Dubuque Road Trip Featured

From gems hidden amongst Wisconsin’s dairy lands to Iowa’s Dubuque and the Quad Cities’ exciting attractions, let’s hit the open road together on a Dubuque Road Trip!

Midwest Road Trip - Milwaukee to Dubuque

Embark on a journey beginning in the scenic landscapes of southeast Wisconsin, meandering through its hilly terrain and encountering intriguing stops such as the Toy Train Barn Museum, gravity hill and a delightful hike alongside goats. As we venture into Iowa, there are tons of opportunities for kids to explore. On our return, we’ll pass through Illinois, where the children can immerse themselves in the wonders of Rockford’s exceptional children’s museum.  

Decatur Dairy

As you head west, do yourself a favor and stock up on some fresh curds from Decatur Dairy. If you’re passing by around lunch time, treat yourself to a decadent grilled cheese sandwich. (Closed Sundays)

Dubuque Road Trip Dacateur

Toy Train Barn Museum

What was once a barn housing a herd of dairy cows has been transformed into a magical world of miniature railroads, a testament to one man’s love for trains and his ingenious imagination.

The boys’ eyes sparkled with excitement as they watched the trains zip by. They were particularly fascinated by the moving components besides the trains and of course, an appearance by Thomas.  The attention to detail was astounding, and it was evident that every piece in the museum was filled with passion and a sense of humor.  

If you’re planning a visit, the museum is located at W9141 Hwy 81 in Argyle. I recommend setting aside at least an hour or two to fully enjoy all the exhibits. The admission fee is a steal at only $5 per person, and trust me, it’s worth every penny!  

We were led by the creator’s wife, who took lots of loving jabs at her husband’s brilliance, sharing how household items like their door, curtains, or microwave would suddenly disappear so he could turn them into a scene.   She described him as a mix between Dr. Seuss and Einstein which seems dead-on based on the creative engineering he’s accomplished! 

Dubuque Road Trip Toy Train Barn

Gravity Hill

What makes Gravity Hill unique is its perfect combination of landscape elements that create an optical illusion. It’s a stretch of road in a hilly area where the true horizon is obscured, altering your depth perception and making you believe that your car is moving uphill when in reality, it’s going downhill. 

It’s a little bit of a detour, but if you’re curious, it’s a fun little experiment!  Always watch for traffic!

Goat Trekking 

Tucked away in the serene landscapes of Galena, Illinois, is an experience that will bring out the inner herder in you – Hoof It Goat Treks. This unique adventure offers a guided walking tour with goats through native prairies and forest, providing an unforgettable encounter with nature and these endearing creatures.

We enjoyed how the guides called each goat by name and described their personalities. From the daring goat that always led the pack to the adorable laggard who preferred taking its time, each goat had a story to share. The boys were particularly amused by the goats climbing on each other’s backs to snack on higher branches.

Midway through the hike, we had the opportunity to feed the goats carrots and take a family photo. 

If you’re planning a visit, Hoof It Goat Treks is located at 616 South Devils Ladder Road, Galena, IL. Though the trail is suitable for all ages and most abilities, it’s a good idea to wear comfortable shoes for the trek and full clothing coverage for bugs. I recommend bringing bug spray and applying it before the hike to keep pesky insects at bay.  

The hike itself lasts about an hour, I suggest setting aside at least two hours for the whole experience, allowing time to check in and also interact with the goats before and after the trek.

For families looking for a unique outdoor experience, this is a must-visit attraction.

Dubuque Road Trip Goat Trek

Downtown Galena

One of the key attractions of Galena is its charming downtown area. Lined with beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings, it feels like stepping back in time. The main street is home to over 100 stores, from toys and home decor to local artisan crafts and gourmet foods. It’s a great spot to relax at a family friendly restaurant too. For coffee and pastries, you have to try Trolley Depot. For lunch, try Bread & Vine and for dessert grab ice cream at La Michoacana Irmanaju.

For kid friendly shopping, check out Poopsie’s. My kids could have spend all day (and all my money) here!

Galena Illinois with kids

Alpine Slide 

This alpine slide is a part of the Chestnut Mountain Resort, a year-round destination known for its skiing in winter and a variety of outdoor activities during the warmer months. The alpine slide, in particular, is a summer favorite, offering riders a breathtaking journey down the mountain filled with twists, turns, and stunning views.  

It’s not an alpine coaster, which you’ll find more often, but instead you ride a sled down a slide.  

Kids 48” and 7 years old and up will love the thrill of controlling their own sled.  Young children can ride with their parents.  A single ride is $15, but you can save money by packaging multiple rides or attractions. Learn more at the Chestnut Mountain website.

The scenic chairlift ride back to the top is another highlight, providing panoramic views of the Mississippi River and 3 states (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin)! 

Dubuque River Museum and Aquarium 

Nestled along the mighty Mississippi in Dubuque, Iowa, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is a journey into the life, history, and culture of America’s rivers.  

I recently had the opportunity to visit this fascinating destination with my two young boys.  The museum perfectly blends education with entertainment, offering immersive exhibits that capture their minds.  We marveled at the historical significance of the Mississippi River, learning about its role as a major transportation route that shaped the development of the country. It’s impossible to visit without gaining a deeper appreciation for our nation’s rivers.

