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
You can actually go chasing waterfalls in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while also sticking to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.
While I actually stole that line from a TLC song, it’s an ode to the rich music scene of this Midwestern city.
Cedar Falls and Waterloo are two peas in a city pod, sitting right next to each other about two hours northeast of Des Moines.
The entire metro area is home to 168,000 people and 40,000 of those live in Cedar Falls.
While it might look like Cedar Falls is “in the middle of nowhere” in Iowa, it’s along the popular road known as the “Avenue of the Saints,” named for being the main road between St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota.
I grew up in neighboring Missouri, and I thought it was an inside joke that we said IOWA stood for Idiots Out Wandering Around.
I was not going to share this in a story about Iowa, because it’s not a nice thing to say.
However, in my research of the numerous artists that started out in Cedar Falls, I found a band called House of Large Sizes.
Their 2000 album was actually named “Idiots Out Wandering Around.”
You’ll still hear live music bellowing from the walls of downtown bars in Cedar Falls, and it’s only overshadowed by the rushing sound of the falls on the Cedar River as you get closer to the shoreline.
This is an all-season destination with so many community events it’s hard to list them off by memory alone.
A trip to Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa, will give you a history lesson, an outdoor adventure park, and an indoor experience of a college town matured being all fraternity parties and beer bongs.
This is a place where the family is welcome, and there’s a little something for everyone.
Warnings & Dangers in Cedar Falls
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk in Cedar Falls and the crime rate is definitely higher in Waterloo, though I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say Waterloo is medium risk. It's just not as safe and has some higher crime areas.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MET) is the public bus system between the two cities. You'll be able to find taxis and rideshares too. There's a regional airport in Waterloo, so rental cars are available and you don't have to drive from Des Moines if you don't want to. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
The theft rate is 6% higher than the national average in Cedar Falls and 20% higher in Waterloo. There are a lot of events with big crowds, so to err on the side of caution, this is medium risk. It's easy to feel safe in Iowa, with its friendly atmosphere, but you should still use common sense when carrying a purse or wallet here.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Flooding on the banks of the Cedar River is the biggest concern and there are plenty of flooding videos to back me up on this. Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, Derechos, snowstorms, ice storms, and hail storms are also a risk. Because of the year-round potential for natural disasters, there's medium risk.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Cedar Falls has a low risk, with robberies just below the national average and a much lower violent crime rate than the state and national average. Waterloo is a different story, with robbery rates and violent crime rates nearly twice the national average.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of a terror attack here, either physical, cyber, or chemical. The county still has an emergency management plan just in case, and you can review that on the Black Hawk County Emergency Management website.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The majority of scams that happen here are targeting residents, not tourists. There's a low risk you'll be confronted by a scammer, but don't let your guard down.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Both Waterloo and Cedar Falls have sexual assault rates just below the national average. Cedar Falls is a college town, so you should use the buddy system when you're out enjoying the nightlife, and don't ever go to a private place with a stranger. There's a lot for female travelers to enjoy here, and common sense mixed with gut instinct will go a long way.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations and all testing was at the required level for the state and EPA regulations. One of the main risks to the water supply is when the river is flooding, so you should double-check if you're there during a flooding event.
Safest Places to Visit in Cedar Falls
Cedar Falls is a city that will surprise you with the number of things you can do while visiting.
Let’s start with the museums available for visiting:
- Ice House Museum: Learn about the art of ice making before refrigeration was invented.
- Little Red Schoolhouse: Get your Instagram ready for some amazing photos of a small schoolhouse from 1909.
- Victorian Home & Carriage House Museum: The oldest museum in town, built into an 1861 Victorian home.
- John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum: See John Deere’s brand progress through the decades.
- National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum: Cedar Falls native Dan Gable won a gold medal in 1972 and this museum honors his legacy and the sport of wrestling.
- Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum: Honoring veterans from the Civil War to those currently serving.
Lost Island Water Park and The Fall Aquatic Center are two places to cool down in the summer.
There are water slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, go-karts, mini-golf, and a zip line between the two locations for non-stop summer fun.
You can find sculptured art throughout Cedar Falls, but there’s a large grouping at the Hearst Sculpture Garden.
It is open for viewing all year long and around the clock.
Visit the Waterloo Center for the Arts for more locally designed artwork.
You can even buy some affordable art at the gift shop.
You must be hungry after all that activity.
Cedar Falls has a bunch of restaurants, but if you really want a taste of Iowa, stop by Maid-Rite.
Iowa’s claim to foodie fame is the “loose meat sandwich.”
As one of my Iowa friends described it, “It’s like a Sloppy Joe without the sauce.”
The sandwich is on a hamburger bun with hamburger meat, but the meat isn’t cooked into a patty.
It’s cooked in crumbles and then tossed onto the bun with no sauce.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there’s fishing and kayaking available on the Cedar River.
Nearly a dozen golf courses in and around Cedar Falls and Waterloo.
Bicycling is very popular across Iowa, and you can find plenty of trails nearby – even in the winter.
There are also snowshoeing or cross-country skiing trails and some sledding hills.
Places to Avoid in Cedar Falls
Cedar Falls is a safe place to visit with no dangerous neighborhoods.
The only part of the city that lights up “red” on the crime maps is across the river on the northeast side of town in Cedar City.
All of Waterloo is shaded red or orange, meaning it’s a higher crime area.
