Iowa to many is flat – both geographically and culturally. While it’s true we don’t have majestic mountains or beautiful oceans to visit, Iowa actually has a lot to offer – you just need to know where to look! Below are our top recommendations for summer activities, entertainment, and cultural experiences to check out in Southeast Iowa this Summer.
We’ve included some of our favorite cultural experiences and outdoor activities in Southeast Iowa in the counties of Jefferson, Van Buren, Mahaska, Keokuk, Davis, and Wapello. This list is not all-inclusive and we could have gone far beyond 40 items.
We hope this list helps you get out and enjoying what our corner of Iowa has to offer.
There is a multitude of forests, rivers, and even lakes to be explored in our little corner of the state – enough, in fact, to keep you busy all summer long! Some of our favorite outdoor summer activities in Southeast Iowa include:
- Canoeing the Skunk River
The skunk river is one of the largest rivers in Iowa, covering well over 300 miles and 19 counties. There are many entry and exit points along the river as you can see in the chart below. Check out this complete Iowa Canoe Guide for more info.
- Canoeing or Floating the Van Buren County Water Trail
The Van Buren Water Trail travels over 41 miles between the towns of Selma and Farmington, making this canoe trip a one or two-day trek that passes through the many charming villages of Van Buren County. There are several access points along the water trail that lead to campgrounds, forests and hiking trails, and, of course, the towns and villages of Van Buren County that each host their own local amenities. Be sure to check the water levels of the river, and never canoe during flood levels as heavy debris produce hazardous conditions for water-goers. The safest time to go out on the river is mid-summer when the water levels have dropped beneath the flood levels. It’s always best to check with local authorities for current river conditions. Click here to download the water trail map.
- Camping and Hiking Lacey Keosauqua State Park
Both camping and hiking in Keosauqua are summer favorites for most locals. The lake has boat rentals and a roped in swimming area all summer long. You can reserve a campsite and find out more about the lake here.
- Camping and Hiking at Geode State Park
Geode State Park has recently reopened and is ready for summer visitors! You can reserve a campground and read more about the park and its amenities here.
- Bike the Loop Trail in Fairfield
Hit the gravel on Fairfield’s amazing 17-mile bike trail. Be sure to bring plenty of water, a good sun hat, and some snacks for the day. Plan to spend 1-4 hours biking depending on your speed. There are many options for trailheads, but we recommend beginning your ride off of B-Street in Fairfield. You can park your car in the gravel lot just near the Maharishi University Campus entrance. From here your ride will take you near the beautiful Bonnefield Lake (also a great spot to splash in and cool off after your ride!) You’ll also pass through Fairfield’s many forests including Witham Woods, Lampson Woods, Jefferson County Park, and Chautauqua Park. Plan to return on another day to explore the trail systems on foot (about 8 miles of trails exist in Fairfield) – truly a gem of Southeast Iowa.
- Hiking Lake Darling in Brighton
Lake Darling boasts over 13 acres of hiking trails around the lake, along with camping and cabin rentals. Click here to reserve a spot and find out more about what this lovely lake has to offer.
- Shimek State Forest
Shimek State Forest is located in both Van Buren and Lee counties and offers multiple campsites and four lakes stocked with bass, channel catfish, and panfish. Click here to find out more about this extensive forest and all it has to offer. For questions regarding:
- Lower and Upper Campground
- Bitternut Lake Campground
- White Oak Campground
Please contact the parks technician at 319-931-7805.
- Garrison Rock Reserve
Hiking trails and river views are plentiful at Garrison Rock Reserve in Ottumwa, IA. Click here to find out more information about Garrison Rock.
9. Pioneer Ridge Nature Area
For those looking for a place to camp, horseback ride, or escape to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, Pioneer Ridge might be the place for you! Click here for more information.
Best Swimming Spots
- Fairfield Outdoor Pool
The outdoor pool in Fairfield is great for kids of all ages. It boasts a large water-park style water slide, a high dive, and a large splash pad and small slide for younger kids. Click here to find hours and admission information.
