‘Top of Iowa’ center welcomes visitors to North Iowa communities

North Iowa
The “barn” is home to Top of Iowa welcome center

Iowa has some unique rest stops. They go above and beyond the basic accommodations a person may expect to encounter. Iowa has a dozen or so along Interstates 35 and 80 that can follow under the category of tourist attraction.

A stop on Interstate 80 may have a large energy windmill blade on display, with additional information and displays about wind energy.

North Iowa is no different. The “Top of Iowa” welcome center features some information on a historical marker. The area is home to a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and a leader in the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote.

North Iowa
Area history includes Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Pulitzer Prize winner

The rest stop is housed in a building designed to resemble a farm barn. The first floor has the basics of a rest stop.

The second floor, however, is an interesting attraction. Travelers can order a hot cup of coffee or some cookies or cake from a vendor. There is a spot for people to sit and enjoy their treats.

North Iowa
Treats can be purchased for the road

The Barn Boutique is a small store selling arts and crafts.
North Iowa
Boutique store at the rest stop

The rest stop has a nice section devoted to brochures and travel guides for Iowa, as well as the North Iowa communities of Forest City, Clear Lake and Mason City.
Area communities promote attrations

Mason City emphasizes it being the hometown of ward-winning musical writer Meredith Willson. Willson wrote “The Music Man,” among several other successful musicals. Mason City is home to Musical Man Square, which features an indoor town square and museum. You can even tour his childhood home.
North Iowa
Meredith Willson statue in Mason City

Mason City is also home to two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings , including the Stockman House.

Clear Lake is home to a beautiful glacial lake. The community of 7,000 ballooned to about 100,000 over the Independence Day holiday weekend. The city is credited with having the best fireworks display in the state.

We stopped in Clear Lake to grab dinner at The Barrel drive-in. It has the best broasted chicken around. The food is delicious.

North Iowa
Broasted chicken at The Barrel Drive-in

This was our first visit since dining there last October. Then, the building was run down and in need of repair. Local residents, civic groups worked with the owner, Seth, to renovate the building and facilities. It was night and day.
North Iowa
The Barrel

The restaurant was packed during our visit.

Seth hosts a classic car night on Tuesdays. A couple of friends told us it’s been a success. I’m glad to see Seth enjoying success with the drive-in he’s owned for several years. I suggest he have the employees dress in 1950s period costumes on “Car Night.” That would be pretty cool.

Dessert was downtown with cookies from Cookies, Etc.

Of course, we had to sit lakeside to take in the view. It was a beautiful evening and people were definitely enjoying the water.

North Iowa
People having fun on Clear Lake

We enjoyed our brief visit to North Iowa. This is an area we plan to visit more often. They have a lot of activities throughout the year. The annual Harvest festival will take place in early October. February offers a couple of special winter festivals – The Winter Dance Party (which dates back to the 1950s) and the Color the Wind Kite festival.

If you’re traveling on Interstate 35, take some time and check out North Iowa. Clear Lake and Mason City are a couple of interesting communities.

For more information on the region, please visit: