Introduction to Northeast Iowa
With some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the entire Midwest, Northeast Iowa is a beautiful place to visit, with landscapes ranging from wooded hills to cold-water streams, caves and views of the Upper Mississippi River. After relaxing days filled with exercise and the great outdoors, it’s fun to kick back and relax with a refreshing beverage hand-crafted by a local brewery or winery.
There are quite a few craft beverage establishments worth visiting in this region of Iowa, which perfectly complement the small town vibes that you’ll discover on a road trip stop, weekend getaway or weeklong vacation. Let’s go exploring!
Northeast Region Details
Northeast Iowa is a mostly rural area of the state that extends to where the Mississippi River Valley meets up with the borders of Wisconsin & Illinois. It is a region with unique natural landscapes that are ideal for fishing, kayaking, hiking, biking, camping, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. But these landscapes also have an impact on how wine grapes are grown and how craft beer ingredients are sourced.
There are over 40 different types of cold-hearty grapes grown in Iowa, but new grape varieties have emerged and been especially thriving in the eastern part of the state. Frontenac and La Crescent are commonly grown in Northeast Iowa and produce wines that are high-quality but often have a more fruity or tart taste compared to wines from grapes grown in California.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of farmers are growing hops in the eastern part of the state to tap into the popular craft beer industry. Hops grow well in the rich soil of the region, although the humidity levels can create breeding grounds for downy mildew without proper fungicide application.
Hops are also helping local farmers diversify their crops and ensure long-term sustainability. Yet they are a labor-intensive crop that requires substantial pruning and a harvesting process that involves separating hop cones from the bines after cutting them down and putting them in a stationary combine. To help familiarize yourself with the geography of this vast region, here are counties that make up Northeast Iowa:
• Cerro Gordo
• Black Hawk
Why Visit Northeast Iowa?
Many of the wineries, breweries and distilleries in Northeast Iowa have a very family-run and friendly vibe that is low-key and welcoming. There is a manageable number of homegrown wine, beer and spirits establishments in the region, which makes it very possible to check out at least a majority of them on an extended trip.
When you visit the local wineries, you’ll often have an opportunity to talk directly with the owners and learn about their craft and passion for the industry. These small businesses are unpretentious and focus on quality while paying attention to even the smallest details, which keeps local residents coming back again and again. Some are even child-friendly and pet-friendly, so you can easily spend an afternoon with everyone you love in a beautiful outdoor space while admiring the gentle rolling hills and quiet countryside.
On the beer side of things, the homebrewing movement is strong in Northeast Iowa, leading many successful entrepreneurs to open up their own commercial breweries. These new establishments are driving the local economy and adding diversity to an already-thriving craft beverage scene that is bringing both locals and tourists together.
Top Craft Beverage Destinations
Northeast Iowa is home to some excellent breweries, wineries and even a campground with its own bar! Here are a few of our favorite places to grab a drink, relax and live like a local in this region:
Many Iowans go camping regularly, but very few can say they have been to a campground with a bar on site! The Bluffton Campground and Bar is located about 15 miles from Decorah and has a bar open on Tuesdays through Sundays. Kayak and canoe rentals are also available.
PromiseLand Winery is a family-run winery owned by Pat and Cindy Wachendorf. Located in Guttenberg, the winery also hosts seasonal live music in the back courtyard on Sundays and freshly baked pizzas if you get hungry.
Inside the winery, you will find a spacious tasting room, an event room that can be used for small to medium-sized parties, and six boutiques that will fulfill your shopping needs! Feel free to take a walk or drive up to our vineyard to see where our award-winning wines began. Enjoy some music in the back courtyard when the weather is nice or warm up by a cozy fire when it’s too cold to be outside! Whatever the occasion, PromiseLand Winery is a unique and gorgeous destination!
Winneshiek Wildberry Winery: Is a family-owned and operated winery specializing in fruit and Midwestern grape wines, which are best enjoyed while taking in the view from the winery’s patio. Located on a 150-year family farm, Winneshiek Wildberry Winery also offers a food menu and wine-themed gifts.
Toppling Goliath Brewing Company: Is a Decorah brewery that has been on the local scene since 2009. It is well-known for its IPAs and barrel stouts but serves over 40 rotating beers throughout the year in its friendly taproom.
Nearby Local Attractions
As you are exploring Northeast Iowa and checking these highly rated beverage destinations off your itinerary, make sure to visit some of these popular local attractions as well:
Cedar Falls, IA
• Cedar Falls Beer Trail: The Cedar Falls Beer Trail showcases local craft breweries and taprooms in Cedar Falls and celebrates the safe use of its extensive, 100-mile trail system. Pick up a passport at one of the seven participating breweries/taprooms or print a passport at home from www.cedarfallstourism.org/webres/File/Trails/BeerTrail-Passport-2022.pdf Each passport may be used by one person age 21 or older.
• Trout Streams: Northeast Iowa is known to have some of the most pristine streams in the entire state, perhaps the upper Midwest.
• Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum & Folk Art School: Learn about Norwegian-American history at Vesterheim.
• Upper Iowa River: Is perhaps the most widely-recognized river in Iowa and one of the first in the nation to be nominated as a national Wild and Scenic River in the 1960s.
• Lock and Dam NO. 10: There is a beautiful park all along the Mississippi River on both sides of the Lock and Dam with an observation deck at the lock where you can view ships going through the lock. Interesting for the whole family. Be sure to visit the Lockmaster’s Museum too!
• Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge: is a 240,000-acre, 261-mile long National Wildlife Refuge located in and along the Upper Mississippi River. It runs from Wabasha, Minnesota in the north to Rock Island, Illinois in the south. In its northern portion, it is in the Driftless Area, a region of North America that remained free from ice during the last ice age.
• National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium: The animals, culture and history of Iowa’s rivers come to life through dynamic exhibits, aquariums, animal encounters, a 3D/4D theater, William M. Black dredge boat and more on this 10-acre campus.
No matter the destination, supporting local businesses while connecting with people who share your interests is always rewarding. We hope you enjoy these craft beverage hot spots and local attractions along the way of whatever journey you’re taking.
To learn more about things to do and where to stay in Northeast Iowa, check out the official Travel Iowa website www.traveliowa.com and browse our guide Iowa Trails & Tales for fun trip ideas and inspiration or visit our website www.trails-tales.net