- Beach Ottumwa
The Beach Ottumwa is a classic summer favorite. It features a wave pool, curly slide, speed slide, and more. For hours and pricing click here.
- Lacey Keosauqua Lake Swimming
Swimming at Lacey Keosauqua is a must-do for locals. The beach is open all summer long and offers boat rentals as well as a designated swimming area. Click here for more information on the lake and its amenities.
- Lake Keomah State Park
Lake Keomah in Oskaloosa offers swimming, boating, and fishing activities. You will also find hiking, and camping available in the park. Click here to learn more.
14. Indian Lake Park
Swimming, boating, and fishing can all be experienced at Indian Lake Park in Farmington, IA. There is also camping available in the park at several campgrounds as well as cabin rentals and spaces for RVs. Reserve your spot here.
Cultural & Historical Experiences
Experience a piece of history at the American Gothic House in Eldon, IA – the inspiration for the infamous painting by Grant Wood.
- Chief Wapello’s Gravesite and Memorial Park
6899 Chief Wapello Rd. Agency, Iowa
Spend a day looking for hidden “treasure” in Van Buren County. Click the link above for more details.
Step back in time at the Peavine Line Museum, where you will get a chance to see historic railway equipment and memorabilia.
104 N. Main
Stockport,, IA 52651
- Selma Log Cabin
Originally built in 1864!
Open for special events and by appointment.
Selma, IA 52588
641-936-8822 / 641-777-7762
- Indian Artifact Museum
The museum is home to a large collection of arrowheads and other Indian Artifacts.
Open weekends (or by chance.)
21929 Des Moines St.
Bentonsport, IA 52565
Enjoy the legacy of architect Frank Lloyd Wright – in Oskaloosa!
Not open for tours.
1907 A Avenue East
- Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum/Mahaska County Historical Society
Both a farm and a museum, the Nelson Pioneer Farm is one of the more interesting summer activities in Southeast Iowa. There is plenty to do for kids and adults alike.
Open May through September
10:00 am – 4:00 pm Tuesday thru Saturday
12:00 pm – 5:00 pm Sunday
Take a tour of Iowa’s only remaining pottery and witness historically exact pieces cast from original molds.
411 1st St.
Bonaparte, IA 52620
- Dumont Museum of Dreamworld Collectibles
20595 255th St.
- Van Buren Co. Fair
Mark Your Calendars for July 22-29, 2019
20497 Hwy. 1 North
Keosauqua, IA 52565
Buy, Eat, and Be Local
21947 Des Moines St.
- Fairfield Farmer’s Market
Howard Park, Fairfield
- Market on Main
331 E. Main St
Ottumwa, IA 52501
301 State Street
Farmington, IA 52626
- Dutchman’s Store
103 Division St
Cantril, IA 52542
- Betonsport Artisan Co-Op
21968 Hawk Dr.
Bentonsport, IA 52565
- Bloom and Bark – Glass Blowing
18517 Rte. J40
Keosauqua, IA 52565
- Iron and Lace – Local Pottery
21952 Hawk Drive
Try a classic Dutch letter – nothing beats an almond-filled pastry!
201 A Ave E, Oskaloosa, IA 52577-2807
Try their award-winning Prairie Breeze – thought by many to be the best cheddar in Iowa!
202 East Hwy 2
Milton, IA 52570
Southeast Iowa is full of local treasures – we hope you enjoy getting out and about in Southeast Iowa, and check out many of the attractions, local businesses, and outdoor activities listed above.
Fairfield is home to not just one, but TWO local cider breweries. Jeff Co. Ciderworks features both drinks and eats and a family-friendly environment to enjoy a fresh and handmade cider. Come for the sunset – it won’t dissapoint.
1839 200th St, Fairfield, IA 52556
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday 4pm-11pm
The Ciderhouse 1949 is Fairfield’s second hard cider brewery, located in their recently opened enormous and gorgeous timber-frame building. The Ciderhouse is also available for event rentals.
1949 Pleasant Plain Rd, Fairfield, IA 52556
We hope you’ll check out some of these fun summer activities in Southeast Iowa!
Check out our Community Resource Guide for more important community information!