EXPLORE: Day Trippers

By Sofia Legaspi Dickens

Take advantage of these long days at these small(er) town road trip destinations, all within an hour — give or take — of the metro.

No excuses: Winterset, the seat of Madison County, is less than 40 miles from downtown Des Moines. The region, of course, inspired the best-selling novel, “The Bridges of Madison County,” and was featured in the romantic drama film of the same name. After a morning of sightseeing among these iconic 19th-century covered bridges, head to the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum, which celebrated 40 years and a new museum addition last year.

Dive into the rich history of picturesque Story City, less than an hour from downtown Des Moines. This Iowa Main Street Community includes quaint shops, unique restaurants and the historical 110-year-old Story Theater/Grand Opera House. Their crowning glory is the Story City Carousel, an antique, hand-carved ​​Herschell-Spillman portable merry-go-round from 1913. Yes, it still works! Admission is $1.
TIP: The city’s annual festival, Scandinavian Days, is scheduled for June 2-3.

Boone celebrates its rich railroad heritage at Pufferbilly Days (Aug. 4-6 this year), one of the largest community festivals in Iowa. Visitors can find a close-up railway experience via the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum. And beyond trains, the town boasts the Boone Speedway, which attracts the nation’s top racers each year at the Speedway Motors IMCA SuperNationals.

Scenic and steeped in German heritage, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in Amana. The region’s festivals and themed weekends are plentiful: Wurst Festival in June, Colonies in Bloom in June and July, Kinderfest in July, Apfelfest in September, Tannenbaum Forest and Prelude to Christmas in December, Take a Bite (food festival) in April, Maifest in May. Don’t forget their biggest event of the year: Oktoberfest in, well, October.

Pella’s Tulip Time festival comes around each May and is a must-see. But even if you missed it this year, it’s always the right time to enjoy a slice of the Netherlands. Favorite sight-seeing spots in this picturesque town include the waterways and drawbridge at Molengracht Plaza, the quirky Klokkenspel carillon clock, the Sunken Gardens, the Vermeer Mill and oodles of Dutch bakeries, restaurants and stores.

Who knew Denmark was so close to home? Elk Horn may have a population of 600, but don’t write off this little town. It’s home to the Museum of Danish America, an 1848 Danish Windmill, and more than a century of Danish heritage alongside Kimballton, its twin village down the road. Embrace the Danish concept of “hygge” — cozy contentment in life’s small joys. n