Guest Post: Decorah, Iowa

001 Water Street

It is my honor to bring to the viewers of Puma’s Bluff some information about my favorite town in the Midwest. Below is a list of six must-see parks and a few other tidbits about Decorah that I hope will entice you to traverse the moderate drive down U.S. 52 that takes you directly into this beautiful bluff-laden town. -C.G.


Map for reference


Twin Springs Park. On the west side of Decorah, hidden underneath a curious grove of towering evergreen trees, lies Twin Springs Park. Perhaps the toughest park to locate of the six highlighted parks, Twin Springs is a great and easily accessible example of an artesian well in karst topography…actually two artesian springs within mere feet of each other. Hence the name Twin Springs. Circling up and behind the limited parking is a moderately difficult yet well-groomed hiking trail that takes you from the creek bed to the aforementioned grove of mature evergreens. Finally, don’t be afraid to journey further south on Twin Springs Road, past even where the pavement ends…only two more bends in the road from Twin Springs…to McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, a gem of a restaurant hidden away from the populace on a quiet country road only minutes from downtown Decorah. I recommend the seafood manicotti.

004 Twin Springs

005 Twin Springs

Twin Springs Park

003 Twin Springs

Twin Springs Park


Stop 2 is Will Baker Park. Known as Pulpit Rock colloquially, this small park’s most prominent feature is the obelisk-like rock formation (known geologically as a “stack”) that stands precariously off of the tip of a small bluff. With a small picnicking area at the parking spot and easy vehicle access there is no reason not to stop and appreciate this natural wonder. A steep yet short climb on impressively constructed steps will quickly take you to eye level with the top of the stack. This overlook allows you to look eastward and over the Upper Iowa River. If you look due east you will see an opposing cliff several hundred yards away. This is a park I will describe later known as Phelps Park.

007 Will Baker

Will Baker Park


006 Will Baker

Steps at Will Baker Park


Stop 3 on our tour: Dunning’s Spring, perhaps the most famous and frequented park in all of Decorah’s parks system. While Twin Springs Park offered a serene pair of artesian wells, Dunning’s Spring’s powerful year round spring flows with ferocity from the base of an 80 foot cliff. Many local “senior pictures” have been taken in front of this majestic spring and waterfall combination. The small park has enough parking to supply demand on most days and there are friendly manmade steps to take you and your companions up to the mouth of the gaping spring. The park also allows for some wading in near-still waters so bring an extra pair of socks! Additionally there is an extensive series of hiking paths up and to the right of the parking area. The trails lead all along the bluff that essentially makes up the northern edge of Decorah often leading to hidden and lesser known overlooks.

008 Dunning's Spring

Dunning’s Spring


010 Dunning's Spring

Dunning’s Spring


Right down Ice Cave Road heading eastward is (surprise) Ice Cave Park. Although on the surface this park may be the least exhilarating, somebody who has as intimate of a knowledge base of Decorah such as myself knows of the secrets hiding behind the actual cave itself. First off the cave is mildly interesting. Bring a flashlight or have a flashlight application ready on your smartphone. The cave only goes about 40 feet in and is not guided in any sense – it’s just for those who want to brave their way into the dark damp depths by themselves. The real excitement awaits those able-bodied enough to work their way up and behind Ice Cave Park.


The area I am about to detail is located above and west of the cave itself. I must take this moment to warn readers that ascending the hillside behind and next to the cave is not an easy task. There are steep, completely un-manicured trails not meant for the general population to ascend. This area is very much inside legal park boundaries and meant to be enjoyed by citizens. For those willing to venture “off trail” awaits a natural playground of cliffside fissures large enough to fit a giraffe, numerous cave vents where one can feel a cool breeze emanating from, limestone cliffs, and even a hidden limestone monolith the size of a small building with a crack in it allowing for an average sized person to summit with ease. Of all of the sights to see within Decorah city limits this is my favorite.

