MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Planning a road trip to Mason City, Iowa

I'm thinking ahead to Memorial Day and a driving junket. Mason City looks like a good destination, because of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel and the Meredith Willson museum. Are there any parks, scenic drives or natural attractions in that area? Thanks! - Karen, Minneapolis

If you head for Mason City, the other thing you'll want to do is visit Clear Lake, on the other side of Interstate 35.

This vacation area has a very pleasant little downtown and city park on the lake, and a 15-mile bicycle path that takes you around the lake and through two state parks.

You also can visit the classic Surf Ballroom, site of Buddy Holly's last concert.

For details, see Clear Lake tranquility.

If you're in the mood for a road trip, I suggest heading east toward Iowa's scenic bluff country, part of the Driftless Area. Take U.S. 18 to Charles City, which has a new whitewater course on the Cedar River and a riverside park full of oversized chair art.

Continue on U.S. 18 to New Hampton, then east on Iowa 24 to Fort Atkinson. From here, you can take a little detour east to Festina, home of the World's Smallest Church.

Otherwise, head north to the Czech town of Spillville, where Dvorak lived in the summer of 1893, writing his "American'' string quartet. There's a small exhibit about Dvorak on the second floor of the Bily Clocks Exhibit, the real attraction.

Then head for the Norwegian town of Decorah, which has all kinds of tourist attractions: For more, see A pocket of Norway. If you have bikes, you can check out the gorgeous, art-lined Trout Run Trail around town.

Head back to the Twin Cities on U.S. 52, stopping at Seed Savers Exchange and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Burr Oak. For details, see Road trip: Northeast Iowa.

You may want to head east to Lansing and follow the Mississippi home.

Otherwise, your next stop on U.S. 52 is Harmony, where you can visit caves or take an Amish tour: See Cave country and Amish country. If you have bikes, one of you can get out in Harmony and enjoy the mostly downhill ride to Preston on the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail.

This area also has an unusually large number of good places to eat: See Table-hopping in bluff country.

If you have bikes and liked the Harmony downhill, you can do it again from Fountain: It's a mostly downhill run to Lanesboro on the Root River State Trail. 

From Fountain, U.S. 52 will take you through Rochester and back to the Twin Cities.

Last updated on April 10, 2012