Nestled along the banks of the mighty Missouri River, Council Bluffs, Iowa, is a charming city that often gets overshadowed by its larger neighbor, Omaha. However, this hidden gem of the Midwest has a lot to offer, from historical sites and outdoor activities to vibrant cultural experiences. If you find yourself in Council Bluffs, here are some must-visit attractions and activities that will make your visit memorable.
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center: Begin your journey in Council Bluffs by delving into its rich history at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center. Learn about the famous expedition, explore interactive exhibits, and enjoy scenic views of the Missouri River. The center serves as an excellent starting point for understanding the region’s role in the Lewis and Clark expedition.
- Union Pacific Railroad Museum: For railroad enthusiasts or anyone interested in the history of transportation, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is a fascinating stop. Housed in the beautifully restored Carnegie Library, the museum showcases the pivotal role the railroad played in shaping the American West. Interactive exhibits and vintage railcars make this museum a treat for all ages.
- Bayliss Park: Take a leisurely stroll through the heart of Council Bluffs at Bayliss Park. This picturesque green space features a stunning fountain, walking paths, and well-maintained gardens. Pack a picnic or simply relax on the grass while enjoying the serene ambiance of this urban oasis.
- Hitchcock Nature Center: If you’re craving some outdoor adventure, head to the Hitchcock Nature Center. Located just a short drive from the city, this expansive park offers hiking trails, birdwatching opportunities, and breathtaking panoramic views of the Missouri River Valley. It’s the perfect escape for nature lovers.
- Harrah’s Council Bluffs Casino: For those seeking a bit of excitement, Harrah’s Council Bluffs Casino provides a lively atmosphere with gaming, entertainment, and dining options. Whether you’re trying your luck at the slot machines or catching a live show, the casino offers a vibrant nightlife experience.
- Historic General Dodge House: Step back in time with a visit to the Historic General Dodge House, the former residence of Civil War General Grenville M. Dodge. Tour the impeccably preserved Victorian mansion, filled with period furnishings and artifacts, and gain insights into the life of this influential figure in American history.
- Kanesville Tabernacle: Delve into the religious history of Council Bluffs by visiting the Kanesville Tabernacle. This historic site served as a gathering place for Mormon pioneers during their westward migration. The tabernacle’s architecture and exhibits offer a glimpse into the challenges faced by early settlers.
- Lake Manawa State Park: For water enthusiasts, Lake Manawa State Park is a must-visit destination. Enjoy boating, fishing, and swimming in the picturesque Lake Manawa. The park also offers hiking and biking trails, providing a perfect blend of outdoor activities for a day of family fun or relaxation.
- Squirrel Cage Jail: Uncover the intriguing history of law enforcement by touring the Squirrel Cage Jail. This unique rotary jail, one of only three still in existence, operated from 1885 to 1969. The design allowed the jailer to rotate the cells using a crank, making it an unconventional and fascinating piece of local history.
- Western Historic Trails Center: Dive deeper into the region’s history at the Western Historic Trails Center. This museum focuses on the various westward trails that passed through Council Bluffs during the 19th century. Interactive exhibits and informative displays provide insight into the challenges faced by pioneers on their journeys westward.
- RailsWest Railroad Museum: Expand your appreciation for railroad history with a visit to the RailsWest Railroad Museum. Located in a historic Rock Island Depot, the museum houses an impressive collection of vintage railcars and artifacts, offering a comprehensive look at the impact of railroads on the development of the American West.
- River’s Edge Park: Embrace the natural beauty of the Missouri River at River’s Edge Park. This expansive park features walking and biking trails, scenic overlooks, and a playground for children. Attendees can also catch live performances at the Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park Amphitheater during the summer months.
- Antique Shopping in Old Market Square: Take a stroll through the charming Old Market Square, where you’ll find a variety of antique shops, boutiques, and art galleries. Explore the unique offerings and perhaps discover a hidden gem to take home as a souvenir of your visit.
- Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard: Experience the flavors of Council Bluffs at Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard. Depending on the season, you can pick your own apples, enjoy wine tastings, or indulge in freshly baked goods at the orchard’s farm store. It’s a delightful spot for families and food enthusiasts alike.
- Kanesville Queen Riverboat: Embark on a riverboat adventure aboard the Kanesville Queen. Cruise along the Missouri River, taking in scenic views while learning about the history of Council Bluffs and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Sunset cruises offer a particularly enchanting experience.
Conclusion: Council Bluffs, Iowa, may be an underrated destination, but it’s brimming with history, natural beauty, and diverse attractions. Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s rich past, immersing yourself in nature, or trying your luck at the casino, Council Bluffs has something for everyone. Take the time to discover this hidden gem, and you’ll be rewarded with a unique and memorable Midwestern experience.