011 Ice Cave

012 Ice Cave

The Ice Cave


The next to last stop on our tour of Decorah Parks to see is number 5: Palisades Park. Continuing east on Ice Cave Road will take you to a four way stop. Straight ahead of you is a dead end road that will lead you to the Palisades Park loop. This park will require the least of you physically but may be the one that costs you the most breath…the breath you will lose taking in the magnificent overlooks provided at Palisades Park. The most walking you will do from the ample parking space is a level 40 foot walk to a cliff’s edge. There are two one-car parking spots before you get to the main overlook area that are worth their own stop if they are unoccupied, too. From any of the vantage points in this park there are great views and photo opportunities as well as an ability to see main street (Water Street) from an elevated position.

013 Pallisades

View from Palisades Park


Our final stop on the tour is my personal favorite park: Phelps Park. It is a large park with bathroom amenities, a playground, and plenty of open spaces for picnics. Couple these benefits with the spectacular overlooks and nature trail. Phelps Park is situated on a cliff’s edge that faces west towards Pulpit Rock. The cliffside overlook is adorned with manmade rock walls and even a small pagoda built exhilaratingly close to the 100+ foot vertical drop over the Upper Iowa River. The manicured trail that leads west from the park descends and meanders through the bluffs and across two very impressive pedestrian bridges tucked away in the hardwood forest. You’re sure to cross paths with busy squirrels and perhaps even spook a deer or two along this trail.

016 Phelps

Phelps Park

There are many ancillary parks in and around Decorah worth checking out too. Malanaphy Springs just northwest of town is an easy but long walk to a remote spring. Upper and Lower Dams are short drives from Decorah. The latter is well worth the rural drive.

018 Eagle's Nest

Eagle’s Nest

017 Eagle

One of the Eagles

The world famous eagle’s nest ( is located next to Siewers Spring State Park, home to yet another scenic and well groomed park with yet another very impressive natural spring as well as a fish hatchery that is open to the public. Decorah is also home to Luther College, a scenic college campus.

019 Siewer's Spring

Siewers Spring

Decorah has recently invested in making their town a bicyclist’s paradise. Along with far-reaching, county-crossing trails connecting nearby towns, Decorah now has a very impressive intra-city trail system. With old trails connecting new ones and pedestrian trails repurposed as multi-use trails and the addition of a couple of impressive bicycle bridges, one could conceivably hit all of the aforementioned parks from their hotel without the use of internal combustion engines but with foot power instead.

021 Bike Bridge

Bridge on the Bike Trail


Most people, when asked about what they think of Iowa, will simply reply with something along the lines of “flat, filled with corn.” Let Decorah shatter your perception of Iowa and cement its place as a jewel of the Driftless Area.

020 Canoe


For more about the Driftless Area, check out Landscapes of the Driftless Area, and thanks for reading!

Spring Destinations and Activities in Minnesota

Well, the weather is getting warmer around the Twin Cities. We are looking at a week or so of temperatures around 60 degrees. If it doesn’t get cold again, Spring is right around the corner, so I grabbed a few destinations and activities for springtime. I would love to hear more recommendations in the comments. Most outdoor activities are great in springtime because it is nice to be outside in the warmer weather, and see everything start to grow again, but I don’t know a lot about specific places. I will update the post as I find more things and get recommendations too.


The Munsinger and Clemens Botanical Gardens in St. Cloud

These two adjacent botanical gardens in St. Cloud are well-known for their beauty. They will open up in Spring, and their website says they are especially good in late Spring.

While you are there, you could make a day of it, and visit Quarry Park and the Stearns History Museum.


Spring is a great time to get out into the countryside and do some stargazing. Jupiter can be found in the East, and you can easily see its moons through binoculars or possibly some details of the atmosphere with a telescope. Setting in the West is Venus and Mars. The Orion Nebula is easy to find in Orion to the South, and if you are somewhere dark enough, you might be able to see the Milky Way stretching from South to North.

Later in the night, Saturn will be rising in the South, and on March 12th the Moon and Saturn will pass close to each other in the sky. Here is a calendar that talks more about the events coming up for March. Just change the month at the top to see the other Spring months.

Spring is so good because you can see some of the interesting objects that are convenient in Winter, like Jupiter, Mars, and Orion, but it isn’t cold and hard to enjoy yourself.


