A Perfect Day in Madison County

Writer: Beth Eslinger
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

Located less than an hour southwest of Des Moines, Madison County makes for an idyllic fall trip. Here are a few of our favorite stops besides the covered bridges and John Wayne landmarks. Plan on a trip the last Sunday of September, when many of these businesses are open for tour.


Pick Up Posies
The rich soil makes a perfect foundation for flowers, and there are two growers where you can grab the ultimate sunflower or dahlia background for your social feed. Cedar Shake Farm (pictured above) west of Winterset and new as of 2018, is open to flower peepers. Contact their social channels or website to arrange a visit. And PepperHarrow Farm south of Winterset features 20 acres of blooms; fall is a particularly lovely time to visit.


See Cute Creatures
For yet another social feed success, stop at Rusty Stars Alpacas (pictured above) east of Winterset. Open Saturdays, the farm also has a store with clothing from the animals, yarn from the farm, socks and more, plus, of course, the South American softies.


Dine and Shop Winterset’s Town Square
Anchored by its historic courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Winterset offers one of the newest, hottest dining halls in the state, the Drift (pictured above). Featuring craft cocktails, beers, wines and grazing boards loaded with European cheese, plus other bites such as grown-up grilled cheese, the new-in-December restaurant is quickly becoming a fan favorite (open Wednesday through Sunday). While at the square, shop for custom-made jewelry at B. Shannon Designs, home decor at re:Home and fun gifts at Madison County Mercantile Co.


Sip Some Sweetness
With three wineries and a cidery in the county, you can pick your spirits adventure. Awarded as 2020’s winemaker of the year by the Iowa Wine Growers Association, Covered Bridges Winery and vintner Kevin Fifo consistently deliver tasty flavors in a relaxed environment. For beer lovers, check out Big Rack Brew Haus (sample the seasonals). Cider fans can enjoy flavors such as apple pie and limestone habanero at Winterset Cidery.


Plan on a Fall Crawl
Book Sept. 26 on your calendar for a daylong tour of area businesses at the Madison County Fall Crawl (find information here). In addition to flowers, wine and a few family farms, stop by Pammel Park Coffee near Cedar Shake Farm, which roasts small batches of specialty coffees. Take home a growler of cold brew.

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