15 Best Things to Do in Elkader, IA

Elkader, IA
Kevin Schuchmann, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Elkader is a tiny yet charming city in Clayton County, Iowa.

This attractive community also serves as the county seat.

Upon the arrival of its first residents in1836, other settlers soon came in and established residences along the Turkey River.

The city took its name from a least likely source, all the way from the other side of the Atlantic.

It was named after the celebrated Algerian hero Abd el-Kader.

Today, the city remains true to its rural origins with its small-town aura, old buildings, and huge green spaces.

Thanks to its numerous attractions, it also draws in many tourists annually.

Here are the best things to do in Elkader, Iowa:

Take a Glimpse of the Past at the Carter House Museum

Exterior of Carter House Museum
Kevin Schuchmann, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located along SE High Street, the Carter House Museum serves as the repository of what life was like in Elkader during its early days.

It's housed inside an 18-room mansion built in the 1850s.

The Carter family originally owned the mansion.

They lived in Elkader between the 1850s and 1885 and were among the city's most prominent families.

Recognizing its significance to the history of Elkader, the mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Carter House Museum features many memorabilia and artifacts spanning different periods.

The displays include farm tools used during the city's humble beginnings and the military uniforms of those who served in past wars.

Check the Fascinating Machines at the Earthmoving Legacy Center

Less than two miles from the heart of Elkader, you'll find a collection like no other.

The Earthmoving Legacy Center houses more than 50 pieces of equipment dating from the 1880s to 1940.

With a total floor area of 38,000 square feet, it's packed with fascinating machinery, each having its own interesting history.

The center focuses on the remarkable transformation of Carterpillar Company as one of the pillars of the industry.

Their oldest items on display include well-preserved horse-drawn machines from the late 19th century.

Many of their machines played significant roles in the nation's construction boom in the early 20th century.

A great homage to important machines that were crucial in accomplishing present-day development, the Earthmoving Legacy Center is one of Elkader's must-visit attractions.

Walk around Elkader City Park

With its three-acre area, Elkader City Park is relatively small.

Despite this, it's packed with amenities usually found in much bigger parks.

One of the park's main attractions is its swimming pool, where you can cool off and relax.

You can burn calories at the park's tennis and volleyball courts, test your aiming skills, and have fun on its nine-hole disc golf course.

Picnic tables are also available, as well as a playground area.

With the Elkader City Campgrounds located right inside the park, you can also go camping in the park during select times of the year.

Moreover, the park perimeter was utilized to serve as an exercise trail.

With these many features and activities you can enjoy, Elkader City Park is your one-stop shop for family fun.

You can find this park on South High Street.

Play and Dine at Elkader Golf & Country Club

If you're looking for a place to play golf, Elkader Golf & Country Club is the perfect place for you.

This nine-hole golf course is located along Gunder Road in the northern part of the city.

It boasts nicely-manicured greens for a smooth roll.

The course's layout and narrow sections offer a serious challenge even to seasoned players.

Moreover, tournaments for golfers across all levels are regularly held in the country club.

The country club also hosts a unique, barn-like clubhouse.

A popular hangout place among players and visitors, the clubhouse is well-known for its delicious home-style food and elegant banquet amenities.

Its nice golf course and great food make Elkader Golf & Country Club the ideal place to relax and hit the greens.

Enjoy a Water Adventure at Elkader Whitewater Park

Situated on South Main Street, Elkader Whitewater Park is the ideal spot for those seeking water adventures.

You can go kayaking, boogie boarding, or water tubing along the Turkey River.

The river comprises three sections: Gobbler Wave, High-Flow Wave Structure Boulder Island, and the Fish/Canoe Passage.

Fishing is a popular activity in the park, along the edges of riverbanks.

The park also has designated areas for picnicking, making it a perfect place to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Physically challenged folks can also enjoy the river views thanks to the handicapped-friendly walking pathway.

Whether you want to experience an exciting water adventure or relax along the calmer parts of the river, Elkader Whitewater Park is the place for you.

Stoll around Founder's Park

The 11-acre Founder's Park on South Main Street is one of Elkader's most recent recreation parks.

Established in 2014, it was dedicated and named in honor of the city's founders.

A lovely spot for hanging out, the park features a picnic shelter and playground area for everyone who wants to relax.

There's also a mini outdoor trail for those who want some quick outdoor adventure.

Other interesting amenities include a butterfly garden, a labyrinth, and a bird tower.

Moreover, you can also stroll along Elkader River Walk, which traverses the park, where scenic views of the Turkey River await you.

A nice park with a relaxing atmosphere and several unique features, Founder's Park always offers a pleasant experience to its visitors.

Learn about History at the George Maier Rural Heritage Center

Open between mid-April to mid-October every year, the George Maier Rural Heritage Center is a treasure trove of artifacts from Iowa's humble origins.

It's located along Mascara Road, near the Turkey River.

As its name suggests, most of the items on display are related to farming, some of which are still functional.

Moreover, the museum contains other memorabilia dating back from the period between 1890 and 1950.

It also boasts a vast collection of antique clocks, totaling over 300 unique pieces.

Vintage car enthusiasts will also appreciate the beautifully-restored 1913 Studebaker and other car parts from the bygone era.

An essential part of Elkader's identity, the George Maier Rural Heritage Center is a must-visit for history buffs.

