In Winterset, you can see these cute little guys at Rusty Stars Alpacas. Photo: Rusty Stars Alpacas
Located about 40 minutes southwest of Des Moines, Madison County makes for a perfect day away amid the rolling hills, verdant parks and picturesque towns. Here are a few of our favorite stops besides the covered bridges and John Wayne landmarks.
If you’ve got kids—or just like visiting unique farms—the county provides a few creative establishments. Bare Bison, located several miles from Howell Tree Farm in Cumming, offers ATV tours of their bison ranch as well as shopping for a variety of their lean cuts of meat, super-soft sweatshirts, branded trucker caps and more. Pick up a few bison bars or sticks to fuel the day’s adventure. For more fuzzy encounters, stop by Rusty Stars Alpacas in Winterset. Open Saturdays, the farm features a store with clothing from the animals, yarn from the farm, socks and more. Plus, you can get up close to the South American softies.
Dine and Shop Winterset’s Town Square
Anchored by its historic courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Winterset has one of the newest, hottest dining halls in the state, the Drift. With craft cocktails, beers, wines and grazing boards loaded with European cheese, house-made mustard and other bites such as grown-up grilled cheese, the new-in-December restaurant is quickly becoming a fan favorite (open Wednesday through Sunday). If you’re in town on Saturday, check out the morning farmers market, and make sure to browse local businesses on the square.
Hit Water or Land Trails
The Middle River is one of the most scenic spots in Central Iowa for paddlers. Our favorite put-in is the Roseman Bridge, with takeout at Pammel Park. The 8-mile route, which takes several hours to float, winds through limestone bluffs and dense woods. If you prefer to hike, the county has more than 20 miles of developed trails, including Pammel Park and our secret spot, Clanton Creek Natural Resource Area. Check out Madison County Conservation’s site for maps and information.
Savor a Sip
With three wineries and a cidery in the county, you can pick your spirits adventure. Awarded 2020’s winemaker of the year by the Iowa Wine Growers Association, Covered Bridges Winery and vintner Kevin Fifo consistently deliver tasty flavors in a relaxed environment. Their motto: Open, pour, sip, rest under a tree. Plus, you can enjoy live tunes throughout the season. For beer lovers, check out Big Rack Brew Haus (sample the seasonals). Cider fans can enjoy flavors such as apple pie and limestone habanero at Winterset Cidery; their season opening is May 15.