Central Iowa · Grownup Getaways · Iowa Wine, Beer, and Spirits · Lodging · Outdoors All Year

Scenic Day Trip Becoming a Weekend Getaway in Hardin County, Iowa

*The fall colors are here and you don’t want to skip Central Iowa when it comes to this amazing season in Iowa! Our visit was sponsored by Hardin County Economic Development. Some of the goods, meals, and services were complimentary. The views expressed in this blog post are of our own. Now, let’s Gallivant!

The scenic Iowa River valley and the Hardin County communities are ready for more of your autumn adventure this year! Be sure to stop here at the Sac & Fox Overlook on the Iowa River Greenbelt Scenic Drive

Hardin County, Iowa

We still have some amazing days coming up for memorable autumn road trips, Gallivant nation. Near the center of our state is Hardin County and it’s scenic beauty within its communities and wilderness around every turn. I recommend spending as much time as you can in the woods which means I’m recommending a cabin getaway!

Tower Rock Park

Just a short drive from the town of Steamboat Rock is the escape into the woods you’re looking for at Tower Rock!

An amazing scene within a beautiful park that overlooks the nearby Iowa River.
The front porch of this cabin will be one of the most inviting areas in the entire park at Tower Rock.
And then you’ll open the front door to a living room you’ll want to pick up and cuddle with!
The bedroom has a nice bed with sounds of the Hardin County wilderness all around the cabin and going throughout the evening.
Game night! Bring your family or group to this cabin and get those rivalries amped up!
Morning at the cabin! You might love what you see in the fall, but I’m starting to get those summer plans mentally booked with some positive cabin fever!
Just a short trip through the backyard and you’re on a hiking trail here at Tower Rock. Click here to see the booking info for your own cabin stay at Tower Rock Park!


Like a scene from a New Orleans neighborhood, Red’s Smokehouse springs up from Washington Avenue in Iowa Falls. This is where smoky meets gourmet in Hardin County!

The beautiful brickwork, outdoor dining, mature trees, and historic building that once was a law firm in Iowa Falls. Put all this together and you get Red’s Smokehouse! And we haven’t even gotten to the inside yet….
Apps! Apps! Apps! We all love’em and Red’s whips up some tasty starters to get this lunchtime moving in the right direction. Look at that juicy mound of sausage with one of the best pieces of corn bread you’re going to find in Iowa!
Carbs! Carbs! Carbs! I know I love heaping bowls of made from scratch mac and cheese and so do countless others who search for these masterpieces. I suggest you get to Red’s and order yours with their delicious smoked brisket to protein-up your meal!
Flatbreads aplenty at Red’s! Get it with some of that made from scratch mac and some smoked toppings to really make this flatbread moment memorable!
You can find beautiful brisket all over the menu at Red’s. Even on top of your salad!
Yes, you have room for dessert. Especially when you see this rich chocolate cake arriving at your table!
Smoked meats and giant portions aren’t the only things that the Red’s crew specializes in. The upper level provides not one, but two themed bars to keep all of us entertained!
Manhattan in Iowa Falls thanks to Red’s Smokehouse!

Stay Active

Hardin County Conservation does an incredible job of keeping this county beautiful with all its public land that folks can’t wait to utilize and enjoy. To show off their efforts, Hardin County Conservation organized an event that brought UTV enthusiasts to Steamboat Rock to ride the many miles of trails that Hardin County wants everyone to experience.

I’ve seen motorized rallies of all sorts but on this day I saw a first in my travels. A meetup of locals and visitors alike with UTV mania at Pine Ridge Park!
The UTV ride met here for a lunchbreak before heading back on the trail to Steamboat Rock and beyond. Calkins Nature Area is in rural Iowa Falls and provides an incredible amount of natural wonders. The prairie breezes will always be my favorite feature at any preserve.
Take a walk through the prairie and enjoy some public art at the same time at Calkins. This was one of several Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area sites in Central Iowa so make sure to get your stamp when you visit!
Inside the Nature Center is an unbelievable museum. If you seek Native American history then Calkins needs to be near the top of your list.
This collection was produced by one person! Jeff Ulch spent countless days of his spare time for most of his life in search of these artifacts in the Iowa River valley. Over 10,000 items and his most productive day is when he found 7 pieces!
The wild history of this Central Iowa region is a fascinating one and Calkins will keep your entire family wondering how much more they can discover when they visit.
Near the Iowa River is this scenic trail at Calkins. Ask for a tour at the Nature Center and see this beautiful slice of Hardin County with your own eyes.
When the leader of Hardin County Conservation invites you to lunch you take him up on that. Inside the Nature Center, at Calkins, was this classic Iowa meal awaiting everyone on the UTV ride. Slow cooked center cut tenderloin, creamy pasta salad and cheesy potatoes is something I can’t ever imagine turning down. Thank you to everyone one at Hardin County Conservation for doing a heck of job and helping make my Gallivant to your communities a fantastic one!

