Located in northeast Iowa on the Mississippi River, McGregor offers stellar fall views, 50 miles of area hiking trails, plus downtown antique shops and restaurants. Photo: Audrey Posten.
Writer: Beth Eslinger
Fall is perhaps the best time to visit bluff country in northeast Iowa. Outdoor experiences amid the color-rich bluffs are a prime reason for a weekend away, as are historic downtowns featuring independent shops showcasing antiques, artwork and more. Local experts tell us fall color is at its prime this weekend. According to the DNR’s fall color report, “walnut, hackberry, basswood and elm are unusually bright and brilliant” this year.
One of our favorite spots is McGregor in Clayton County. Founded in the mid-1800s, the downtown exudes charm, with brick two-stories lining the main strip. Before a day out on the trails, stop at By the Spoonful on Main Street for fresh-made sandwiches and gourmet snacks to enjoy on a picnic.
At Effigy Mounds National Monument, about 10 miles north of McGregor, hike amid Native American burial grounds in the shapes of bears and birds. At the north unit, take in the Mississippi River and vibrant bluff views from several overlooks. Signage on the trails explains the woodland peoples who built the mounds (currently the visitors center is closed due to the pandemic). The Marching Bear Group to the south features 10 bruin-shape mounds that are particularly beautiful when covered with falling leaves.
Heading back south to McGregor along the Great River Road, the town of Marquette is worth a stop for antique shopping and an outdoor wine tasting at Eagles Landing Winery. In McGregor (it’s just three-minute drive), find cafes, pub fare and a brewery.
For overnight options, there are several Airbnbs, bed-and-breakfasts, and Victorian-style hotels. Want a truly unique river experience amid the fall foliage? We suggest booking a houseboat from S&S Rentals in Lansing, which is upriver. The business also offers pontoon boats for cruising this portion of the Mississippi (its season ends Oct. 18).
Additional hiking options are available at Yellow River State Forest and Pike’s Peak State Park just south of McGregor.