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Ottumwa is a charming town in southeast Iowa that was home to Native American Tribes in the early 19th century. The Ioway tribe had long-standing ties to the region; the Mesquaki and Sac were new to the area.
As the advancement of the west approached, the tribes were moved to reservations, and Wapello County was opened for a land run on May 1, 1843, named after Chief Wapello. By 1844, Wapello County was designated as the county seat, leading to the settlement of Ottumwa as a city.
Today, the city of Ottumwa has a population of about 26,000 and offers visitors plenty of things to do, including dining, adventure, and shopping opportunities. Here are 17 things to do in Ottumwa Iowa that I enjoyed on my last visit.
Visit the Bridge View Center
The Bridge View Center in Ottumwa, Iowa, situated on the Des Moines River, is a premier destination for conventions, trade shows, and general sessions. This 92,000-square-foot complex includes a convention center and performing arts theater.
While the Expo Hall features 30,000 square feet of exhibition space that can be used at large conventions, trade shows, or concerts and for a performance area of 3,000 seats it also has a spacious 664-seat auditorium. It has hosted many music acts by artists such as Linda Ronstadt experience, Lee Greenwood, John Conlee, and many more.
In addition, food lovers will flock here just to eat the amazing creations of Chef Bob. There’s also an outdoor plaza, one of the famous attractions for personal events like parties or weddings.
Land at the Airpower Museum
The Airpower Museum in Blakesburg, located on Iowa’s Antique Airfield, is spread over 20,000 square feet of land and contains artifacts from America’s aviation history. Founded by Robert L. Taylor and the Antique Airplane Association in 1965, Airpower Museum features various aviation artifacts of the past, including models, engines, propellers, photographs, and original art.
Some of the most famous artifacts on display at the museum include an Aeronca 65TC, an observation and liaison aircraft used by the US Army in WWII, Ryan PT-22 Recruit, a US military trainer aircraft used during WWII, and many more aircraft on display.
The museum also has a memorial built for the soldiers who fought in wars. Roughly 25 airplanes are displayed in the Airpower Museum, including fighter jets from World War II. There’s no admission fee, but the museum does accept donations. The museum remains open year-round.
Wapello County Historical Museum
The Wapello County Historical Museum is a unique and valuable resource for learning about the history of Wapello County. The museum features a variety of exhibits that explore the county’s natural and cultural heritage from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The John Deere exhibit is a great way to learn about the history of this iconic brand and see some of the antique farm implements used by early farmers. Don’t forget to check out the replica of the coal palace used as an exhibition center for showcasing the local coal industry in 1890. Get a glimpse of a 1925 LaFrance fire truck that has been restored to fully working condition.
The Wapello County Historical Museum is also home to an old Burlington train depot exhibit. The exhibit contains various pictures, transportation equipment, train-related memorabilia, and a replica of the old Burlington depot building.
In addition to these exhibits, there are more than 10,000 other artifacts related to Native American Tribes, agriculture, and the military. Admission fees are affordable, and the museum remains open from Wednesdays to Saturdays.
Dress Up at the American Gothic House
The American Gothic House is a National Historic Landmark in murals painted by Grant Wood on the exterior of the building and is one of the most iconic historical sites. The house, now open to the public for guided tours, was built in 1882 by Charles Dibble as a home for his family in Eldon, Iowa. In 1991, it was donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa and designated a national historic site.
Today, the American Gothic House welcomes 15,000 visitors annually and is one of Iowa’s most popular tourist destinations. The house has been restored and furnished with period pieces throughout Grant Wood’s life, making it an exciting and informative place to visit.
Grab A Bite at the Canteen Lunch in the Alley
No list of things to do in Ottumwa Iowa would be complete without the Canteen! The restaurant known as Canteen Lunch, stands there thanks to its history of serving famous scrambled hamburgers, more commonly known as loose meat sandwiches, since 1927.
