punch of summertime fun all on its own.  You can book a weeklong stay in a vacation rental right on the lake or live lavishly at one of the many amenity-filled hotels.  Whether you’re a land lover or water fanatic, Clear Lake has something to make your staycation the extreme.  Book your rentals in advance with Movement Solutions, and make sure you’re traveling on land in style with a luxury golf cart or fully-loaded jeep from Lake Life Rentals.  Your kiddos will love a visit to the Fire Museum, and don’t forget to take a stroll through Central Gardens where you can take the time to literally stop and smell the roses.

Beat the summer heat with a trip to City Beach and the Splash Pad before you take an evening cruise on the Lady of the Lake.  For all the music buffs out there, spend an afternoon at the Surf Ballroom & Museum before cruising up to the Memorial Crash Site just north of town. 

But the two “big cities” aren’t the only offering of fun for the ultimate staycation in North Iowa.  The rural towns dotted amongst the rolling landscape are filled with adventures around every corner! 

Hampton is home to Beads Lake, which has some of the best fishing in the Midwest.  Spend some time at the campground or take a journey via foot or bike on the two-mile trail along the shoreline.  Beads lake is also a great place to toddle around on the boat or take a swim at the sandy beach area.  Don’t forget to pack all the goodies for s’mores around the campfire!

A mere 19 miles to the North of Beads Lake is the town of Rockwell, home to Linn Grove Park.  This 38-acre outdoor oasis offers camping, biking, fishing, hiking and plenty of immersion into nature!  Have a picnic, enjoy a game of shuffleboard, and even geocache!  Just around the corner is an incredible 9-hole golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts.  This place is every outdoorsman’s dream come true.

A bit of a jaunt to the northeast of Rockwell, you’ll find the Fossil Park and Prairie Center on the outskirts of Rockford.  Looking for a unique experience?  Stroll through acres of native Iowa prairie, discover & collect ancient sea life from the quarry area and visit the company that unearthed these treasures.  Pro tip – be sure to bring something along to put your fossils in to carry home with you! 

On the opposite end of the North Iowa realm, you will definitely want to add a stop at Pilot Knob State Park just outside Forest City.  Founded in 1923, it is one of the oldest State Parks in Iowa.  The parks center piece is a CCC-era Observation Tower, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can climb the 1,365-foot tower on “Pilot Knob” and enjoy the natural landscape and breathtaking views.  In fact, on a clear day I’ve heard you can see all the way to Garner about 20 miles southeast of the park!

Just a bit to the southwest of Forest City is the small down of Britt.  Known as the host of Hobo Days for over one hundred years, Britt is also home to the famous Hobo Museum.  What started as a dream became reality in the 1980s to preserve the Hobo way of life.  The Hobo Museum boasts a vast collection of authentic artifacts, memorabilia, painting, photographs, and so much more.  It’s a glimpse into a world many people could never imagine, a life of those who rode the rails, traveling from town to town. 

Now, these are just a few of the spectacular communities in the North Iowa Area.  When planning your staycation, be sure to check out attractions in Osage, Nora Springs, Charles City, Thornton, Garner, Hanlontown, and Manly, as well.  These communities have some of the most incredible downtown areas filled with adorable shops and quaint restaurants!

In fact, it might be a good idea to just start a spreadsheet of all the awesome places you can visit and explore and then check them off one by one as you make your way through the North Iowa corridor. 

North Iowa summers are the perfect blend of sunshine and heat.  Spend a day at one of the many aquatic centers in the area.  Grab a lounge chair and soak up all the Vitamin D while your kiddos frolic in the crisp, cool water.  Each location has its own special feature too.  The Garner pool has a lazy river, while Nora Springs built an actual rock wall you can climb.  Rockwell wins for the best slide, shooting you straight into the deep end.

To find a full list of North Iowa Aquatic Centers, click here North Iowa Aquatic Centers

And don’t forget about food and drink!  The possibilities to fill your belly with an array of deliciousness are endless in North Iowa.  Farm to Table, homegrown delicacies, specialty restaurants, breweries, a distillery, and everything in between.  Good thing you’ll be doing all the activities day in and day out of your staycation, so you can eat without any worries!  I’ve heard “having all the fun” burns twice as many calories as even the most intense workout. 


To find a full list of restaurants in the area, click here Community Restaurants

Get your planner out, my friends, and start planning your staycation in North Iowa TODAY!

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