Disclosure: My visit to Cedar Falls was hosted by Cedar Falls Tourism. However, all opinions are my own.
When it comes to Midwest adventures, the winter is no excuse for travel to slow down. Sure, it may require a few extra layers and a hand warmer or two. But there are still so many incredible things to do in Iowa during the colder months. In fact, I recently headed north to the Cedar Valley to discover all of the things to do in Cedar Falls, Iowa during the winter.
From local festivals to delicious eateries to historic hotel properties, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the Cedar Valley. We had a great time getting to know the area, indulging in some truly tasty food, and taking advantage of everything that comes along with the winter weather. Whether you’re planning a romantic retreat or a girls’ weekend, this Iowa community has lots to offer.
If you’re looking for a cozy, Midwest getaway, you won’t want to miss these incredible things to do in Cedar Falls during the winter.
Enjoy a Cozy Picnic at Three Pines Farm
I’ve been following Three Pines Farm on Instagram for a few years now and was so excited about the opportunity to visit for a cozy, winter picnic. While Kara Grupp has been offering classes and unique dining experiences on her family’s fifth generation farm for awhile now, she recently added a stargazer tent to the mix. The tent will be moved out to the farm’s prairie in the spring for glamping. But during the winter, it’s the perfect venue for an intimate picnic.
We arrived at the farm in the late afternoon and were greeted by an amazing spread and warmly crackling fire.
For the next hour and a half, we relaxed on plush cushions and fuzzy rugs, nibbling on the delicious charcuterie spread and enjoying the magical ambiance. Kara’s attention to detail and thoughtfulness is truly apparent in this cozy tent. From candles made from local beeswax to her great grandma’s silverware to extra socks in case our toes got too cold, every single element of this beautiful night felt purposeful and intentional. To add a little extra magic to the evening, we used the flying pink papers included as part of the picnic for a special wishing ceremony before we headed out into the cold.
On our way out, it happened to be feeding time so we got to meet Leonard the llama and Three Pines Farm’s sweet goats and pigs.
This cozy winter picnic was the perfect date night activity and would be fun as a girls’ night or non-traditional office party as well. You can learn more about the farm and book your own winter picnic experience on the Three Pines Farm website. I can’t wait to visit in the warmer months to see more of the farm and experience all of its other incredible offerings.
Three Pines Farm, 9611 Wagner Road in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Attend the Ice Harvest Festival
One of the more unique things to do in Cedar Falls during the winter is the annual Ice Harvest Festival organized by the Cedar Falls Historical Society. This year’s celebration was extra special because it also marked the 100th birthday of the Ice House. On Saturday morning, we headed to Big Woods Lake Recreation Area bright and early to catch the morning ice harvesting demonstration.
The festival partners with a local Amish family to perform the demonstrations, and it was fascinating to watch. Since the ice on the lake was about 24 inches thick during this year’s festival, the ice was “dry harvested,” meaning there was still a layer of ice below the blocks that were cut out.
After using a large saw to slice a grid into the ice, the blocks are removed using a chisel and large, spiked thongs. Once removed, the blocks were about 12 inches by 12 inches by 18 inches and weighed between 75 and 100 pounds each. The ice harvesters made the process look easy, even though this is definitely hard and heavy work.
During the demonstrations, we learned that local Amish families typically harvest enough ice to keep their ice houses chilled through the following year. In fact, the family helping with this year’s demonstration had spent the previous weekend harvesting more than 10,000 blocks of ice.
After watching the blocks of ice being moved by conveyor belt to the lakeshore, we warmed up by the bonfire and watched an ice sculptor work with a chainsaw. If you’re interested, I definitely recommend keeping an eye out for the 2023 festival dates. Just be sure to wear lots of layers and dress warm!
Explore Main Street
One of my favorite things about Cedar Falls is its wonderful Main Street. From dozens of local shops to craft breweries to mouth-watering restaurants, this downtown district has it all. Especially if you’re staying at The Black Hawk Hotel, so many of the things to do in Cedar Falls are within walking distance. A walk up and down Main Street is a great way to get a lay of the land and do a little shopping at the same time.
During our visit, we wandered up and down Main Street checking out the local boutiques, including a few of my favorites like:
- Driftless Style (106 Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa): Not only does this shop have some gorgeous housewares, but Driftless Style is also focused on ethical and sustainable items that support the shop’s artisan partners. From plants to kitchen utensils to vintage rugs, this boutique is full of responsibly-sourced gems.
- Miss Wonderful Vintage (216 Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa): This lovely boutique is part stationary store and part vintage shop. During our visit, their selection of notebooks and pens was just as swoon-worthy as their vintage glasswares and whimsical statement jewelry.
Tour the Victorian House Museum
Even though the Ice House Museum isn’t open during the winter (it wasn’t built to stay warm because, well, ice), you can still experience a historic Cedar Falls building on your visit. A few blocks away from the Ice House Museum, you can step back into the late 1800s with a visit to the Victorian House Museum.