The Canteen is a prime example of dining facilities felt like in the 20th century due to the influence of the Great Depression. You will find local art inside the alley and a beautiful play area for the kids. There are over sixteen seats, including our tables and benches in sunlight. The Canteen Lunch remains open from Mondays to Saturdays.
Try Mimi’s Taqueria
Mimi’s Taqueria is a family-owned and operated Mexican restaurant located in Ottumwa. The restaurant offers various Mexican dishes, including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc. Whether you’re looking for a quick lunch or an evening meal, Mimi’s is the perfect place to enjoy some authentic Mexican cuisine.
The building’s tranquil setting and friendly staff make this a fantastic location to take the entire family during or after work or on the weekend. The restaurant remains open all the week except Tuesday from 10 am to 9 pm.
Sleep at the Hotel Ottumwa
Hotel Ottumwa can be found in the revitalized downtown Ottumwa area of Iowa. It was constructed as a first-class hotel in 1917 and played an essential role in developing this town.
The building emulates a Neoclassical architectural style based on the idea that a famous design firm previously promoted. The six-story building has a height of approximately 72 feet. The unassuming exterior of the historic building is coated with brick, which is dark brown and features classical embellishments in terra cotta above.
Though the significant attraction of the hotel is not the hotel’s design itself but the Haunted stories revolving around it. It is said that an apparition of a woman in white sometimes appears in the cellar, which formerly served as the ballroom. Strange voices are heard when there are no people.
Even after being known for its haunted attraction, The historical atmosphere of this hotel makes it a suitable destination for a family vacation or a private getaway.
Camp at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Area
Within Wapello County, Pioneer Ridge Nature Area is located just south of the Davis and Wapello County line along Highway 63. The local Conservation Board maintains headquarters here. The geography at pioneer ridge’s nature preserve has rolling topography, with large mature oak-hickory and open grass ridge providing most of the environment.
Efforts are underway to import different native pasture grasses and spread prairie plants across the woods. The park focuses on educating children and adults about environmental problems and natural resources.
A small campground includes an electrified and classic campsite. The campground also has fully furnished modern log cabins and camping cabins that can be rented at any time of the year. In addition to the campground, it has other amenities such as grills, picnic tables, water, and restrooms.
Hikers and Bikers can stroll around the park’s extensive trail system surrounded by beautiful trees and clean paths.
Dine at Appanoose Rapids
Appanoose Rapids Restaurant is a locally owned and operated restaurant that offers a hearty and handsomely crafted cuisine that will leave you wanting more. It is housed in a historic building in downtown Ottumwa.
Appanoose Rapids Restaurant offers you a fantastic meal from the homemade soups and sandwiches to the juicy steak dinners. They also have a wide variety of appetizers and desserts to choose from. It is also a good spot for your following function, from parties and weddings to corporate events and business lunches.
Mountain Bike at Memorial Park
Situated on Ottumwa’s north side, Memorial Park covers 47 acres of land. Picnic tables, a shelter, and grills are available for an outdoor cookout. The park also has hiking and bicycle trails, a children’s playground, and disc golf. Position yourself for opportunities for bird watching and wildlife viewing.
The park’s five-mile mountain bike trail is a favorite among visitors in Ottumwa. The trails were built considering International Mountain Bicycling Association’s guidelines. Volunteers around the city help turn these unpaved trails into fun, challenging off-road experiences with a switchback, jumps, and a steep ravine. Hikers should start from the timber edge under Bulldog Water Tower just off Elm Street.
Hike in Ottumwa Park
Ottumwa Park is a beautiful park with a 16-mile trail that winds through the park, making it an excellent place to hike or bike. The campground has campsites with full hookups for RVs and tent enthusiasts. There are also group camping areas that can accommodate dozens of people. The park features WiFi, a playground, and horseshoe pits.
This 340-acre park has many amenities, including a ball field, tennis court, basketball and volleyball courts, and soccer fields. Whether you’re looking for peace and quiet or want to explore all the area has to offer, the Ottumwa Park campground is perfect for you.
