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
What’s under the surface of Fort Dodge, Iowa, is almost as exciting as what’s on the land.
The abundant supply of pure gypsum has earned this city the nickname “Mineral City.”
Gypsum is used to make sheetrock, which is needed for just about any place that wants to have a wall built.
The mineral made an impact on the industry here, and Fort Dodge quickly became a commercial hub for the mostly rural western and northwestern sections of the state.
There are pieces of Americana throughout Fort Dodge and Webster County.
From a silo painted with stunning artwork to a pioneer village to one of the largest off-road racetracks you can find in the Midwest, this city has something for everyone.
Even if you don’t race, you can visit the Iowa Racing Museum nearby.
There’s the small town of Coalville to explore as well, showing just again how important mining is to this region.
When you’re in downtown Fort Dodge, you might forget you are in the middle of small-town Iowa, because the city was designed to look like a “Little Chicago.”
This isn’t a traditional Main Street, USA.
The buildings are as elegant as they are colossal, at least for a city of 25,000 people.
You might even be surprised at how many hotels there are.
This is a commercial trucking hub, so the city stays pretty busy with people coming in and out.
Another benefit here is that Fort Dodge is located off the main road, Highway 20.
This gives easy access to the rest of the state without having the noisy highway traffic outside your hotel room window.
There are also plenty of places for camping and RVs here.
Warnings & Dangers in Fort Dodge
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in Fort Dodge. The city has higher than average crime rates in just about every category. One of the challenging parts for police is that they aren't sure why there are so many violent crimes happening. While it's a bigger concern for someone who lives there, you should stay aware of your surroundings for risks.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
The DART system is a series of shuttle buses that run fixed routes through Fort Dodge. Rides are $1.50 for adults. Taxis and rideshares are available. Having a car here is the best choice, especially because you have to get to Fort Dodge in the first place, and it's 90 minutes northwest of Des Moines.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Unless you're in a crowded space, you really don't need to worry about getting pickpocketed or having a purse snatched. You should be cautious about anytime you put down a purse, like in a restaurant or taking pictures. The risk of theft, in general, is one in 55. Be sure to lock the car when you park it and leave all valuables in the hotel room.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
A quick search on YouTube will show you some of the wild weather Fort Dodge can get. There are severe thunderstorms that can feel like tornadoes with extreme winds and storms that actually form tornadoes. Winter can bring snow and ice, and just because the land here is flat doesn't mean it's easy to drive on when ice-covered. Extreme temperatures are possible in winter and summer. There's a medium risk because this is an ongoing risk, no matter what season it is.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There is actually a lower risk of being robbed, with just 10 robberies reported in 2021. There were 84 aggravated assaults, which can start as robberies and end in injury. If you are approached, you should never fight back just to save a purse, mobile device, or wallet. Plan ahead so you aren't losing valuables if you do get a purse taken.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here as Fort Dodge is far from any major population area and has no military bases.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The city reports the biggest scams are the typical ones - fake IRS agents, spoofing calls, and gift card purchase demands. There's nothing that would target a tourist. Since there is a lot of road traffic here, check the PIN pad before you purchase gas or use an ATM to make sure there isn't a skimming device on top of the real keyboard.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
The sexual assault rate is twice the national average, with 25 assaults reported in 2021. While no data is supporting how many were random attacks and how many were domestic situations, that's good information for female travelers to have so they can use caution when meeting new people. You should avoid walking around at night and stick with groups when you can. There's a medium risk because I want you to be extra cautious.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The Fort Dodge 2021 Water Quality Report doesn't go into many details, but it does show that all tests meet the requirements and that no violations were reported. This gives tap water use a low risk.
Safest Places to Visit in Fort Dodge
The Fort Museum and Frontier Village is one of the top draws for visitors to Fort Dodge.
If you look at the website, there is a warning that the village is closed for the season and will open again in 2021.
That’s an outdated message and I did confirm with the museum workers that it is open in 2022.
Here you have a bunch of artifacts from the settler’s days in the area and an actual village that replicates what life was like in the 1850s.
Fort Frenzy is a family entertainment center with an arcade, go-karts, laser tag, mini-golf, and trampoline games.
An all-day pass is $28 and a two-hour pass for $20.
You can also pay by activity if you’d prefer.
There’s a Godfather’s Pizza on the property for those who work up an appetite.
Gypsum Park is 65 miles of track of OHV roads.
OHV is an “Off-Highway Vehicle.”
You can ride ATVs, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles here across 800 acres.
If you’re intimidated by all that, there’s a section just for beginners to practice.
You can also hook up an RV here or camp for the night if you’d like.
Rentals are not available and you need a permit to ride here if you are not a resident of Iowa.
Soldier Creek Winery is open for guests on weekends.
On Fridays and Sundays, there is live music at the vineyard.
There are events throughout the year, like the Harvest Festivals and grape stomping.
Check the website’s calendar to see if one of the activities coincides with your trip.
There are several golf courses in town and one is at the Willow Ridge Golf Course and Restaurant.
You can eat here with meals prepared by budding culinary students from a nearby university.
The Blanden Art Museum is an array of local and notable art.
This museum is great if you like the traditional display of art, but for those who like public art, Fort Dodge has plenty of that too.
There are sculptures throughout the city and many local businesses showcase the work of local artists.
One “must-see” attraction here is the abandoned silo painted with an immense display standing 110 feet tall.
There are some parks along the Des Moines River on the west edge of the city.
Lizard Creek Water Trail is among the largest.
Most parks are less than 10 acres big.
Lizard Creek offers trails and water activities.
