4 Budget-Friendly Fall Weekend Staycations in Iowa

Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge, Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

The holiday shopping and travel season are coming, so spending a huge amount on a fall getaway isn’t exactly ideal. Fortunately, you don’t have to miss retreating into the crisp autumn air, enjoying the harvest season, and watching the leaves changing color on the trees as you enjoy a little rest and relaxation. Iowa is full of fun, exciting, relaxing places that allow you to stay close to home. Here are four ideas for budget-friendly fall weekend staycations in Iowa. 

Explore the Bridges of Madison County

If you’re younger than Generation X, The Bridges of Madison County might not mean a thing to you. Let us fill you in on the movie version (based on the book). Meryl Streep meets photo guy Clint Eastwood while her hubby and kids are away. They fall in love and have four-day-long affair that almost ends in them running away. The movie tells their love story as they explore the bridges of Madison County. 

Sure, you can bring kids to see the historic covered bridges, but a trip to Madison County is perfect for couples too. Winterset is your starting point for this adventure, which doesn’t cost a thing except for gas and lodging. You’ll find a welcome center in Winterset, where you can get a map and learn more about the bridges. If you want to spend a little extra, you can also take one of their recommended guided tours to photograph the bridges. 

Immerse Yourself in German Heritage at Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies Ackerman Winery
Ackerman Winery, Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

Located just north of I-80, the Amana Colonies is a National Historic Landmark and one of the longest-living communal societies in the United States. Seven villages make up the colonies, which are full of history, art, culture, food, drink, and more. Germans settled in the villages in 1855, after leaving their home country because of persecution and economic depression. 

Amana Colonies has many lodging options, including hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds. Your best bet is the Amana Colonies Guest House Hotel—the only hotel located in Main Amana within walking distance of all the major attractions. Foodies will love their locally made wine and beer as well as great restaurants offering German fare. If you want to learn more about Amana Colonies’ history, make sure to visit the Amana Heritage Museum (only $10 admission) and the High Amana General Store. 

The historic Amana Colonies offers several themed weekends throughout the year. Girls Getaway Weekend is in early November each year. If yoga, mimosas, antiques, and art interest you or a special woman in your life, this is a great budget girls’ getaway. 

Go Spelunking at Maquoketa Caves State Park

Maquoketa Caves
Maquoketa Caves, Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

Did you know that you could explore caves right here in Iowa? Even though the state’s not the first place you think of when you think of caves, a visit to Maquoketa Caves State Park will change that! The park is full of towering bluffs and has 6 miles of trails that link the caves and other features of the park, including stunning limestone formations. Favorites include the Natural Bridge, located above Racoon Creek and Balanced Rock. 

In 2022, you can camp at the park until Nov. 13, when the campground closes for winter, but you should know the shower building closes a month earlier, on Oct. 17 but might stay open a little longer if weather permits. If you want to explore the park, but have no desire to rough it, stay in the town of Maquoketa. Lodging is limited, but you can really save pennies if you stay at the Econolodge. However, if you are willing to spend a little more, you can stay at the Squires Manor, a historic, brick, Queen Anne–style mansion, for only a little over $100 per night. 

Dive into Statehood in Des Moines

Des Moines skyline
Des Moines skyline, Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

It’s true that urban getaways can cost more, but if you make some trade-offs, you won’t blow your budget heading to the state’s capital for a weekend. Des Moines is full of inexpensive lodging, including hotels, motels, inns, and Airbnbs. However, staying close to the city’s main attractions might cost a bit more. 

The great news is that once you decide on a place to stay, you can engage in numerous free activities when you visit, offsetting more expensive lodging. Don’t miss a tour of the Capitol, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Also, explore the State Historical Museum of Iowa which is full of interactive exhibits for all ages, including Hollywood in the Heartland, one about Iowa in the movies, and First in the Nation (a history of Iowa caucuses). Finally, if you’re an art enthusiast, visit the Des Moines Art Center, the Moberg Gallery, and the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Downtown Des Moines.

 

by Jessica Lee
10/24/22

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