WINTERSET, Iowa (KMTV) — The bridges may beckon you, but there's much more to Madison County, Iowa than the covered bridges. From unique shops in Winterset's courthouse square to a coffeehouse serving pie shakes, Madison County is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway or even just a day trip.
My wife Lisa and I have been fans of Madison County for more than 20 years. We attended the Nebraska-Iowa State football game with friends in Ames in early October 2000. The Huskers prevailed 49-27 on that very chilly Saturday afternoon. Following the game, our foursome headed to Clive, home to our hotel for the night.
While at dinner, Lisa mentioned she'd like to visit the Bridges of Madison County the next day on our way back to Omaha. Our traveling partners liked the idea. So, we spent a few hours visiting a handful of the covered bridges before making our way into Winterset. That weekend visit ignited a long-term fascination with the area that extends beyond the bridges.
Here are our suggestions for a fun experience in Madison County.
Covered Bridges of Madison County
Of course, the covered bridges are the star attractions in Madison County. While they've been around for more than 100 years, they seem to have become much more popular after the release of the novel, "The Bridges of Madison County," and the ensuing movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.
Today, the six bridges, from Hogback to the picturesque Roseman, are draws for tourists. Each bridge offers outstanding views and a sense of history. Sunrise visits at Hogback are a must during any visit. Another covered bridge is located at the city park, along with a shrub maze. Climb the Clark Tower for an impressive view of the area.
Covered Bridges Festival — Winterset celebrates its covered bridges history during the annual Covered Bridges Festival from Oct. 9 to 10. Food, games, demonstrations, a car show, quilt show and a parade highlight the festival’s events.
Iowa Quilt Museum
My grandmother created quilts. I remember visiting her as a child and always seeing a quilt on her bed. With so many children in our family, some of us would sleep on the floor and our bedding always included a couple of quilts as our mattress.
Lisa and I have two quilts of our own at home — a sports quilt our youngest daughter gave me for Christmas and a star quilt given to us following a John Trudell Lecture Series (named after my older brother) presentation at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
So, the Iowa Quilt Museum is a must when visiting Winterset. Featuring quilts from around the country, the museum is part art gallery and history museum. With rotating exhibits throughout the year, you can see something new anytime you visit Winterset. From quilts celebrating New York City through the eyes of its quilters to Quilts of Valor, honoring America's military veterans, the Iowa Quilt Museum showcases beautiful works.
The museum, located in a former JC Penney department store, also includes exhibits highlighting the history of quilting, including sewing machines, patterns and accessories.
Public art has exploded around the Midwest, with cities embracing the idea of murals to help tell their history or share artists' take on pop culture. Winterset is home to a series of alley art, across from the county courthouse, near the Iowa Theater, with murals celebrating the area's attractions, patriotism and a bit of pop culture.
You can have your photo taken in front of a Winterset postcard-style mural or while simulating riding a swing. You can also pose with characters from "Alice in Wonderland."
John Wayne Birthplace Museum
Before he was The Duke, John Wayne was Marion Morrison of Winterset, Iowa. The Hollywood icon is honored at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, which includes a look at his childhood, acting career and personal life. With a specially built station wagon used on family vacations, the museum offers a look at Wayne's life you may not know. Other exhibits include costumes and props used in several of his movies, including "Big Jake" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."
Following a visit to the museum, head to Wayne's childhood home. With four rooms — a parlor, living room, kitchen and bedroom — the family's rented house was a crowded one. As a pharmacist, Wayne's father traveled to different towns for business. The family lived in Winterset for about seven years before moving to another Iowa community. They eventually relocated to California, leading to Wayne's movie career, which included almost 180 credits.
Located in downtown Winterset, Delirium Gallery features contemporary fine art exhibits. Housed in the former Madisonian newspaper building, the gallery is a fun addition to downtown Winterset.
Wine, beer and cider
Using apples grown at its on-site orchard, the Winterset Cidery features seasonal selections from its 30 varieties of apples.
From a habanero-infused cider to apple pie and pineapple orange flavors, the cidery includes a deck, where you can enjoy a flight of drinks while taking in the scenic countryside.