Places to Avoid in Fort Dodge
The northern part of town is the safer part.
If you are north of 7th Ave. N, that’s ideal.
Otherwise, crime is relatively spread out in the community.
You don’t have to avoid any parts of the city, but it’s wise to stay on main roads and surface streets instead of cutting through neighborhoods.
The tourism guides for Fort Dodge still include some things that have closed.
For example, the Olsen Park Zoo is no longer there and the mall is undergoing renovation and being leveled to bring something new in the years to come.
Always check social media sites to see if an attraction is still open.
You can also call the Fort Dodge Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at 1(888) 573-4282.
You’ll see on maps a place called Island Park that is where the river splits around the island near the Second Avenue Bridge.
This is not actually a park you can visit.
In fact, along much of the Des Moines River in Fort Dodge, you won’t even see the river from the road until you cross over a bridge.
It’s hidden by trees on the banks.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Fort Dodge
- The Iowa Department of Natural Resources website is going to be one of the best resources for outdoor people. You can get your fishing license there, check if the OHV park is open, and check river levels.
- There’s a mobile speed unit in Fort Dodge. This is like a red light traffic camera, only it’s mobile. You might not know where it is, so obey all traffic laws when driving around the city. One traveler hack is that you can get the police department’s website for the mobile speed unit’s location that week.
- You can call the non-emergency department number if you have information about a crime, from petty theft to graffiti. That number is (515)573-2323. You can also file a police report online. To report a crime anonymously, call Crimestoppers at (515)573-4444.
- On the “Calls for Service” page of the police department’s website, you can see a daily list of arrests made. This is a great way to track crime trends closer to your visit.
- The city of Fort Dodge has set up a text system that allows your direct contact for any issue or question you have. The number is (515)408-9888. The first time you use it, just text “Hi” to get started. An example of when you would use this would be if you found a big pothole in a road.
- Fort Dodge is doing a lot of construction work during the spring and summer. Many of those road projects are going to involve the installation of roundabouts. If you aren’t sure how to navigate a roundabout, check the city’s “Street Department” website section.
- There’s a legend of a haunted bridge near Fort Dodge. The Banwell Bridge is said to be haunted by a woman who killed herself when trains rolled under this bridge. Legend has it, if you stop your car on the bridge and unlock the doors, a force will try to pull you over the edge. This bridge is in a remote location and it’s best to read the stories but not try out the trick.
- When snow falls here in the winter, you need to keep a close eye on the local news channels and city websites. There are restricted parking rules while snowplows are active. You can be ticketed or towed if you are parked on the street.
- You need a reliable weather app here, and since the area is rural, it’s not a bad idea to buy an NOAA weather radio. Seconds count when severe thunderstorms are building, and you can’t afford to judge a storm by sight alone. I researched one city in Iowa where an EF-4 tornado came through, and minutes before the sky was mostly clear and no rain was falling. Then the monster hit. Never take Iowa weather lightly.
- You should keep tabs on the 511ia.org website. This is a statewide view of all roadways. You can see live traffic cameras and learn about closures on different routes. There isn’t an app available, but you can check the website before you travel and set your GPS to avoid any closed roads or big construction projects.
So... How Safe Is Fort Dodge Really?
Fort Dodge, like many smaller Iowa cities, is facing a rise in crime.
A boy that was just 14 years old was arrested in connection with a shooting in 2021.
The crime here is generally done by a specific group of people, and many of the violent crimes are among people who know each other socially or personally.
Late 2021 brought a lot of crime to the area, and even the police were baffled as to why.
“For the last couple of months, we’ve had a lot of violent acts,” Captain Ryan Gruenberg of the Fort Dodge Police Department said to television station KCCI.
“It’s been rough.”
“We haven’t seen anything or heard of anything that would really create an uptick in violence amongst our community members here,” Gruenberg added.
“We’ve been working diligently to try to prevent what we can.
Obviously, we can’t be everywhere all the time.
Our investigators are working very long hours to try to get all these cases wrapped up and get them solved.”
It’s important as a visitor to be just as vigilant about crime as if Fort Dodge was your home community.
People in the area need to speak up so police can track repeat offenders and hold them accountable.
Your biggest concerns here are going to be car break-ins or items getting stolen that were left unattended, like if you are in the water and leave your backpack on the bluff.
There are weather risks here too, but the Webster County Emergency Management Agency can help you learn how to handle every danger possible.
How Does Fort Dodge Compare?
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- Visas - People coming from outside the U.S. need a visa. It's going to take about four months to get one. While that's a generous amount of time, it prevents any delays you might run into. I once applied for a passport and had all my paperwork done for a trip to Canada. At the last minute, I got a letter saying I had forgotten the final signature page of the passport application and had to start over. Don't be me.
- Currency - You'll only use the U.S. Dollar here. Be sure to exchange currency at the airport, as this smaller town might not have the option. You don't need to carry a lot of cash, but if you do, hide it away from your wallet to avoid losing everything in a theft.
- Weather - Winter can get windchill below 0°(F), so pack warm clothing from head to toe, and don't forget thick gloves. Spring and fall can vary in temperature, so pack layers of t-shirts, sweatshirts, jeans, and shorts. For summer, bring sunscreen and bug spray. Also, you'll sweat a lot, so a sweat rag would be a great idea.
- Airports - Des Moines International Airport is about 90 minutes away. The airport in Omaha, Nebraska, is about three hours southwest.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is going to give you peace of mind in the air and on the road. Storms here can delay flights or block roads with debris. You want to be prepared for the worst without losing your hard-earned money.
Fort Dodge Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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