What to do in Waterloo and Cedar Falls - At Any Budget!

 

the Waterloo, IA Riverfront

Waterloo is my current home-base, and it has far more to do that guests outside the state would assume. We have museums, outdoor recreation, and even an amusement park. Since I am a budget minded traveler, I thought I would make a list of some of my favorites.

I will be keeping this list family friendly, but there is also a casino in Waterloo and many bars in the area, if that is your style. 



Free or Pay-What-You-Like


Farmers markets - Free to look, buy what you need

Cedar Falls and Waterloo both have very enjoyable farmers markets with great seasonal selections. I most often go to the river expo location, known as the Waterloo Urban Farmers market, in downtown Waterloo. Historically this location has some great crepes, veggies, baked goods and honey. In Cedar Falls, the most popular locations are Overman park and College hill. 


Hiking Hartman Nature Preserve - Free

This park is great for adult hikers, and for families with kids! In addition to beautifully maintained trails, there is also an interpretive center and presentations on maple syrup production using the park’s sugar maple trees. 


Shopping downtown Cedar Falls - Free to look, buy what you need

Of the two cities, Cedar Falls has the superior shopping! Head to the historic downtown and you will find a selection of boutiques, and other shops. One of my favorites is a fair trade shop with international handcrafted goods, as well as Hurts Doughnuts and a cooking store. 


Biking the American Discovery Trail - Free

The American discovery trail is a collection of connected rail trails connecting the west and east coasts of the United States. A very nice section runs through Waterloo and Cedar Falls, passing through two state parks, and passing near both downtown centers. Since biking is such a popular sport in Iowa, I recommend anyone visiting with a bike spend an afternoon biking from one side to the other. If you don't have a bike with you, hiking a section is also a great idea. 


$10 to $15 per person


Rent a kayak - $12 per person

George Wyth State Park is a local favorite for hikers, bikers, and nature fans. On top of this, it also has a free swimming beach and a kayak rental stand, MAXX Rentals that is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For around $12 an hour, you can rent a kayak or paddle board to explore the park on the water.


Camping at George Wyth State Park - $12 

Another great option at George Wyth State Park - Camping! Prices change depending on the season you  camp in, and whether you need a full hook-up site or a basic site. In the off season, you can get a reservation for as low as $6 for a tent. However, in the main camping season, most sites are between $12 and $18. As an added bonus, most sites have a great view o the water!


Get Lunch at a Brewery - around $15 per meal

Waterloo and Cedar Falls have a great assortment of breweries. Single Speed is probably the most famous, and is especially popular with cyclists. However, my Dad’s favorite is Second State in Cedar Falls, because they carry a better selection of English and German brew styles. A third option is Lark Brewing at Crossroads Mall. All three of these breweries have fantastic food menus and make a great lunch or lite dinner. 


Grout museum district - $6 to $12 per person

The Grout museum district is a multi-building set of museums and activities in Waterloo, including a Children's museum called “The Imaginarium”, a planetarium, the Sullivan Brothers veteran’s museum, and several other locations. Tickets are very reasonably priced, making this the perfect family and history buffs who may not be inclined to the outdoor activities listed previously. 


More than $15


Lost Island - $34 to $46 a ticket

This is possibly my most favorite activity in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area! Waterloo happens to be home to the premiere waterpark and theme park in Iowa. As of the last time I visited, the waterpark will keep kids and adults entertained for most of the day. The theme park will entertain most groups for half a day, and young children will probably be able to entertain longer. Keep in mind however, that additional rides and activities are being added for the 2023 season, which will up the quality. Both parks are themed to a mysterious tropical island, with both fantasy and Polynesian influences. The theme park in particular is organized around a story of four tribes that keep balance between water, earth, fire, and air, as well as spirit. If one of these parks are within budget, I would consider this a must-do! 


If you want more information about the Theme Park, check out my blog about what to expect for the 2023 season, and my blog breaking down the benefits of a 2023 season pass


A fancy dinner at Montage or Brown Bottle - estimated $20 - $28 

Some people like to joke that the Midwest has a minimal food culture. There are more than a few innovative and tasty restaurants here that prove that is untrue! If you are looking for a relaxing dinner date, I have two recommendations. For a modern fine dining experience, especially for those who can appreciate an artfully cooked protein, try Montage. I really enjoy the Tuna steak in particular, and I don’t know anyone who has had a bad meal here. If you like pasta and other Italian cuisine, try the Brown Bottle. They have a very pleasant selection of traditional pasta favorites, as well as delicious salad and bread. 


Axe throwing at Hurling Hatchet - $22 per person 

A favorite among visitors in Cedar Falls! Try your hand at ax throwing in the downtown. You might also see their mobile set up at local festivals. Keep in mind that you will need a group of four to get your own lane. (Afterwards, you can check out Hurts Doughnuts next door)


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