Iowa : Safety by City
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- West Des Moines
Do you know where the largest meteorite to ever hit North America landed?
No, not New Mexico or Nevada!
It’s right here in Estherville, Iowa.
This extreme northern part of the state holds a lot of secrets that I can’t wait to share with you.
Not only can you touch an “out of this world” meteorite, but you can also revel in the stories of people who saw it happen in 1879.
Of course, those people are no longer with us, but their stories live on in writing.
Estherville is just 15 minutes from the Minnesota border and 30 minutes from the “Great Lakes of Iowa” with Fort Defiance State Park right next to the small town of 7,500 people.
Throw out everything you assume about Iowa being all flat cornfields because Estherville and the surrounding region break the mold of what you think you know about Iowa.
The city has just two hotels on the east side of town, but there are cabins and campsites at Fort Defiance Park.
You can also look for home rentals through Airbnb or VRBO.
Nearby Spirit Lake has a lot more hotels, but you’ll need to read our article about that city to learn more.
This one is all about Estherville.
Expect all the hotels to book up when the Sweet Corn Festival is held in the town each August.
There’s an urban legend near the Oak Lawn Cemetery that spirits will push your car uphill when you put it in neutral.
We watched several people try it and we’ll let you know if this is supernatural or super false.
There’s also a swinging bridge that isn’t haunted, but it might scare some of you!
There’s a local newspaper called” Estherville News” and it comes out once a week.
This is filled with hyperlocal activity to keep up with what’s happening in the town.
A previous newspaper is well-known for coining the word “blizzard” to refer to a wicked snow storm.
Warnings & Dangers in Estherville
OVERALL RISK : LOW
You won't find a lot of crime in that newspaper because very little happens here. There's low risk because of low crime rates and an abundance of things to do in and around a small town.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There's a regional transit authority called RIDES, but it's not a traditional bus system and service is only available on-demand a few days a week. There's really no getting around easily without a car. There's low risk with whatever option you take, but calling a taxi or rideshare might take a while.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk with just 27 thefts total in 2021. That includes shoplifting, car break-ins, petty theft, and pickpockets.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
You'll face the risk of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, wind storms, hail storms, and flash flooding when it's warm outside. Winter will bring snow, sleet, ice, and extremely low temperatures. While this weather is normal for people of Iowa, there's a medium risk for those who aren't used to this kind of activity throughout the year. I grew up around tornadoes and by the time I was five, I knew exactly what to do if I heard one approaching or the sirens went off. Now, I'm also a storm chaser. Tornadoes are just part of my life, but for some tourists, this intense tornado risk is very offputting.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There were no robberies reported in 2020 or 2021, so there's a low risk of it happening the year you're here. Don't let that cause you to put your guard down. Just because they haven't happened doesn't mean they can't happen.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. The real terrorist is Mother Nature when she gets all riled up with a fresh storm system.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The only scam to worry about would be a rental scam. You should never have to wire money ahead of time to pay for a rental and make sure the person offering the rental can give documented proof they have the right to rent it - even if it's on a trusted website like Airbnb.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk and a lot of places to explore, but you should use the buddy system. This is especially important when going into the wilderness. There were four sexual assaults in 2021, which averages higher than the national rate, but it's also indicative of how figuring out crimes "per 100,000 people" can be a little far-fetched.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The latest Water Quality Report available is from 2020, and there was a low risk in the drinking water with no violations reported and all testing was in compliance with state and federal regulations.
Safest Places to Visit in Estherville
Are you brave enough to walk over a pedestrian bridge made in the early 1900s swinging above the Des Moines River?
The Estherville Swinging Bridge has been reinforced and adapted to modern safety standards, but it’s still making me feel butterflies in my stomach just looking at it.
This bridge gives great views of the river and rapids flowing underneath.
There’s a sculpture of the historic 1879 meteor in the center of Estherville and you can see the actual crash site three miles north of the city on Highway 4.
It’s just a roadside plaque on a rock.
There’s not a big hole in the earth anymore.
The Meteorite Center will have all the information about the night the sky exploded in front of several people and the comical and financial twists and turns that happened once people retrieved pieces of the meteor.
There is also a piece of the meteorite in the local library.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story because it’s quite adventurous.
The Emmet County Historical Society Museum is in Estherville.
Instead of one museum, there are several historical buildings on site, like a church and a school house.
This museum is open June through August seven days a week.
There are several city parks if you want to picnic or go fishing.
They are all along the branch of the Des Moines River that runs north/south through town.
I saved one of the best for last, even though this isn’t an all-encompassing list of things to do.
Fort Defiance State Park spreads out just west of the city.
Be sure when you do research to add “Iowa” to the search term “Fort Defiance” because several other states have cities or attractions with the same name.
Here you can go camping, hiking, or bird watching across nearly 200 acres.
There are 10 trails in this park.
Some loop and others just go back and forth.
There is an interpretive trail for those who don’t want a rigorous hike.
Places to Avoid in Estherville
There aren’t any bad parts of the city to avoid.