Hit the Links at Cedar Creek Golf Course
The Cedar Creek Golf Course is a well-known 18-hole golf course in the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This course is perfect for golfers with a slope rating of 71 and a par of 72. The course offers several facilities that make it easy to enjoy your time on the green.
There is the pro shop and snack bar for golfers, both of which offer everything you need to get your game on. Golfers can also take advantage of the practice facilities. Whether you’re looking to play a round of golf or just relax and take in the view, Cedar Creek Golf Course has something for everyone. In addition to these facilities, the golf cart at this golf course comes with advanced GPS technology.
Get Wet at The Beach Ottumwa
Waterparks are a summer tradition in many places, but The Beach Ottumwa water park is special. The water park covers 13 acres of land and comprises more than 1 million gallons of water for fun for the whole family.
It has the largest 100-foot tube slide in the Midwest, with heights that make it perfect for thrill-seekers of all ages. The park also features dozens of other attractions like an 8 lanes competitive pool and a challenging obstacle course for kids and adults to enjoy.
Shop at Quincy Place Mall
Quincy Place Mall is a popular shopping destination for residents of Ottumwa and the surrounding communities. The mall is spread over 275,000 sq ft of land and has more than 40 stores, including anchor stores Harbor Freight Tools, Dunham’s Sports, and Dollar Tree, and offers various services, including food courts and a fitness center. In addition to its traditional shopping options, the mall features a Pinball and arcade zone, mini-golf, and a gaming zone.
Quincy Place Mall is home to a variety of events throughout the year. From family-friendly activities to art exhibitions and special appearances by famous celebrities, there’s always something happening at Quincy Place Mall. The mall remains open year-round from 10 am to 8 pm.
Curtis King Civil War Historic Site
This historic site is a memorial dedicated to the Civil war’s oldest soldier in the United States: Curtis King. King was the direct descendant of Pocahontas and served the union army in 1862 at 80.
Before he was finally accepted as a private, he was turned down by the authorities two times. By the time he joined the army, he was blind in one eye. He was part of the “graybeard regiment,” the name was given because all the soldiers in the regiment were above 45 years of age.
Curtis King passed away shortly after being released from the army service at 81 due to an injury. He was subsequently laid to rest at the Curtis King Memorial Cemetery in Wapello County, also known as the Curtis King Memorial Cemetery.
The site is marked by a brown sign with white letters that reads simply Historical Site on Highway 63 south of Eddyville, just before the Chillicothe turnoff.
Look Over the Freedom Rock
Since its inception in 1999, large boulders weighing approximately 60 are displayed in every county. Each has a different version of the message “Thank you to our country’s veterans” by the artist Ray “Bubba” Sorenson. He paints it to honor the country’s veterans.
Each of the 99 Freedom Rocks is different – you can read more about them in my article: All About Iowa’s Freedom Rocks.
Appreciate the Wapello County Courthouse
Wapello County’s first courthouse was initially a log cabin. It was replaced by a two-story building in 1846 for $1,000. The first floor served as a school, church, courthouse, dance hall, and venue for political discussions. The second floor was used as a place for office space.
The present courthouse was founded in 1894 for $135,000 and was donated to Ottumwa. It was built from rough-cut sandstone in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. It was later registered on the national register for historic places in 1981. The power of the courthouse emanates from its connection to county government, the power, and the prestige Ottumwa has as the county seat.
The interior has undergone extensive remodeling over the years, but it also features an elegant, ornate cast-iron staircase near the elevator shaft. The newel post is a short pillar with foliated capital.
Ironwork on the balustrade combines the forms of linear and curvilinear shapes. Colorful, glazed tile floors line the first floor of the building. Various colors and thematic designs differentiate the different parts of the building.
Summing it Up
As you can see, there are many reasons to visit Ottumwa, Iowa. Whether you are visiting Museums, exploring charming downtown Ottumwa, or taking a shot walk through the impressive parks you will be glad you stopped here. There’s something for everyone in Ottumwa!
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