By: IMP Member Ceric Keck
Located only a little over an hour and a half away, Dubuque is a great destination for a family weekend trip. It is located along the Mississippi River, and the bluffs surrounding it show off a different landscape than what most people expect of Iowa (i.e., flat).
The best place to stay is the Grand Harbor Resort. They are located downtown right along the Mississippi and have an attached waterpark that is great for kids of all ages. They have everything from a zero-entry wading pool for the littlest of swimmers to larger tube waterslides. When booking at the hotel, you can get weekend passes for the waterpark bundled with your room to save some money. Or, if you choose to stay at a different hotel, waterpark-only passes are also an option.
Right next door to the Grand Harbor is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. They have a great area for smaller children where they can interact with some different exhibits and burn off some energy playing. There’s a large water table that allows you to build dams and float boats down the river—a particular favorite of my daughter’s. They also have different traveling exhibits that come through, so there is always something new.
If you are looking for some outdoor activities, the Mines of Spain Recreation Area is located just a few minutes south of Dubuque and has a good selection of hiking or cross-country skiing trails (depending on the season). The Julian Dubuque Monument is also located on the bluffs within the park and offers a great view of the river.
Another great option for an outdoor activity is the Heritage Trail, which runs from Dubuque to Dyersville (where the Field of Dreams is). It is a crushed limestone trail that is nice for walking, biking and running. There is also a stocked pond by the main parking lot with fishing platforms.
About 10 minutes south of Dubuque is Crystal Lake Cave, and while not an especially large cave, it is definitely worth a trip with lots of great formations. If you are looking for a larger network of caves, Maquoketa Caves State Park is only 30 minutes south of Dubuque and has scenic hiking trails linking different caves, formations, and overlooks.
Other attractions in and around Dubuque:
- Fenelon Place Elevator (aka the 4th street elevator to locals), which is the world’s shortest and steepest railway. It travels almost 300 feet up the side of a bluff.
- Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, which includes a peaceful Japanese garden and Koi pond, as well as some recreations from classic children’s books such as Peter Rabbit’s garden and the 3 Billy Goats Gruff bridge.
- Swiss Valley Nature Center, which has 10 miles of nature and hiking trails. These trails are also used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.