Iowa : Safety by City
- Arnolds Park
- Cedar Falls
- Cedar Rapids
- Clear Lake
- Council Bluffs
- Des Moines
- Fort Dodge
- Fort Madison
- Iowa City
- Mason City
- North Liberty
- Pleasant Hill
- Polk City
- Sioux City
- Spirit Lake
- Storm Lake
- The Amana Colonies
- West Des Moines
The Amana Colonies sit in a wide expanse of rural land between Cedar Rapids and Des Moines in central Iowa.
The villages have beginnings going back to 1855.
The Amana lifestyle isn’t to be confused with Amish.
While both groups left Germany for religious freedom, the Amana live a life full of technology and adapt to the ways of the modern world.
Even their communal lifestyle isn’t mandatory any longer.
Amish and Mennonite people are still without technology and generally use horses and buggies instead of cars.
There is an Amish area just 45 minutes away from the Amana Colonies.
You will only find the Amana lifestyle in this particular corner of Iowa, nowhere else in the country.
There are seven Amana Colonies:
- Middle Amana
- South Amana
- West Amana
- High Amana
- East Amana
The total population of all the colonies is about 1,600.
While there is still a rich heritage celebrated in the community, many of the outdated traditions have been tossed aside.
However, several of them remain, and we’ll talk about the uniqueness of this community.
If you’ve ever enjoyed using a refrigerator or a microwave, you can thank the pioneers in Amana that worked for the Amana Corporation, founded in Middle Amana.
(Another key difference between the Amana and Amish – Amish people won’t use electricity, so their refrigerators are gas or solar-powered if they use a refrigerator at all.)
A trip to the Amana Colonies is unlike anything else you can experience in the United States.
Even if you’re visiting nearby Cedar Rapids, it’s worth the short drive to experience this unique culture and friendly people.
Warnings & Dangers in The Amana Colonies
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in the colonies. With very little crime, to begin with, the crime that does happen is handled by the Iowa County Sheriff's Office. There isn't a local police force in any of the colonies. Here's the catch with this, however. I don't have the exact crime data for the colonies because the only available information is from the entire Iowa County. That would be a poor reflection of this community's actual low crime numbers. Any website claiming to have crime data is using information from a city of a similar size and, assuming the same rates *might apply. I've dug through dozens of pages of crime data for these cities and the only crime of any note is an FBI Most Wanted case of homicide from 1980.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There is not a public bus system here, so you'll need to have a car or rent a shuttle to get here from the airport. Uber and Lyft are available in town for rides between the villages, but that might add up quickly. You can also bring or rent a bicycle to ride around that way and there will be plenty of other people doing the same thing.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here, but it's still going to require you to use safety steps to protect your belongings. You should never let your guard down, no matter how safe a community is.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This might be God's country, but it's still at Mother Nature's mercy. Iowa runs the gamut of severe weather - thunderstorms, tornados, Derechos, hail, lightning, snowstorms, ice/sleet, and strong winds throughout the year. Extreme temperatures too. There's a medium risk and you should be prepared for any season's worst when you visit.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
I mean, I found a robbery in Amana in 2017? There really just isn't a crime here that rises to even the level of being reported in the local news. There's a low risk it will happen to you.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here, too. This is a small population area and while it does bring in tourists, it's not enough people to even warrant a terror group from considering it. If anything, the Germans are just a little sour about the group that sought religious freedom hundreds of years ago.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There aren't any tourist scams here. Even the Better Business Bureau scam page for Amana is empty. That doesn't mean someone won't try to come up with something new, so always be prepared for a deal that seems too good to be true.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women are going to love the shopping and sights to see here, so there's a low risk of any dangers. Most of the hotels here are bed and breakfasts or locally-owned inns, so you'll want to make sure the windows and doors are firmly locked at all times.
TAP WATER RISK : MEDIUM
Three water quality reports were released in 2021 from the Amana Colonies. One is from South Amana, which had no violations. The second is from Amana North, and there was a violation of copper in the water in June of 2021. This can be from old plumbing in a building. Third, the Homestead report shows a violation of radium. The maximum containment level is 5, but the water tested here reached as high as 5.6. To learn more about radium in the water, and what is being done to fix it, contact the EPA at 800-426-4791. Because of the few violations that were reported, I'm going to give this a medium risk and suggest you use bottled water while visiting the colonies for drinking, but you should be okay using tap water for bathing unless you have a compromised immune system.
