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
Council Bluffs, Iowa, touts itself as a city “Unlike anywhere else”.
“You’ll see a lot of “UN” words when you research Council Bluffs, so you’ll know you’re in the right place when you visit the “Unleash Council Bluffs” website.
Council Bluffs is a two-for-one deal for a tourist, being the second half of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area, so you have Omaha, Nebraska, just across the Missouri River.
Throw away any preconceived notions you have about Iowa because Council Bluffs shatters them all.
Maybe I should Council Bluffs UNdermines them all.
This is a city with a Casino Row, its own version of Fields of Dreams, and plenty of shopping and outdoor activities.
There’s a pedestrian bridge that leads you right over the Missouri River into Nebraska and back.
You can even get that fantastic photo of being in two places at once on the state line.
The number of hotels to choose from can be quite overwhelming on both sides of the river, but they are all along major interstates, making for easy car or rideshare travel.
Warnings & Dangers in Council Bluffs
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in Council Bluffs, but it's more like an average risk. The city has its fair share of crime and one crime category jumps off the page. You didn't think I was going to give that away now, did you? It's coming up shortly.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Metro is the public bus system from Omaha that crosses over into Council Bluffs. There are more stops on the Nebraska side, but Council Bluffs is adequately covered. You can also get a taxi or rideshare easily. There are walkable areas here, but having a car would be ideal.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
Theft is about 40% higher here than the national average. There's a medium risk because of this and there are plenty of places where thieves know you might have money, like at the casinos. The real eye-opener is the auto theft rate, with a one in 89 risks of being a victim and a rate that's more than twice the national average.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
A medium-risk exists for natural disasters. This is a place that gets tornadoes throughout the year, severe thunderstorms, large hail, flooding from the river, snow storms, ice storms, and extreme temperatures during different seasons. Any visit to an Iowa city should come after a careful review of the emergency management plans.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The robbery risk is low in Council Bluffs, with 28 reported in 2021 and a rate that is nearly three times lower than the national average. I guess thieves are more likely to take your car than confront you in Council Bluffs.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here as Omaha's metro area has more than a million people. Large population centers are always a target, and Omaha is home to Offutt Air Force Base. That makes it a target and a safer place at the same time.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of being scammed as all the scam warnings are the typical ones that happen nationwide. If you are approached by a scammer, call the police at (712) 328-5737 to make a report so they can be aware of new scams as they pop up.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
The sexual assault rate is lower than the national average here, and there are plenty of things to keep a female traveler busy during her time. Women should use extra caution when securing a car because of the high theft rate and nothing should be left in the car after parking it.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations and all water tested meets or exceeds requirements. The utility company goes the extra step to have a 2022 report about lead in water and how it gets there. Any lead contamination generally comes from bad pipes and not from the water quality treatment plants.
Safest Places to Visit in Council Bluffs
The Council Bluffs tourism bureau has a series of tourism videos on the Unleashcb.com website that would make great viewing for the plane trip.
There are four casinos to choose from in Council Bluffs and each comes with its own benefits.
You can also consider staying at one of the hotels at the casinos if you really want the full “Vegas on the Missouri River” experience.
All the casinos are on the water.
The Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge has parks at either end with performances throughout the year.
Tom Hanafan’s River Edge Park is the one on the Iowa side.
It’s a great experience to walk between the two cities and the bridge is an Instagram-worthy moment by itself.
You can walk in the same steps as the Gold Rush era explorers at California Gold Rush Trail Historic Site.
There are information boards along the way that help tell the story of people seeking riches across the county with a rough road ahead before they got there.
Council Bluffs also has orchards and wineries.
Ditmars Orches and Vineyard is open seasonally and has a playground for the kids, so it’s a family-friendly location.
Pioneer Trail Orchard and Pumpkin Patch offer wines, apple cider, and a pumpkin patch during fall.
There’s a full many there too.
When the sun goes down, the historic 100 block of West Broadway lights up.
This is the nightlife section of the town built into historic buildings.
During warmer months there are public block parties in this area too.
The exterior walls here are covered in grand murals by local artists.
Be sure to look down as you wander around Council Bluffs to see more art.
There are historic sidewalk mosaics and street tiles built into the pavement.
Normally, I wouldn’t send you to another city when talking specifically about another city, but Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is rated as one of the best in the nation.
You can buy tickets up to a week in advance online.
Places to Avoid in Council Bluffs
The south side and northwest sides of the city have the highest crime rates when you look at crime distribution maps.
