This is a suggested self-guided tour for seeing highlights of Madison County in a half day with your own transportation. The times are approximate, based on your own pace and interests.
Day One –
- 9:00 am – Start the day at Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s Welcome Center, located at 73 Jefferson Street in Winterset’s town square, to pick up a free map of the locations of the six covered bridges in the county, as well as their other attractions. The Welcome Center is also where you’ll find public restrooms, souvenirs and locally-made products, including bottles of wine from all three of Madison County’s wineries.
- 9:30 am – Arrive at City Park in Winterset (enter at the corner of 9th Street and South Street). Walk across the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, stroll through the English Hedge Maze (and see if you can find the hidden sundial), then hike or drive the two miles roundtrip to Clark Tower (one of Madison County’s best photo ops).
- 10:00 am – Visit the Holliwell Covered Bridge, featured in the movie The Bridges of Madison County. Be sure to walk down to the edge of the Middle River for a great view!
- 10:30 am – Visit the Roseman Covered Bridge (where Robert first sought directions from Francesca in the movie, and where Francesca requested her ashes be scattered), and stop in the gift shop (open in May through the summer, Fridays-Mondays, 11 am to 6 pm).
- 10:45 am – Drive to Pammel State Park and through the only highway tunnel in Iowa, then across the water ford. Keep an eye out for birds, wild turkeys, deer and the like.
- 11:30 am – Explore Winterset’s fantastic shops along its historic town square, especially local favorites Pine Creek Ltd, Madison County Mercantile, Angel Wings & CT. Don’t miss 1st Avenue Collective where you can shop for handcrafted items in the county’s old jailhouse! See more great shopping destinations here.
- 12:30 pm – Enjoy lunch at Rodell’s Smokehouse (122 S. John Wayne Drive). Have the beef brisket sandwich with sides or the basket of wings, but be sure to save room for pie! See more dining options here.
- 1:30 pm – Tour the only museum in the world dedicated to Hollywood legend John Wayne. The John Wayne Birthplace & Museum (205 S. John Wayne Drive) honors Winterset’s own in grand style. Be sure to pose with the full-size John Wayne bronze statue out front. Or if quilting is your cup of tea, don’t miss the brand new Iowa Quilt Museum (68 E. Court Ave.) set on Winterset’s historic town square.
- 3:00 pm – Visit Winterset Cidery (1638 Hwy 169) for a tasting of their handcrafted hard apple cider, and sit on the deck overlooking their apple orchard (or challenge a friend to a game of Foosball inside their post and beam building).
- 4:00 pm – Stop at the North River Stone Schoolhouse and peek in the windows of this original one-room schoolhouse, then continue down the road to the Hogback Covered Bridge (possibly the most photogenic of all of the covered bridges of Madison County).
- 5:00 pm – Enjoy a true Midwest supper at the Northside Café (61 E. Jefferson Street), such as a huge Pork Tenderloin or the Hot Beef Sandwich, or choose one of their specialty salads if you prefer lighter fare. See more dining options here.
- 7:00 pm – Check into the White Lions Bed & Breakfast (722 W. Court Ave.) or Cobblestone Inn (1304 N. 4th Ave.) and relax for the night. See more lodging options here.
Day Two –
- 9:00 am – Start the day with a freshly baked apple fritter from The Bakery Unlimited (119 John Wayne Drive) in Winterset’s town square.
- 9:30 am – Create your own unique piece of art at Madhaus Gallery (reservations required) while learning a skill such as needle felting, relief printing, basket making, tile-making, or fusing glass 112 W. Court Ave). Projects take 30-60 minutes to complete and range in price from $10-30. Contact Robin at www.madhausgallery.com.
- 10:30 am – After making your own work of art, view some masterpieces at the brand new Iowa Quilt Museum (68 E. Court Ave.) or travel back in time by touring the Madison County Historical Complex (815 S. 2nd Ave.), which includes 14 buildings set on 18 picturesque acres. A modest fee admits you to the two-story museum and the 1856 Bevington-Kaser House, a mansion of Victorian period and artifacts. Log buildings from the 1850s include a country school and post office. Visit the furnished 1871 Winterset railroad depot, Field Mercantile and Martin Brothers gas station, all authentic buildings. The McKee Barn houses early farm machines, equipment and tools. The 1881 Zion Church and Tusha School (1871-1939) are also furnished for viewing. The museum houses over 100,000 historical items, including quilts and cut glass, dolls and toys, fossils, Native American artifacts, household and pharmaceutical items, military uniforms and objects dating from the Civil War to Desert Storm, plus much, much more!
- 12:00 pm – Drive to Winterset’s Hy-Vee (923 N. 1st St.) and pick up some gourmet goodies for a picnic at City Park. Hy-Vee offers hot and cold foods that are ready-to-eat, a bakery, a deli and wonderful cheeses to choose from, plus a bulk foods section and produce section, all with great options for your lunch.
- 12:30 pm – Enjoy your lunch at one of the picnic tables or shelters in Winterset’s City Park.
- 1:30 pm – Drive north on Cumming Highway, stopping at Groth’s Gardens & Greenhouses (2451 Cumming Rd, Winterset) and further up the road, pull over at Howell’s Dried Florals and Greenhouse (3145 Howell Court, Cumming) to explore their acres of flowering gardens and 1910 barn filled with naturally air-dried florals (and who can resist a quick visit with their goats?).
- 2:30 pm – After leaving Howell’s, take the very next right onto 130th Street, where the first house on your left may look very familiar. Known as Francesca’s House (3271 130th Street, Cumming), this charming farmhouse was used as the home of Richard & Francesca Johnson in the movie The Bridges of Madison County in 1994. While much of it was destroyed by arson in 2003, you can still view the house from the road.
*Based on the results of a community-wide tourism survey conducted in May 2016 by the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.