It’s a small town and you should be safe anywhere you drive or walk, provided you stay aware of your surroundings and avoid walking around at night.
There are tales to be told of the alleged hauntings at Oak Hill Cemetery west of the river and south of Highway 9.
There is one version that claims a witch was buried there and she doesn’t want anyone visiting.
Another story says if you touch the gate a ghostly woman will appear and point at you to exit.
Yet more reports flood in about babies being heard crying day and night at the cemetery, which is far from any homes.
On Oak Hill Road, just outside the cemetery, there’s a hill just around a curve where people have recorded videos of “ghosts pushing the car.”
This urban legend comes from reports that a football team broke down here in an unnamed year and a car came around the bend, hitting and killing them.
Now, if you put your car in neutral in that same spot, it will drive itself uphill.
Videos even show that this actually happens!
It’s really just an optical illusion that it’s a hill when it’s really a declining road.
Avoid trying this because you’ll literally be in the middle of the road going slowly near a big curve.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Estherville
- The non-emergency number of the police department is (712)362-3515. There is some basic information about safety on the police department’s website and a crime statistics section that isn’t updated, so it’s worth giving them a call to ask about any crime trends closer to your visit.
- Parking is free in Estherville. You can’t park on the downtown streets between 2:00 am and 5:00 am. Residential neighborhoods can have vehicles parked on the streets for up to 18 hours. If there is a snow emergency happening, you need to get your car off any of the streets in town.
- You might come across ATVs or golf carts on the roads of Estherville. The city allows these vehicles to share the road as long as the driver is licensed, insured, and registered. You should not see any of these vehicles on Highways 4 or 9.
- During harvest and planting seasons, you might share the road with tractors or combines. This machinery moves very slowly and you shouldn’t get impatient. Wait to pass until you have plenty of room. Don’t tailgate either or you might get debris thrown at your car from the jaws of the farm machinery.
- In a place this remote, you need to keep an eye on the roads. Use 511ia.org for updates on road conditions, weather delays, and traffic issues. When there’s snow on the ground, you can see live cameras from the front of snow plows.
- It is worth investing in a NOAA weather radio here. There are places where you won’t have cell phone service or might be very far away from tornado sirens. The weather radios start at around $25 and will keep you informed of any dangerous weather pending.
- The police department website is really outdated with news about crime in the community. All of the updates are on the Estherville Police Department Facebook page. They do have a Twitter account, but that hasn’t been updated regularly in years. Stick with the Facebook page for crime and safety information that’s more relevant in 2022 and beyond.
- Any fishing needs to be done by someone who holds an Iowa Fishing License. You can learn more about the process on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, and you can also purchase a license there. Make sure you get a non-resident license.
- If you are traveling with pets, Estherville does have a ban on pit bulls. They are not allowed within the city limits. Your venomous snake isn’t allowed either, FYI.
- Sign up for Emmet County Alerts through the city website. You can get information about weather, criminal, road, or civil emergencies sent to your email or mobile device.
So... How Safe Is Estherville Really?
Estherville is a small town with a small-town crime.
There hasn’t been a homicide in years, even though there was a man shot to death in Emmet County in 2021.
The victim and suspects knew each other in that situation.
About half of the crime categories were down in 2021, and the other half went up.
Drug crimes are on the rise, which is common for Iowa towns right now.
Even the police department recently posted a picture of some marijuana blunts dropped in a local park with a “Lost & Found” comical message asking the people who lost them to come to get them.
The theft risk is low and there were no robberies in 2021.
There were nine stolen vehicles in 2021, so it’s a reminder to lock the car and don’t leave anything in plain sight.
You should also never leave a car running to “warm-up” on a cold winter’s day.
This is really a safe part of the state with small towns scattered throughout hills, valleys, lakes, and cornfields.
You won’t have the crime of a big city, but you are also three hours from any big city too.
How Does Estherville Compare?
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- Visas - You should plan for up to four months of processing time to get through the steps of the U.S. Visa application, especially as travel picks back up in the aftermath of the pandemic. You will only need your visa at the airport when you arrive and depart, so stow it away safely during your visit.
- Currency - You'll use the U.S. Dollar here and get your currency exchanged before you leave the airport. If you are going to carry cash, just bring what you need each day and store the rest in a safe at your hotel or rental home.
- Weather - Winter can be cold and snowy, so pack enough to stay warm in a blizzard. There are a lot of outdoor winter activities, so you have to be layered up to avoid hypothermia. Spring and fall can still get a bit chilly, so you'll want a jacket and sweatshirts, but add some t-shirts in for the warmer afternoons. Summer is hot and humid, but a hoodie for the cooler evenings will be nice. Bring hiking shoes or sturdy tennis shoes for all outdoor adventures.
- Airports - Des Moines and Minneapolis both have major airports, but you'll need to drive three hours to get to whichever one you prefer. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota airport is two hours west. There are nearly 20 destinations from that regional airport.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is a great idea for a rural town so distanced from airports. On top of that, the weather in the Midwest can impact flight patterns and lead to delays or cancellations.
Estherville Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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