Safest Places to Visit in The Amana Colonies
The best place to start is the Amana Heritage Center.
It’s going to make the trip more special if you understand where this community came from and how it developed into what you see today.
It will also give you a better lay of the land to choose where you want to visit.
Download the Amana Colonies app for free walking tour maps, driving information, and lists of things to do.
Before we get into other places, let’s talk about the festivals.
There are several that happen each year:
- Winterfest: Every January
- Maifest: Every end of April/Beginning of May
- Renaissance Festival: Every May & June
- Wurst Festival: Every June
- Festival of the Arts: August
- Fresh Paint: Labor Day weekend annually
- Festival of the Beers: Labor Day weekend annually
- Oktoberfest: Every October
- Tannenbaum Forest: Thanksgiving through the week before Christmas
- Prelude Christmas: The first weekend in December annually
There are far too many small shops, boutiques, food stores, restaurants, churches, trails, and attractions to go through them all between seven colonies.
What I can do is share some of the more unique experiences in a region full of unique experiences.
No matter where you go, it will feel like a rural German village with a touch of Oktoberfest year-round.
No matter what religion you are, everyone is welcome at Amana churches.
You might have a hard time recognizing them, as they aren’t grand buildings with stained glass.
They are basic buildings with simple windows and wooden benches for seating.
For museums, you can visit:
- Amana Heritage Society: Historical buildings from the dawn of the Amana Colonies in Iowa
- Mini-Americana Barn Museum: See a replica of the colonies in a mini barn spread that has incredibly elaborate detail
- Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway: The true story turned into a Hollywood movie called “The Final Season” happened here and the museum details it all
Special attractions to look for:
- Meat shops: You can sample as you shop and even though carrying meat on an airplane doesn’t sound sanitary, you can shop for what you like and order online to have it shipped home.
- Wineries: So. Many. Wineries.
- Brewery: One brewery that is the oldest micro-brewery in the state
- Communal Kitchen: What was once standard practice is now down to one remaining communal kitchen. You can learn how the women of the town prepared food for feasts daily.
- Bakeries: Middle Amana tradition means you have to try the coffee cake at the bakery here, run by third and fourth-generation family members.
- Crafts & Furniture: These aren’t your everyday crafts made with supplies from Michael’s. Some of the most delicate and impressive pieces of handmade artwork can be yours.
There are several trails connecting some of the colony’s cities.
The Gravel Bike Route spans Middle Amana, High Amana, and West Amana.
Keep an eye out for the space that inspired Grant Wood’s painting “Young Corn.”
There’s the Amana Colonies Bike Trail that connects Amana to Middle Amana.
There’s a nature trail outside of Homestead that gives sweeping views from the bluffs of the Iowa River.
While you’re at the river, there’s kayaking and fishing available.
Places to Avoid in The Amana Colonies
There aren’t any bad parts of town to avoid.
In fact, I encourage you to explore them all.
I only hope you can avoid being as overwhelmed as I felt trying to summarize this amazingly unique place in a few paragraphs.
I really hope I am getting the point across of how rare it is to see a place like this, away from the hectic pace of life.
Let’s talk about food.
The Amana Colonies are filled with samples.
It’s like Costco on Saturday times a million.
Unless you have food allergies or a medical reason to limit what you eat – indulge yourself.
There are so many great samples, from fresh meat to homemade fudge to the newest brew.
Try to avoid ever saying, “I’m on a diet” while you’re here.
Remember, there are miles of biking and hiking to burn some of those calories.
Back to the tap water issue.
I don’t want to scare anyone into thinking the water is too dangerous to drink.
It’s not an act of recklessness that leads to many water quality violations.
Sometimes it’s from the naturally occurring soil.
Other times it can be runoff from a storm or farmland.
Yet others, it’s the old pipes adding copper or rust to water.
It’s a good idea to grab a case of water in Grand Rapids when you fly in (or wherever the closest store is on your way to the colonies.)
Some people are more particular about drinking water, and there can be immune issues that require a certain amount of filtration.
You have to do what’s smart for you.
Safety Tips for Traveling to The Amana Colonies
- When you’re at the visitor center, ask about the trails. There are times of the year the hunting season happens and that means some of the trails will be off-limits to hikers and bicyclists.
- Highway 220 connects all seven of the villages, so when in doubt, look for that route. You’ll be able to get back where you came from.