Spring is the perfect time to look for most wildflowers. Barring unusual circumstances, there probably won’t be many blooming in March, but there should be plenty in April and May. Here is a list of some of the wildflowers that bloom in April. In my experience, Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is one of the best places for plants and wildflowers. I wrote about a visit there in late May last year: Nerstrand Big Woods, May 26th


Again, if anyone has some other ideas for activities or places to visit in Spring, I would appreciate it if you let me know in the comments! I will update the main post as I get more recommendations. Hopefully, we can get some good ideas in here. Thanks!

Taylors Falls, Interstate State Park

Rocky River Landscape

A bridge in Taylors Falls

For us, Taylors Falls and Interstate State Park are interchangeable. But, to clarify, Taylors Falls is a town, located on the St. Croix River which makes up the Minnesota-Wisconsin Border. Interstate State Park is a park at Taylors Falls which is one of the closest places to us where you can really see geology, except for Red Wing or some parts of St. Paul.

Whereas in Red Wing you experience high bluffs of sandstone, (and you do see some sandstone cliffs in Taylors Falls too) the real highlight of Taylors Falls are the potholes. Not road potholes, mind you; these are tunnels bored into solid rock, where stones and even boulders carried by glacial meltwater smashed around in certain spots, swirling and breaking and polishing the surrounding rock walls. The visitors center has some excellent examples of the stones themselves that carved the potholes of all sizes.

I don’t have any photos that show these well on-hand, so I will direct you towards someone else who wrote about the geology of Taylors Falls:


I couldn’t quite figure out what this building was, but it had a nice view of the river.



A certain kind of pine tree becomes dominant in the forests around Taylors Falls. I don’t know what kind they are unfortunately, I like how they look though. They are different yet than the trees you will see up on the North Shore.

Michigan Lily

These Michigan Lilies were really eye-catching.

A wide area of the park is like a stone playground, popular with rock climbers and generally fun to explore and clamber around on. But, the park also has beautiful hiking trails.

Rock Wall

A loop can take you from these sandstone cliffs (you are actually climbing up to the top of a kind of bluff or steep, tall hill by taking staircases leading up the cliffs) over to the hard basalt rock and glacial potholes.

More Rock Wall

More of the sandstone cliffs, and my grandparents in the back, who took me with them there to hike. I took all of the (modern) pictures in this post that day.

As you hike you might see snails on the cliff faces, and plenty of small caves that might be host to all kinds of life.

Taylors Falls was a logging town. A sign, at the bottom of one of the tallest trees in the area, mentions that trees this size were common throughout these forests and fueled Minnesota’s growing economy. Logs would be floated down river from Taylors Falls and other towns further up, and sometimes, a jam would happen.

This striking image from 1886 shows one of the largest log jams ever, where countless logs were piled up and wedged between these cliffs.

Edna Curry, a freelance writer who lives in Taylors Falls, put together a great article on this infamous log jam here: Greatest Logjam Ever!

Landscape from top

As you near the top of the bluff you have probably sensed that you have climbed a good deal, and that is confirmed by a view like this. It probably isn’t that impressive in a picture because it is so hard to capture the scale, but the countryside sprawls out before you and you can see the river curving away.

After you have feasted your eyes, it is time to go back down again. This part of the park seems more secluded and quiet. You have climbed down into a valley, between two very steep hills.



If you are lucky, and we were, you might see an elusive insect.

Walking Stick


We only noticed this Stick Insect because he was on a dark-colored part of the tree. If he was on a lighter part, he probably would have blended in perfectly. He would shake back and forth when perceiving danger, perhaps emulating a twig blowing in the breeze, but he had no need to be concerned. He relaxed and crawled around our hands for a bit before we put him back. Just be careful, they are very delicate.

We have always had good experiences at Interstate State Park, and this last time was no exception. It isn’t far from the cities, making it a reasonable day trip. For more information on the park, including a nice report on the current fall colors, go to the Minnesota DNR page for Interstate State Park.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to share your own stories about Taylors Falls and the surrounding area!

Up the river