There’s no reason to avoid those areas, but you should use basic safety steps as you would in any metro area.
When this area gets heavy rainfall, it can lead to flash flooding on the streets.
I live about an hour from this location, so I know what I’m talking about.
Do not drive through flooded roads.
Too often, rescue crews are sent to find people trapped by flood waters or being carried away because of the water.
Being this close to a river increases the flood risk, so just avoid flooded intersections until the water goes down.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Council Bluffs
- Council Bluffs has red light cameras and don’t think being in a rental car means you can’t get a ticket. They will track you down. You do have to fully run a red light. They won’t send a ticket to someone who went through on yellow. You can pay for a ticket online and don’t need to appear in court.
- If you have any general questions for the Council Bluffs police department, the non-emergency number is (712) 890-5400. 911 is dispatched by the county. To contact the Pottawattamie County 911 center for non-emergencies, that number is (712) 328-5737.
- If any snow falls during your visit, you should check the Facebook page for the city. Snowfall means “snow emergency” rules can go into effect, which limits where you can park. Cars that are parked in the way of snowplows can be ticketed or towed.
- Sign up for emergency alerts through Alert Iowa Pottawattamie County. This will only send you weather emergencies, watches, and warnings. This is critical information to get at any time of the year here. You can also download the mobile app so you can get ongoing information about a weather situation or track a storm yourself.
- There’s an urban legend that says there’s a “dome” over Omaha, called the “Oma-Dome”, that prevents any severe weather from hitting there. While I live in this region and there does seem to be an awful lot of times a bad storm turns or falls apart just before Omaha, it’s not scientifically true. You should take any storm warning in the Omaha area seriously.
- For those who want to fish or hunt here, you’ll need a license issued by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Your home license won’t suffice.
- The Council Bluffs Police Department has an online form where you can submit an anonymous tip if you learn information about a crime. You should always call 911 if there’s an emergency, but this form is great if you learn about something after the fact.
- Smoking is not allowed in public places in Council Bluffs, but the casinos do have an exemption from this law. There are non-smoking sections of the casinos, but you should expect to be exposed to some smoke if you go to any casino. There’s a push in 2022 to make all the casinos smoke-free, but that’s still up in the air.
- There are nearly 800 parking meters in Council Bluffs and you can feed them quarters to get more time or you can download the Passport Parking app to pay for it through your mobile phone.
- If you see goats eating grass along with the riverfront park areas, they aren’t a bunch of loose farm animals. This is part of the city’s plan to be eco-friendly and cost-efficient. The goats eat the grass to keep mowers from having to service the area. There’s no need to call animal control as the goats are supposed to be there.
So... How Safe Is Council Bluffs Really?
Like I said earlier, it’s just about average in most crime categories.
Since it’s part of a bigger metro area, there can be a crime that comes back and forth across state lines.
It’s also one of the larger cities in Iowa, so it’s going to look like it has more crime when you just look at raw numbers.
Here’s how the risks break down in Council Bluffs:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 290 risk
- Robbery: 1 in 2,242 risk
- Theft: 1 in 45 risk
- Car Theft: 1 in 89 risk
Nothing is alarming in the crime data from 2021 that should make you think twice about staying here.
Common sense safety steps are going to go a long way to enjoying the sights and sounds of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
How Does Council Bluffs Compare?
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- Visas - You will need your visa at the airport along with your passport to show proof of identity if you are traveling from outside the United States. Domestic travelers just need a state-issued ID or passport. You won't need any ID to go back and forth between the cities of Iowa and Nebraska.
- Currency - Only the U.S. Dollar (USD) is used here. You should do currency exchange at the airport. Purchase what you can ahead of time to limit pulling out your wallet as much as possible.
- Weather - Plan for cold winters and hot, muggy summers. I'm writing this in June 2022, and right now there's a heat advisory for the whole area. I walked my dogs this morning for 20 minutes and was drenched in sweat. Bring a thick coat for winter, but check the forecast to see if you'll need snow boots. It does snow here, but it's not a constant thing. There are large gaps in time with no snow on the ground.
- Airports - Omaha's Eppley Airfield is the closest commercial airport. It's in another state but still just a 15-minute drive on a good day. There is a general aviation airport in Council Bluffs, but no commercial flights.
- Travel Insurance - You should consider travel insurance for a trip here. The weather can quickly turn and halt all air traffic, leading to delays and cancellations.
Council Bluffs Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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