MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Lakes & Trails

Clear Lake tranquility

In a laid-back Iowa beach town, the '50s never ended.

In Clear Lake, the spirit of the 1950s didn't die with Buddy Holly.

This northern Iowa lake town, midway between the Twin Cities and Des Moines, swells with vacationers in summer but retains the laid-back, carefree air of decades past.

On the shores of the lake, classic cars cruise around pocket-sized City Park, fuzzy pink dice dangling from mirrors. Every Saturday and Sunday, the municipal band plays in the bandshell. The Lions Club grills chicken and sweet corn, and a paddlewheeler takes tourists on cruises.

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Bicycling in Iowa

Quietly, this low-profile but ambitious state has piled on miles of trails.

For a long time, Iowa has been a great place to ride a bike.

It's not as flat as people think, and it has an excellent network of paved county roads.

RAGBRAI, a cross-state bike ride that spawned many imitators when it debuted in 1973, now is so popular that its 8,500 week-long riders, who come from 50 states and 50 countries, are chosen by lottery.

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Wright in Mason City

An Iowa town that embraced the famous architect has reopened his last hotel.

Brilliant men have been very good to Mason City, Iowa.

Frank Lloyd Wright built a bank, hotel and house there in 1908-09, and the locals loved his Prairie style so much it commissioned houses from four of his associates. Today, it's one of the best collections in the nation.

Wright became persona non grata in Mason City after he abruptly left for Europe with his married lover. But a musical virtuoso was growing up nearby. Meredith Willson's "The Music Man," inspired by Mason City and its band, became a Broadway smash in 1957.

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A yurt on an Iowa lake

In Clear Lake, a weekend stay is so simple, it's hardly camping.

One June, I was a very lazy camper.

I threw a sleeping bag and pillow into the car and drove two hours down Interstate 35 to Clear Lake, Iowa. I didn’t bother to solicit company; in early June, most people where I live want to go north, not south.

It was their loss. McIntosh Woods State Park is on one of Iowa’s most popular lakes, a big expanse of sparkling water that was scoured out by glaciers and sits above the surrounding countryside, catching breezes on hot days.

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A cabin in Iowa

Spectacular scenery lies at guests’ feet in Backbone State Park.

What a way to spend a weekend: hiking up and down ravines, clambering on rock, admiring views of water from ridgelines.

“It’s like hiking on the North Shore,’’ my husband said.

But it wasn’t Lake Superior’s North Shore. It was Iowa. And everyone knows Iowa is one big, flat cornfield.

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