Covered Bridges Winery showcases award-winning wines, with names honoring the historic structures. Produced using Iowa grapes, you can enjoy samples of a variety of white and red wines, as well as purchasing a bottle or two for home.
The Drift is Madison County's newest taphouse. Featuring beers from Iowa breweries, such as Glenwood's Keg Creek, Single Speed and 5ive Cities, the Drift seeks to promote Iowa's beer scene. The taphouse also features Iowa wines and cocktails, as well as a dining menu.
Winterset's courthouse square is home to unique shops and boutiques. Vintage and repurposed products are featured at Bridge 6 Design. From light features to wind chimes, as well as Iowa-made candles and other products, the home decor store offers a variety of items to browse. If you're into eclectic shops, Harvest Creek offers items ranging from antiques and coffee to mystical figurines such as faeries and dragons. Take a step back in time and stop in at one of the nation's last Ben Franklin discount stores. You'll find quilting material, housewares and plenty of children's toys and books. White Cottage Market is home to vintage and antique wares, from household items to office decorations. Iowa-made goods such as jams, pickles and candles can be found at Speckled Hen farm store.
Coffee and ice cream
The Cellar offers freshly brewed coffee and smoothies in downtown Winterset. Grab a grilled breakfast burrito for a delicious start to the day.
Cabin Coffee may be based in Clear Lake, but it's also found a spot on the outskirts of Winterset. With amazing coffee, breakfast and pastry options, Cabin Coffee has long been a favorite of ours.
For a truly unique experience, head to Earlham, about a 22-minute drive northwest of Winterset. Beans and Beignets offers locally sourced coffee, along with handmade beignets. Using a family recipe, the New Orleans treat found its way to Iowa. Whether it's a single, an order of three, or maybe even more, your taste buds may think they're in the French Quarter. The coffee, regular or as a latte, is as tasty as the beignets. The coffeehouse also serves ice cream, and is known for its pie shakes. Yes! You can have your pie inside your ice cream, simply by mixing pieces of pie - apple, cherry, banana cream, whatever Beans and Beignets is serving as pie of the day — with a milkshake.
Henry A. Wallace birthplace
Born in Orient, Iowa, Henry A. Wallace served as Secretary of Agriculture during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration from 1933 until his nomination to serve as Roosevelt's vice president in 1940. Serving as Vice President until the 1945 inauguration, Wallace was replaced by Harry S. Truman for the 1944 election. He later served as commerce secretary in the Truman administration.
While not in Madison County (the farm is located in Adair County), the Country Life Center offers a look into Wallace's life. At Wallace's birthplace farm, you can tour one of the two houses on the property at the time of his birth. Explore wildflowers and other plants along the prairie trail. Check out the garden, which features cornfields grown from seeds developed over several years, from 1840 to the 1980s. Only about a 20-minute drive from Winterset, the Country Life Center also hosts conferences and special events.
Celebrate summer each Friday between May and Oct. 1 with Pizza on the Prairie. Featuring wood-fired pizza and local musical acts, Pizza on the Prairie is a fun way to cap your week. The farm sponsors an art walk through the prairie. With four weeks left, there’s still time left to make a reservation and bring your lawn chair.
Where to stay
From hotels to Airbnbs, you have options for outstanding accommodations. Cobblestone Inn and Suites offers a hotel experience, while the Stone House (built-in 1856), and the Winter Wonderland apartment at the old Madisonian newspaper building, offer privacy and home-like accessories.
Where to eat
Winterset has plenty of dining options, from Chinese to a sports bar. A favorite in town, Mi Pueblito offers an authentic Mexican dining experience. The Drift Taphouse is an excellent spot for lunch or dinner. The Pizza Ranch is a fun Iowa-based restaurant featuring pizza, fried chicken and a buffet.
While Winterset makes for a fun day trip, we recommend a weekend outing, with so much to do and explore.
To read more from Tim and Lisa Trudell, The Walking Tourists visit their website: thewalkingtourists.com
See past columns for KMTV 3 News Now: Travels in the Heartland