This beautiful Italianate-style home was built by Azel D. Barnum in 1863 and features many historical artifacts from the time period. It was so interesting to wander the rooms and learn what life was like for families in Cedar Falls during that era. During your visit, be sure to head to the basement to experience the impressive William J. Lenoir Model Railroad Collection as well.
The Victorian House Museum is open February through December and offers free admission.
Victorian House Museum, 308 W. 3rd Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Where to Eat & Drink in Cedar Falls
Located inside The Black Hawk Hotel, Bar Winslow is the perfect place for a cozy night cap. With dark wood, velvet couches and dim lighting, this intimate locale is the perfect place to hunker down after a day of exploring. We tucked ourselves in a corner and sipped on classic cocktails like the bar’s Rosemary Negroni.
Plus, if you’re staying in the hotel, one complimentary drink is included with your stay.
Bar Winslow, 115 Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Cedar Falls Brown Bottle
If you’re looking for a cozy, date night spot, look no further than Cedar Falls Brown Bottle. This bustling Italian eatery felt both homey and upscale enough to make our meal feel like a special occasion. During our visit, we enjoyed dinner in the basement lounge, which was the perfect intimate setting after a long day of exploring.
In many ways, the Brown Bottle reminded me of many of Iowa’s supper clubs, albeit with different culinary offerings. We started with hearty Italian bread salads and zesty garlic bread followed by decadent pasta dishes. I opted for the Pesto Vegetable Tortellini while Josh got the Rosemary Cashew Pasta, both of which were delicious. Once I noticed they were on the menu, I knew that I couldn’t pass up the chance for an after-dinner ice cream drink. So we ended our evening with a Grasshopper and a brownie pie.
Cedar Falls Brown Bottle, 1111 Center Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Cup of Joe
There are a lot of things to do in Cedar Falls. So a busy day of adventuring requires caffeine and Cup of Joe is the perfect place to start your morning. Conveniently located on Cedar Falls’ Main Street, this busy shop has a groovy vintage aesthetic that pairs perfectly with its menu of drinks and sweet-tooth-inducing pastries. On our Saturday morning visit I couldn’t resist one of their gooey, giant cinnamon rolls to pair with my morning coffee.
Cup of Joe, 102 E. Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
We’ve been long-time fans of SingleSpeed Brewing so it’s always a treat to visit their taproom when we’re in the Cedar Valley. Their original location on Cedar Falls’ Main Street is perfectly positioned for an after-dinner drink or an afternoon flight. They’ve also got some great to-go options if you’re wanting to grab some brews to enjoy at home.
SingleSpeed Brewing, 128 Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Second State Brewing Co.
Located just off Main Street, Second State Brewing Co. is a great place to grab an afternoon craft beer flight. We had a great time relaxing in their taproom while trying some of their great locally-made brews. Of the beers we tried on this visit, the Blood Orange Blonde and the S’mores Stout were our favorites.
Second State Brewing Co., 203 State Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
One of the unexpected gems of our Cedar Falls weekend was Tata Yaya. This adorably cozy eatery offers freshly-made crepes and Belgian liege waffles that I’ll be daydreaming about for quite awhile. The restaurant’s interior is beautifully decorated with murals and installations using old books. And their staff was so friendly and warm.
We stuck to the basics with the Simply Breakfast Crepe and the Breakfast Waffle to accompany our morning coffee. Both were delicious and left me wishing I lived closer to this lovely shop so we could visit more frequently.
Tata Yaya, 111 Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
If you’re a whiskey drinker, a visit to Whiskey Road should definitely be on your Cedar Falls weekend itinerary. This eatery offers hearty Iowa staples alongside an impressive menu of whiskeys. Can’t decide what to try? Order one of their recommended whiskey flights or put together your own.
During our visit, we had a great brunch at Whiskey Road, warming up after the Ice Harvest Festival. The portions for both the nachos and breakfast poutine were large and really hit the spot after a chilly morning.
Whiskey Road, 402 Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Where to Stay in Cedar Falls
The Black Hawk Hotel
If you’re planning a getaway to Cedar Falls, I can’t recommend The Black Hawk Hotel enough. With 28 unique rooms, this historic boutique hotel is an experience onto itself.
If you’re a history lover, this is an especially perfect place to make your home base during your winter getaway. The Black Hawk Hotel is the second longest continuously operating hotel in the country, and traces its history back to the early 1850s. Everywhere you look inside the hotel you’ll find traces of local history. From history-inspired prints in the guest rooms to antiques in the hotel’s hallways, the hotel’s storied past is all around.
We stayed in one of The Black Hawk Hotel’s suites during our visit and loved the extra space it gave us to relax during our getaway. Not only are the hotel rooms memorable and decorated with period furniture, but they’re also extremely comfortable as well. After a long day of exploring in the cold, The Black Hawk Hotel was the perfect place to unwind, thaw out, and recharge for another day.
To check available dates and book your stay, visit The Black Hawk Hotel’s website.
The Black Hawk Hotel, 115 Main Street in Cedar Falls
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! Have you been to the Cedar Valley? What are your favorite things to do in Cedar Falls during the winter?