You just have to use extra caution in Waterloo, not avoid it.
I will never understand how a state that encourages bicycling so much doesn’t have a helmet law, but it doesn’t.
There isn’t even an age restriction for kids to wear helmets.
You should still practice good bicycle safety and wear one.
Most other cyclists will do the same, but you don’t risk getting a ticket if you don’t.
Avoid coming to Iowa in winter without being prepared for bitterly cold weather.
While there are some mild days, the weather can (and does) change quickly in the Midwest.
In the summer, as I write this, our entire region of Iowa and Nebraska is under a heat advisory with temperatures expected to “feel like” triple digits, even as high as 110°(F).
The “feels like” temperature comes when you include the temperature and the humidity, to give a “Heat Index” score.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Cedar Falls
- When researching safety in this area, you should check the Cedar Falls AND Waterloo Police Department websites. They each offer their own bit of advice for visiting this region and give specific information on their respective sides of the city lines.
- The Waterloo Police Department gives a warning about car thieves in the region. I don’t think I could say it any better than they do, so here’s the quote: “Don’t forget to lock your car doors. Thieves know that people in small towns are more likely to leave their doors unlocked and make easy targets. Don’t become a victim of theft, LOCK YOUR DOORS!”
- Sign up for Alert Iowa notifications, an app certified by the National Weather Service to get severe weather information directly to you. There are tornado sirens in this area, but if you are inside you might not hear them and they aren’t designed to be heard indoors.
- Iowa was hit by a storm called a Derecho in 2020 that devasted the state. You might hear people still talking about it. While this isn’t as common of an occurrence as thunderstorms and snowstorms, it’s a real risk that could happen again. The Derecho causes intense winds, up to 75 miles per hour, non-stop. It feels like a landlocked hurricane. The 2021 Derecho actually flattened entire corn fields and led to $11 billion dollars in damage statewide. You can look up videos on YouTube and see how intense it really was.
- The Cedar Falls Police Department has a form on its website where you can report any crime information you come across. This isn’t for emergencies, but you can report things like graffiti, car break-ins, and other nonurgent criminal activity or crime tips you get. To offer crime tips in Waterloo, there are two options for an online form. You can submit a police or accident report or call Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-TIPS (8477).
- You do not need to worry about bringing ski equipment or kayaks with you on the flight to Cedar Falls. There are plenty of rental spots to get watercraft, bicycles, and ski gear in town.
- The majority of trails in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and surrounding areas are open from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. Keep in mind that during the winter, the sun doesn’t rise until almost 8:00 am and it is dark here by 5 pm. The sun starts to set just after 4 pm. During the summer the sun is up from around 5:30 am to almost 9:00 pm.
- Cedar Falls Police issue a daily log of all arrests and calls made in the city. You can review this under the “Records” section of the website. Waterloo has daily arrest logs on its police department website as well. This will help you see the crimes happening closer to your time of visit.
- Anglers will need a fishing license issued by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The same rule applies to hunters, but there’s a required safety education class before you can get issued an Iowa hunting license.
- Cedar Falls has a Facebook page dedicated to all public safety information. You don’t have to be a Facebook member to view the site. You can find it @CFPublicSafety. This includes information from the police, the fire department, and emergency management.
So... How Safe Is Cedar Falls Really?
Cedar Falls is definitely the safer side of the metro region.
Here’s how crime risks break down in the city:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 528 risk
- Robbery: 1 in 6,786 risk
- Theft: 1 in 67
Let’s compare that to nearby Waterloo.
It’s a bigger city with more crime:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 193 risk
- Robbery: 1 in 899 risk
- Theft: 1 in 57 risk
Cedar Falls rarely has a homicide, while Waterloo has had between 2 to 7 homicides each year for the past three years.
Across all of Black Hawk County, drug and alcohol-related crimes were almost 30% in 2021.
This is due in part to an ongoing opioid drug crisis in Iowa and targeted enforcement to hold drug and alcohol lawbreakers accountable.
While exploring this entire area is safe when taking basic safety precautions, if you can stay in Cedar Falls you might be able to sleep a little better at night, knowing you’re in the safest part of the region.
How Does Cedar Falls Compare?
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- Visas - You'll use your visa to get into the United States at the airport but can travel freely through the different cities without needing to show it to anyone. You'll use your passport for your legal ID if you're from outside the country.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar (USD) here. You can exchange currency in Waterloo, but it's best to take care of that at the airport. You should avoid being in public with large amounts of cash, especially in Waterloo.
- Weather - There are several seasonal adjustments to make to what you pack. Bundle up in winter gear and check the forecast to see if there's snow on the ground in winter. This isn't a place that always has snowfall to sled or ski on. Spring and fall can greatly fluctuate in temperatures, so bringing a variety of warm and cold layers will be helpful. A couple of extra sweatshirts should be just fine. For summer, bring bug spray and sunscreen and several bathing suits if you want to get in the water. It's hard for things to dry air-dry here because it's so humid.
- Airports - The Waterloo Regional Airport is just three miles east of Cedar Falls. The airport isn't as big as the Des Moines airport, but it does have flights to 30 U.S. cities. If you want to fly out of Des Moines, plan for at least a two-hour drive.
- Travel Insurance - You can get travel insurance to protect your flight funds in case weather causes delays, which can easily happen when visiting anywhere in Iowa.
Cedar Falls Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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