I grew up in small-town Kansas, and have a soft spot for rural life. While I love Iowa City, I especially love exploring new places, meeting new people, and exposing my boys to the charm and beauty of small towns and country life. I started taking regular “field trips” with my boys last year, and I’m excited to share our journeys with you!
Load up your kids and picnic basket, it’s time for a Friday field trip! Today, we are headed north for some outdoor fun and a sweet, local treat.
- Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids
- Dan & Debbie’s Creamery, Ely
Indian Creek Nature Center (ICNC) is roughly 40 minutes north of Iowa City. I prefer the scenic route, and followed Highway 1 through Solon, and then along the Cedar River. If you want to see some beautiful Iowa landscape, I highly recommend this route. My boys also loved yelling “Moooo” at the many cows we saw along the way.
We spent our first hour in ICNCs “Amazing Space,” which is their main campus building. Built in 2016, it is one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the country. Inside, we explored classrooms filled with taxidermy, puppets, and children’s books. We then said hello to a few animals who call the Amazing Space their home, including a turtle, toad, fish and snakes.
Also inside the Amazing Space building is a bird watching room, complete with comfy chairs, books, and a contained beehive. If you have a little one tagging along for this field trip, I recommend this area for any quiet time you may need. The older members of your crew will keep busy looking through the binoculars at the many birds, and peeking into the beehive. Have them search for the queen bee, that should keep them busy for a while!
Surrounding the main campus building are four miles of hiking trails that wind through 210 acres. You have your druthers when deciding which landscape you’d like to explore. Prairie? Woodlands? Wetlands? Take your pick!
The boys and I headed off on a prairie hike, but somehow got stuck inside the labyrinth trail. I guess that’s what happens when your guides are 4 and 3! I advise grabbing a trail map from the main building, or researching the trails online before you go!
The highlight of our trip to ICNC was the outdoor nature sensory trail, complete with a full-sized teepee, mud kitchen, and functional water pump, which was a big hit! My boys could have spent the entire day in this large, child friendly space. They can mud paint on canvas, balance on tree stumps, make mud pies, or do whatever their imaginations see fit. Your child (and possibly you) will most likely end up dirty, so wear appropriate clothes.
After a morning of hiking and play, we enjoyed our picnic lunch at one of the many tables throughout the nature center. Before leaving, we popped back into the Amazing Space to use the restroom (yes, there are changing tables) and browsed their gift store, Creekside Shop. Pick up some raw honey or fresh maple syrup to try.
Ice Cream Time!
The final stop on our field trip, Dan and Debbie’s Creamery, is located about 10 minutes south of the nature center. I had been waiting all summer to check this place out, and it didn’t disappoint!
According to their website, goal of the Creamery is to “provide the freshest, most wholesome farm to table dairy products in the area.”
All of the dairy products served at the Creamery are truly farm to table. On a small farm outside of Ely, 150 dairy cows are milked twice a day and are treated like cow royalty. Each cow is given a name at birth, is milked in a parlor, and housed in a sand bedded freestall barn. Months before a cow is to give birth, she is sent to pasture for some momma-to-be R&R. Now that’s what I call a babymoon!
Tours of the farm are available, but if you want the good stuff (the ice cream!) visit the Creamery, located in downtown Ely. This is where the milk from the farm is transformed into squeaky cheese curds, delicious ice cream, or bottled to sell, cream top. If you’d like to see the transformation first-hand, you’re in luck! Inside the Creamery is a viewing room, where you can watch the process from start to finish.
The ice cream was truly the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. So fresh and creamy, not overly sweet, and served at the perfect temperature. Enjoy a cone at the store and buy a pint (or 6) to take home! The Creamery also sells a handful of other local items, it’s a one-stop shop for groceries!
Until next time, keep adventuring!