The highlight of our visit was undoubtedly the aquarium. My boys were amazed by the wide variety of aquatic life, from playful otters to majestic sturgeon. They particularly enjoyed the “touch tank,” where they could gently touch stingrays. 

If you’re planning a visit, I recommend setting aside 3-4 hours to explore the museum and aquarium. The best time to visit is during the week when it’s less crowded. Getting there is easy, with ample parking available, and it’s conveniently located on the Dubuque riverfront.

Remember to pack snacks and water, although there are also dining options available on-site. 

Dubuque Road Trip River Museum

Creative Adventure Lab

Whether your family is into design, building, climbing, painting or exploring, there’s something for everyone.  This was our “rainy day backup plan” but we ended up having beautiful weather on our visit and didn’t make it.  Next time! 

Fenelon Place Elevator

One of the shortest and steepest railways in the world, it perched high above the bustling streets of Dubuque, Iowa.  It’s a marvel of old-world engineering and a beacon of local history—the Fenelon Elevator1. Also known as the Fourth Street Elevator, this unique attraction is a testament to ingenuity and offers a beautiful view of the city.

The Fenelon Elevator, built in 1822, was originally constructed to help people navigate the steep hill from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place. It now serves as a charming and nostalgic way to enjoy panoramic views of Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and three states—Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Dubuque Road Trip Fenelon

Eat at Backpocket Dubuque 

Backpocket Dubuque is a fun eatery with 55+ arcade games, a food menu, and taproom it’s a great place to unwind without being stuffy for the kids. 

Field of Dreams Movie Site 

This enchanting baseball diamond, immortalized in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” continues to draw fans from across the globe, eager to experience its magic firsthand.  As you step onto the site, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of legendary actors like Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.  

One of the most interesting facts about this location is that the baseball field was initially built on two different farms. After the movie was filmed, the left and center fields were returned to farming while the rest of the field was preserved as a tourist site.

Kids can run the bases, just like the players in the film, or have a catch on the very field where the movie was shot. They can explore the surrounding cornfields and imagine emerging from them, just like the ghost players in the movie.

The field is about a 35 minute drive west of Dubuque, but a must do for any baseball loving family!  

Dubuque Road Trip Field of Dreams

Family Museum in Davenport 

Located in Bettendorf, Iowa, a short drive from Davenport, the Family Museum is a vibrant, interactive space dedicated to fostering creativity and a love for learning in children. This hands-on museum, primarily geared towards children aged 8 and younger, is part of the ASTC Museum Reciprocity program. 

I had the pleasure of visiting this delightful museum with my two young boys. As we stepped through the doors, they were immediately swept into a world of discovery.  We spent about 3 hours here, completely immersed in pretend play. 

Dubuque Road Trip family museum

Dig for Dinos at Putnam Museum and Science Center

I’ll be blunt, this museum is in need of some serious updating, but my kids were drawn to the dino dig and spent an hour excavating their discoveries. If you have spare time and free museum entry with reciprocity it may be worth dropping in.

Dubuque Road Trip Putnam Museum

John Deere Pavilion 

The John Deere Pavilion pays homage to America’s rich agricultural history. This 14,000-square-foot glass-enclosed structure holds both new and vintage John Deere equipment.  

As I ventured into the pavilion with boys, we were captivated by the sheer size and complexity of these machines.  The highlight, naturally, was climbing into the driver’s seat of each machine.  The interactive and immersive exhibits were a hit too. The boys took turns ‘driving’ a modern combine simulator.   

Attached is a John Deere gift shop. Branded clothing, housewares, and tons of toys are available for sale.  Don’t step foot in this store unless you’re prepared to buy the kids their own mini tractor! 

This Pavilion is the key reason we decided to venture south from Dubuque before heading toward home on our road trip.

Dubuque Road Trip John Deere

Twin Span Brewing

Twin Span Brewing not only serves exceptional craft beers, but also creates an inviting atmosphere that combines industrial aesthetics with a warm, family-friendly vibe. Step inside and you’ll find a spacious and vibrant interior, complete with big screens for catching your favorite game.

Right next door is a fun spot to grab ice cream as well.

Rockford Children’s Museum

The Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, Illinois offers over 250 interactive exhibits! As soon as we stepped foot inside I knew I hadn’t planned for enough time at the museum.  (This is another ASTC museum that you can access for free with reciprocity!)

If you’re planning a visit to the Discovery Center Museum, I recommend setting aside at least four hours to fully enjoy the experience, indoors and out. It’s a playground for the curious mind. 

Don’t forget to pack some snacks and drinks. 

Dubuque Road Trip Discovery Center Rockford

If you have plans to hit Chicago, check out our favorite things to do with kids in the windy city.

Closing Thoughts on a Dubuque Road Trip

A 4 day adventure where Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois meet was the perfect getaway Labor Day weekend. It was filled with kid-oriented activities and their moods were outstanding for the whole journey. We saw their faces light up at each new space to explore. I highly recommend a low-key, budget friendly Dubuque Road Trip for anyone in the Midwest!

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