Stock Up

One of Iowa’s newest meat lockers is right here in Iowa Falls and it didn’t take long for them to get a loyal customer base. Nimrod Meats is an excellent locker for custom orders and they also feature an incredible showroom for some casual grocery shopping with a gourmet attitude. Always travel with a cooler, folks….

It’s not all meat around here at Nimrod’s! They have a great supply of Iowa products which means they love supporting local businesses all over our state.
Inside the fridges and freezers is the classic cuts and delicious oddities that Nimrod Meats features. Get those creative culinary skills cranked up when you’re going through all the possibilities for your future meals.
Thick cut smoked pork chops caught my eye right off the bat when I started roaming through Nimrod Meats.
How does taco night sound with some slow cooked cheek meat? Trust me, this is a game changer for your favorite tortillas and salsas at home!

Fish Fry

The Pine Lake Wildlife Club was established in 1938 making it Iowa’s oldest conservation club. They love the land and everything that calls it home. This club also knows how to keep their community fed and eager to take part in their monthly fish fry served on every fourth Friday! (Third Friday every November)

Inside their lodge is a modern kitchen with a group that’s been loading up the fryers for decades within this fine organization!
Perfectly cooked fish and prepared with care by a host of their volunteers.
Fresh oil is poured into the fryers every month and it produces wonderfully flavored breaded fish and mounds of crispy fries!
It’s like a supper club feature when these cups of cheese, pickles and celery make their appearance!
Pine Lake Wildlife Club does their entire fish fry with made from scratch recipes. This includes some of the best tartar sauce you’re ever going smother on a perfectly fried piece of fish and it’s right here in Hardin County near Eldora, Iowa!


Eldora is where we stopped to unwind after an entertaining day of Gallivanting throughout Hardin County. We hit the town square and found a historic escape for cocktails.

The Eldora Social Club was once a Carnegie library that’s been repurposed into a classy establishment for great food and refreshing cocktails that are professionally mixed by a talented staff.
Order your favorite cocktails or take a blast from the past with some of the classics! There’s a couple classics in this picture if you ask me. Bottoms up, Deb! My smoked old fashion is more enjoyable when I have a buddy by my side enjoying a refreshing cocktail with me in Eldora.
The Eldora Social Club features some popular pizza selections with an incredible ambiance. small towns in Iowa are seeing an uptick of gourmet flavors hitting the local menus and this very much includes Eldora!
What’s better than a nightcap? Two nightcaps! The Pines is right off the square in Eldora and their signage says it all. Just look for the pines!
Now that’s what I call a refreshing cocktail! Get the darts flying and ice swirling at The Pines. Especially during happy hour!
The Pines is also known for their gourmet hot dog creations. On this this night it was the Philly dog on special with plenty of peppers, onions and a rich cheese sauce.

Breakfast Time

Ackley was the community where my coffee was calling me in to town and it was something to cherish. That’s because I found complete relaxation at Chairish Life Coffee Shop on Main Street!

It will only take you a moment to see why this wonderful coffee shop spells it “Chairish”. This place is well stocked with comfortable chairs of all kinds including these vintage beauties with a Main Street view.
Buttery croissant breakfast sandwich with egg, sausage and melted cheese. Just perfect! A large ice coffee and the local paper to mull over in a setting that keeps me wanting to stay all day. Chairish Life is truly one of the most relaxing coffee shops I’ve ever been to.
You’ll have to get off your chair at some point and when you do you can get some shopping done while you’re at it. Chairish Life has a phenomenal stock of clothing, artwork, home goods and more. That means Ackley should be on our Christmas shopping list for sure!

Another round of Hardin County and it produced even more areas and businesses that were new to me, and that’s why I love making return trips. I met more locals and got to see some of the folks I met back in 2015 during our first trip to this scenic and thriving county. Autumn exploring is still here and then holiday season shopping opportunists will be just around the corner. Hardin County is ready for all of us visitors in every town with the open signs on, plates full of delicious meals, memorable wild tree lines, and small businesses eager to see you. Let’s turn that day trip into an easygoing weekend getaway in Hardin County!

Thank you to everyone who showed me a great time in Hardin County! Come see these areas for yourself, my friends. Bill Riley is always looking for more talent!

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