If you’re looking for a fun, adventurous getaway in Iowa, the Waterloo and Cedar Falls area should be on your radar! Waterloo is predominantly known for its connection to John Deere, the iconic green and yellow tractors have been manufactured in Waterloo for 100 years! Cedar Falls is also home to the University of Northern Iowa. But did you know there are some great outdoor adventures to be had in the Cedar Falls and Waterloo area?! Here are some of my favourite things to do, places to eat and where to stay!
Disclosure: Thank you to Travel Waterloo for providing me with accommodation and vouchers to some of the attractions and restaurants mentioned in this post. This post also contains affiliate links. For more information visit my Privacy and Disclosure Policy. As always opinions are my own!
Updated: March 2021
Things To Do in Waterloo & Cedar Falls Iowa
Lost Island Water Park
Location: 2225 E Shaulis Rd, Waterloo, IA 50701
For the thrill seekers, a trip to the Lost Island Water Park is a must! It’s been voted one of the top 15 water parks in the USA by both TripAdvisor and USA Today. With 17 slides and pools there’s plenty of fun to be had by both adults and kids!
Some of my personal favourite waterslides are:
Wailua Kupua – A water coaster, I’ve not been on anything like it before! It’s fast, has drops that leave your stomach in the air and it shoots you UP hill in just a rubber dingy! Now I’m an adrenaline junkie and this ride certainly gave me a rush! *TIP* Sit in the 3rd or back seat!!! I found that when I was in the front I couldn’t see anything because of the spray!
Tangerine Tempest – Another unique slide and the only way I can describe it is it feels like you’re being flushed down the toilet!
Molokini Crater – Grab a 2 or 4 person tube and then drop into a giant funnel!
Jade Rapids – The Jade Rapids tube slide has a new interactive element where you can choose a soundtrack with different light shows while you ride! I was surprised by the speed of this slide!
Things to know about Lost Island
You can take cameras on the rides but I’d make sure if you plan on recording, make sure you can do it HANDS FREE. I had my GoPro strapped to my wrist, I’d start recording at the top and wouldn’t touch it again until I got to the bottom. Unlike rollercoasters, there are no restraints holding you in so it’s important to keep hold of the grip handles at ALL TIMES.
You can also wear water shoes as long as there are no rivets. The majority of the slides have tubes so water shoes can be worn quite comfortably. On a hot day, the concrete does get hot, so this may be an option you’d want to consider!
Lost Island Waterpark: One of my favourite things to do in Waterloo Iowa!
There are lockers available to hire, as far as I’m aware they only take card payments now. I hired a small locker for $5. It was enough for 1 bag, a pair of shoes and changes of clothes for 2 people. You can access it throughout the day using a 4 digit passcode that you choose (no key!).
If you bring an empty bottle, there are free drinking fountains that can be used to re-fill it.
Lost Island Water Park is open during the Iowa school breaks between June and August. Opening hours are 10.30am – 6.30pm and tickets work on height rather than age, over 48in start from $26.40 (plus tax) online or $27.80 (plus tax) on the gate. For more information visit the Lost Island Water Park website!
Lost Island Mini Golf and Go Karts
Next door to the Lost Island Water Park is a separate attraction with mini golf and go karts! With the water park admission ticket you then get $1 knocked off the golf and go karts. There are two, 18 hole mini golf courses, you can pay for either 1 course or both. Both courses are quite similar, I think I preferred the one on the ‘right’ that goes around the side of the building! The go kart track has single and double karts. This area of Lost Island is open longer than the water park, opening during weekends in May and September, as well as daily through the summer season!
Related reading: The Best Amusement Parks In The Midwest USA
Cedar Valley Nature Trails
Another way to get active in Waterloo and Cedar Falls is to go on a bike ride! If you’re visiting the area and don’t have a bike, the Waterloo Bicycle Works is a good option for renting one in Downtown Waterloo. Their store is located right on one of the trails!
Now I’m not a hardcore bike rider or anything, I have a bike but cycling on the road scares me and I’m useless at peddling uphill…BUT I found the Cedar Valley Trails to be PERFECT. There are over 100 miles of dedicated paved bike trails. It’s worth picking up a “Cedar Valley Trails & Recreation Guide” leaflet just so you can get an idea of the routes in your head (both Waterloo Bicycle Works and Travel Waterloo have these available). The map is HUGE though but I found the trails to be very well signposted with both ‘bike route’ signs and ‘Cedar Valley Trail’ boards which display a couple of route options, the mileage and how long it’ll roughly take to cycle there. There are even information boards on some of the routes which explain the history of the area!
I had a half day bike rental and in that time I completed trail 6, ‘The Riverwalk Loop’ which is 3.2 miles and around 4 miles of 19.3 mile ‘Cedar Prairie Loop’ (trail 5). The Riverwalk Loop runs alongside the Cedar River and into the Riverview Recreation Area. An unpaved trail can be taken around Harold Getty Lake, allowing you to loop round rather than double backing along part of the route.
Especially in the Downtown Waterloo area there are plenty of bike racks, benches and even bicycle repair stations that are free to use.
Riverview OHV Park
The Riverview Recreation Area is also home to the Riverview OHV Park, a 180 acre area of woodland trails, mud, sand, water and jumps for quad biking and motocross bikes. You do have to take your own vehicle but the park is free to use. Some areas are only for motorbikes but I at fun driving the 4 mile perimeter trail! You’ll also find a small area for children to practise off roading. There’s a large parking area and pit toilets.
Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga at George Wyth State Park
Location: 3659 Wyth Rd, Waterloo, IA 50703
George With State Park is exactly a 10 minute drive from both Cedar Falls and Downtown Waterloo!
So you don’t HAVE to do stand up paddle board yoga BUT it is a lot of fun! Maxx Rentals in the George Wyth State Park has all different kinds of rentals, from kayaks, to paddle boards, peddle boats or float mats and tubes, which can all be enjoyed from a small beach area with toilets and a concessions stand. 3 times a week they offer stand up paddle board yoga, usually in the evenings between 5.30pm and 7pm on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
The class starts with an introduction to paddle boarding before paddling out to a quiet area of the lake where you anchor up for a 1 hour yoga class. Just like regular yoga, you don’t have to push yourself in ways that aren’t comfortable. The only times we fell in were when we PURPOSELY fell in. If you start wobbling, you can simply drop to your knees!
SUP Yoga: Things to do in Waterloo in summer
I really enjoyed the different element that being on the water brought to the savasana at the end of the practise. For those that may not have done yoga before, this is when you relax at the end, laying still on your back and almost go into a peaceful mediation. We ‘star fished’ on the board with our hands and feet in the water and just relaxed, listening to our surroundings and feeling the gentle rocking of the board…lovely!
Classes are $30 and include board hire. You have to pre book a spot in advance through Maxx Rentals. The classes are run by Jess, a qualified SUP yoga teacher, you can contact her direct on her website Yoga With Jess.
Related post: Practicing Goga (Goat Yoga)! Coco’s Ranch, IA
John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum
Location: 500 Westfield Ave, Waterloo, IA 50701
If you’re looking for free things to do in Waterloo Iowa, look no further! I was surprised when I found out that the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum was free to visit…even more so when a guided tour is free too (if you do take the tour, you are expected to fill in a quick survey about the museum experience)! I arrived just as a tour was leaving so decided to tag along. It lasted almost 2 hours! Even though I don’t come from somewhere with a huge farming industry (sorry John Deere, I see more New Holland tractors at home!) I found the museum interesting to see how it has changed and evolved across the years.
Where to eat in Waterloo Iowa
Location: 325 Commercial St, Waterloo, IA 50701
SingleSpeed Brewing is, as the name says on the tin, an Iowa craft brewery, which also serves food, has a lovely outdoor patio area and is bicycle friendly (with a large outdoor bike rack and I’m pretty sure I saw an indoor bike parking area too). The Brit in me of course had the fish and chips…I’m not sure how they batter the cod but it was amazing! Sometimes the batter can be a bit overpowering but it was more like a coating I guess? I then had cookie and ice cream for dessert, it was sprinkled with black pepper…it sounds weird but it really worked!
Galleria De Paco & the Catacomb Lounge
Location: 622 Commercial St, Waterloo, IA 50701
Literally EVERYONE I met recommended that one of the best things to do in Waterloo is to visit Galleria De Paco! The walls and ceiling of this Waterloo restaurant have been SPRAY PAINTED with a re-creation of Michelangelo’s artwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Italy! If you are travelling more on a budget, I recommend eating/drinking at the Catacomb Lounge, underneath the Galleria De Paco. You still enter in through the front door of the Catacomb Lounge, can witness Paco Rosic’s amazing artwork and then go down the stairs into the bar. I recommend the Forbidden Apple martini and the bacon wrapped chicken skewers!
Location: 3015 Kimball Ave, Waterloo, IA 50702
Hansen’s Dairy is a locally owned farm that offers tours and hands on experiences (I hear the tour is very good!), but they also have store fronts in both Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I visited because of my love of ice cream (in fact I went back every day!), having homemade raspberry soft serve one day and vanilla cream soda floats on the other two! I was expecting to receive a cream soda with a ball of ice cream plopped in the top, but the whole cup was filled up with ice cream and the cream soda was more like a topping! Amazing! So cheap as well!
As well as ice cream treats, the stores sell other farm produce, such as milk, cheese and meat. I saw several locals coming in and buying these other items! The company logo has a kangaroo, the owners fell in love with kangaroos during a trip to Australia and even have kangaroos on their farm that people can pet during the tour! As a big Australia fan, I loved this little connection!
Where to stay in Waterloo & Cedar Falls Iowa
Courtyard by Marriott
Location: 250 Westfield Ave, Waterloo, IA 50701
Staying with the John Deere theme, I spent a couple of nights at the Courtyard by Marriott, a hotel that opened in December 2017. It’s right next door to the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum and was even built in one of the disused factory buildings! They’ve kept some of the elements of the old factory, I LOVE the windows. Each floor of the hotel was raised up by 2ft just so they could keep the original windows and guests would actually be able to see out of them!
The Courtyard has lots of outdoor and indoor seating areas, a swimming pool on the 6th floor, a fitness room and ridiculously comfy beds. There are multiple power outlets all around the room (no need to crawl under tables or unplug lamps!), including USB charging ports next to the bed and of course free wifi. Breakfast does come at an additional cost.
If you visit during the end of July/beginning of August, Waterloo is home to the biggest Irish celebration in Iowa!
Any questions?! Let me know! Thanks again to Travel Waterloo for hosting my stay!