- Before you book your preferred place to stay, ask about the internet signal and WiFi. Some hotels have made it a priority to have the best internet access, while others might still be waiting for rural broadband connections. You can also check with your phone provider to see where your coverage areas are in this region.
- Some of the campsites and RV parks are only open from April through October. If that’s how you’ll be traveling or where you plan to stay, check before you book that you have a slot seasonally available.
- There’s just one gas station in the colonies and that’s in Amana. To travel between all of the colonies, it’s about 20 miles. You should still never let your car get to less than half a tank of gas.
- The Iowa County Sheriff doesn’t have a website, but there is a Facebook page. The handle is @IowaCountySheriffsOffice. It is *very easy to end up on the Iowa County, Wisconsin website when searching for information. That is not the right county. It’s located in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. If you are looking for the Emergency Management page, there’s a website and Facebook page for that agency. Again, confirm it’s in Marengo, Iowa, and not Wisconsin.
- Weather information in this region comes from the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities, but you’ll see all their information showing the entire section of the state and associated risks.
- Iowa can have beautiful days with mild temperatures, but incredibly strong winds. An average windy day might be winds of 25-30 mph with gusts up to 50mph. I live in neighboring Nebraska, and we have the same problem. There really is such a thing as “wind rage”, so don’t think you’re alone if you find that annoying. It does mean holding tight to the steering wheel when on the highways. Also, don’t wear loose, flowing dresses or put your long hair down. It just gets in the way and becomes harder to control everything flying around.
- The Amana Society puts out a newsletter once a week. This is a great way to learn about the colonies closer to your visit. It does look like the newsletter I was handed at church when I was 10 years old, but there’s still good information in that document.
- For fishing and hunting, you’ll need licenses from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. A fishing license is a lot easier to get than a hunting license due to safety concerns. Please research this early so you don’t miss out on a chance to experience the wildlife here. I did find it comical that on a list of the wildlife that can be seen in this area, the writer explained that carp & bluegill fish are found in the water, not on land.
So... How Safe Is The Amana Colonies Really?
It has really been bugging me as I go through this article that I don’t have good crime data.
I don’t like to report on cities if I can’t tell you specifically what the risks and rewards are.
I finally decided I WOULD look at the Iowa County crime data, just to see how “bad” the county is, and then try to backtrack to the colonies.
I’m sure glad I did.
Iowa County has 16,000 people and 10% of those live in the colonies.
On top of tourism weekends, about 30,000 people come to the colonies.
Here are the raw crime numbers in Iowa County for the past two years:
- Homicides: None in 2020 or 2021
- Sexual Assaults: None in 2020 or 2021
- Robberies: None in 2020 or 2021
- Thefts: 9 in 2020, 4 in 2021
- Motor Vehicle Thefts: 9 in 2020, 4 in 2021
The highest crime categories were related to drug offenses.
That is becoming all too common in Iowa counties, so that’s not specific to the Amana Colonies.
There were 44 drug-related crimes in 2021, up from 27 in 2020.
In the entire county in 2021, there were 80 crimes.
That’s about the safest county and series of cities I believe I’ve ever researched.
Enjoy your time in the Amana Colonies, and let us know what your favorite spots were to visit!
If any locals are reading this, we’d love your insider tips, too.
How Does The Amana Colonies Compare?
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- Visas - When you arrive at the airport, you'll need to show your visa at Customs to get into the United States. Entry is not guaranteed with a Visa, so be on your best behavior. You won't need your visa to drive between the Amana Villages.
- Currency - You'll only use the U.S. Dollar in the colonies and across Iowa. Check with your hotel to see if they accept credit cards, as some of the B&Bs only take cash or checks. Bring cash with you in case more vendors won't accept credit cards, but be sure to keep your cash stored in a safe place and not just peeking out of your wallet.
- Weather - You should dress for the variety of weather Iowa can produce. In spring, fall, and summer you should have plenty of layers, but summer will likely be hot and humid most of the time. Bring bug spray since there are even more bugs in rural areas like this. Winter will require warmer layers of clothing and winter accessories.
- Airports - The Cedar Rapids airport is just 15 minutes away from Amana. To fly in or out of Des Moines airport, plan for a two-hour drive.
- Travel Insurance - It's a good idea for travel insurance that protects your air and ground travel. Make sure you know the deductible for hail damage, as storms here can produce hail anywhere from pea-sized to baseball-size.
The Amana Colonies Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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