Relax at Keystone Park

Due to its small area, Keystone Park has been referred to as Elkader's "pocket park."

Located at the corner of Main and Bridge streets, the park is a popular hangout destination among locals and tourists.

You can relax under the gazebo, sit on benches under the cool shade of trees, stroll along the brick walkways, or appreciate the scenic views of the nearby historic Keystone Bridge.

Built in 1889, the limestone bridge connects the city's two halves, separated diagonally by the Turkey River.

Rod fishing is also allowed as the park provides a ramp along the river.

With its perfect location and neat environment, Keystone Park is a place that offers great comfort.

Go Trekking at Pony Hollow Trail

Pony Hollow Trail traces its path along what was then known as Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul railroad tracks.

Located on the southern portion of Elkader, it's one of the city's popular hiking spots.

The trail covers about 4 miles from start to end.

Woodlands, marshes, and grasslands make up most of the trail's landscapes.

Ideal for quick hiking trips, its relatively easy terrain is highly accessible to most people.

The trail is also great for mountain biking, thanks to its varied topography.

During winter, it transforms into a snowmobiling paradise.

Offering a trekking experience for everyone, Pony Hollow Trail is perfect for anyone who wants to experience an easy, fuss-free outdoor adventure.

Go Kayaking at Turkey River Park

Turkey River Park is a modest recreation site located at Strawberry Point Road in the southern part of Elkader.

From the park, you can embark on a journey along the Turkey River in a canoe or kayak.

Fantastic natural features like thick woodlands and towering bluffs will greet you as you paddle your way downstream.

The park allows you to picnic while enjoying the lovely river views.

A shelter house that can accommodate bigger groups is also available for use.

It may not pack a lot of amenities, but its natural beauty and simple charm make Turkey River Park a great place to relax.

Go Antique-Hunting at the Turkey River Mall

Situated at the corner of West Bridge and Main streets, the Turkey River Mall is Elkader's treasure trove for antiques and other interesting items.

The shop's three floors worth of antique pieces will excite any collector.

With such a massive inventory, it's easy to spend hours exploring the area.

The items on display range from tiny trinkets to wood furniture.

They also have vintage toys, home décor, and household items.

Other non-antique items like clothes, secondhand books, and movie DVDs are available.

Whether you are a collector or simply want to grab a souvenir from your visit to Elkader, the Turkey River Mall has something for you.

Go RV Camping at Deer Run Resort

Located along South High Street, Deer Run Resort is Elkader's primary destination for RV campers.

The resort boasts clean campgrounds and valuable amenities.

Non-RV owners are also welcome to stay in their relaxing cottage, which is available for rent.

The resort's centerpiece is its three-acre lake, where you can also fish.

Lush trees throughout the park allow local fauna like deer and foxes to roam around.

Promoting the spirit of community, the resort also regularly hosts fun events for the campers and guests.

A great place to relax thanks to its clean and peaceful environment, Deer Run Resort should be included on your itinerary.

Stay at Elkader Jailhouse Inn

Want to brag about spending a night inside a jailhouse without breaking the law?

The Elkader Jailhouse Inn, located along East Bridge Street, is the perfect place for you.

It's housed in what was formerly known as Clayton County Jail, which was built in 1870.

According to some accounts, legendary outlaw Jesse James spent a night in the jail.

After decades of disuse, significant renovations were done, and the jailhouse was transformed into a cozy inn.

"Inmates," as the inn playfully refers to their guests, can choose from any of its four suites, each having its own theme.

Staying true to its origins, the inn even features a cell block-style living room.

Offering a memorable staycation experience with a dose of local hospitality, the Elkader Jailhouse Inn is a place you shouldn't miss out on.

Explore the Motor Mill Historic Site

Covering an area of 155 acres, the Motor Mill Historic Site is located on Galaxy Road, further downstream of the Turkey River.

The site's most notable structure is the mill, built in 1869.

The mill catered to flour producers in the area until the end of the 19th century.

An iron bridge, built in 1899, still stands and connects the mill to the other side of the river.

In recognition of its role in the region, the whole site was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the Motor Mill Historic Site is one of Elkader's most well-known attractions.

Outdoor adventurers can camp out in any of its five basic campsites.

Other fun activities you can enjoy include canoeing and kayaking along the river.

You can also hike on its four-mile trail traversing various landscapes.

An essential part of Clayton County's past, the Motor Mill Historic Site allows you to both appreciate its history and enjoy the natural beauty around it.

Drink and Dine at Schera's

Schera's is an Algerian and American restaurant and bar on South Main Street.

The restaurant's theme perfectly fits the city named after Abd el-Kader, a 19th-century Algerian hero.

You can taste their flavorful Algerian and Mediterranean specialties like Bourek and mezze.

They also serve mouth-watering American food such as burgers and sandwiches.

Moreover, Schera's is famous for its delicious craft beers and cocktails.

The best part is you can indulge in all of these while enjoying the scenic views of the Turkey River.

The fantastic location, great drinks, and great food choices make Schera's a must-try restaurant in Elkader.

Final Thoughts

Elkader's rural atmosphere and clean environment make it an ideal vacation spot for everyone who wants to escape from the bustle of the urban jungle.

Its small size allows you to hop around its numerous attractions relatively easily.

Set your next trip to this city, and experience the best things to do in Elkader, Iowa.