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
Fort Madison, Iowa, contains so much war history that you could spend a week learning all the nuances.
I’ll be the first to admit I went down a research rabbit hole learning about it.
As it turns out, despite all the battles and history here, Fort Madison was a terrible location for a military fort.
It sits along with one of the widest spans of the Mississippi River in far southeast Iowa.
It has bluffs that made perfect protectors for assailants to fire at the fort.
That’s one of the reasons the fort itself doesn’t exist anymore.
To hold on to the history, you can tour a remodeled fort to look like the real fort from the early 1800s.
Fort Madison is historic for its location and the War of 1812 battle.
The surrounding area is ripe for harvesting, and that’s another benefit for tourists here.
You can pick fresh apples, try some recently churned cheese, and try some fresh bison meat.
Fort Madison is a smaller town with just 25,000 people.
A great trait is that there are things to do day and night, indoors and outdoors, and exciting or relaxing.
It’s also just 30 minutes from Keokuk, where you can visit three states in just a few steps.
Peoria, Illinois, is two hours east, making Fort Madison a great stopping point on a road trip.
Fort Madison is also a big rodeo town, with the annual Tri-State Rodeo happening every September.
The rodeo has been held every year since 1948.
Warnings & Dangers in Fort Madison
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk in Fort Madison. The rating is more for your general awareness and less to scare you off of visiting here. Crime rates are high and getting higher.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
SEIBUS is the public transportation here, but with on-demand service and no scheduled routes. In Fort Madison, buses are available Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Even trying to find a taxi website for Fort Madison is challenging, and I'm sure rideshares are just as limited. You should really have a car here. There's low risk with any option, but you'll likely be waiting a while for a ride that isn't your rental car or personal car.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM
The theft risk is one in 55 and the theft rate is 25% higher than the national average. If you're using good personal safety techniques, I think there's a low risk as long as you are aware of the high theft rates. During rodeo season or other big events, the risk would be medium because of the crowds and crimes of opportunity.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Any city along the Mississippi River is going to deal with the reality of flooding. Especially near the fort replica and Riverside Park, the waters of the river are right along the road. There's also the warm weather risk of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Winter will bring snow and ice storms, as well as ice jams along the river. Because of all the year-round threats, there's a medium risk here.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
There were 10 robberies in 2021, which doesn't sound like a lot. When you figure out the numbers "per 100,000 people", which is how the FBI calculated data, that's a risk slightly above average. One challenge of crime data reporting is that crimes that start as robberies can quickly become aggravated assaults. When that happens, ONLY an aggravated assault is reported. The aggravated assault average is 40% higher. I believe there's a low risk of being robbed based on those numbers, but it's important not to fight back if you do get robbed. You shouldn't risk your life for a purse or mobile device.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here with no military bases (outside of a makeshift fort from the 1800s) and a low population.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here as many of the local scams reported are targeted at locals. There was a man who fell for a Publisher's Clearinghouse scam and was bilked out of $40,000. Never take a deal that seems too good to be true. Don't wire money to anyone you don't know and never purchase gift cards under the threat of arrest or legal action. Those are both sure red flags of scam activity.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Women should proceed with caution as if they were in a bigger city. There were 22 sexual assaults in 2021, which is more than twice the national average. There are plenty of places to enjoy the nightlife here too, but never take a drink you didn't see the bartender make and never leave a drink unattended. Avoid meeting people in private spaces if you just met them.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2022 Annual Water Quality Report shows there were no violations in the required water tests and there's low risk when using it for bathing or drinking.
Safest Places to Visit in Fort Madison
Fort Madison boasts plenty of activities in art, culture, history, cuisine, farming, and nearby attractions.
The top spot to visit is Old Fort Madison.
From June through August, the fort is open Wednesday through Sunday.
In May, September, and October you can only visit on weekends.
From November through April you’ll need an appointment for a tour.
In September there is a reenactment of the battle in the War of 1812.
The Fort Madison Downtown Historic District is filled with richly preserved architecture and locally-owned shops and restaurants.
There isn’t a website for it, but you can visit the Facebook page @fmdowntowndistrict to learn about the latest events and store openings.
Summer markets here include fresh food and vintage cars on display.
This happens on Thursday nights from 3:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
There are several farms to explore in and around Fort Madison.
- Appleberry Orchard: Pick your own apples and pumpkins, seasonally.
- Harvestville Farm: Events for every season and farm-to-table meals available.
- Hinterland Dairy: Fresh cheese and milk for those who love lactose.
- Quarry Creek Elk & Bison Company: Fresh elk & bison meat plus farmland where you can see the animals roaming.
The Victoria Galley Tea Room is a great place to view local art for sale and have a sip of tea and crumpets.
There’s also a bed and breakfast inn if you’d like to ditch the traditional hotel.
Riverview Park is a great way to get outdoors along the river.
You can picnic, fish, grill, and chill along the river or walk the gardens and Veteran’s memorial on site.
Nearby, on the other side of the fort, there’s a reflecting pond that turns into an ice rink in the winter.
The marina at the park has recently been restored, with updated boat slips and marina facilities.
Rodeo Park is a great place to visit away from the river’s edge and it’s also where the annual Tri-State Rodeo is held.
Here you can hike or play disc golf.
There’s also a campground here.
Places to Avoid in Fort Madison
The city of Fort Madison is tucked into one long area, so there’s not enough room to have better or worse neighborhoods.
The crime maps do show higher crime in the city area, but that encompasses the whole city.
Once you are outside of Fort Madison, it’s pretty rural.
It makes sense that populated areas are going to have more crime.
One note is that the Scenic Drive at Rodeo Park is closed from November 1 to March 31.
You can still visit the park, but you can’t drive on that particular road.
I’ve noticed a trend across Iowa and in Fort Madison of attractions that have closed still being listed on the tourism websites.
I try to notify the webmasters when this happens, but with so many errors, it could easily be my full-time job (without pay), so I can’t get to them all.
In Fort Madison, there is the Sheaffer Pen Museum, which is repeatedly listed as one of the top places to visit here.
Turns out the museum closed in 2018.
Sometimes attractions will close and then re-open when they get funding, so always check the more obscure attractions to make sure they are open closer to your visit.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Fort Madison
- The Fort Madison Police Department website is being revamped as of mid-2022. Any Google search is going to take you to the old website. The correct website is fortmadisonpd.com. You can also visit the Facebook page @ftmadpd for real-time updates on crime and safety while the website is being built.
- For emergencies in Fort Madison, you need to dial 911, but if you need to ask a question, call the non-emergency number at (319) 372-2525. For questions about law enforcement in Lee County, call (319) 372-1310.
- Fort Madison Police added their first-ever K9 to the team in March of 2022. Norik, the two-year-old German Shepherd can help sniff out drugs and track people. With increasing drug crimes, this dog will provide much-needed fast response times to crack down on this problem. If you sniff out an issue on your own, call the Lee County Crime Stoppers at (319) 376-1090. You might be eligible for a reward.
- Fort Madison has an app that can be used to report issues, learn about community events, or ask questions. There are QR codes provided on the city website which will instantly send you to the right store to download the app.
- If you want to fish while you’re here, you’ll need a license from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Be sure to get a non-resident license. Iowa and Illinois do have a reciprocity agreement where you can use a fishing license from either state to fish along the state’s connecting waters. Hunters will need to jump through a few safety hoops to get a license here, so start the process as soon as you know you’ll be visiting here.
- Fort Madison is two hours south of the Quad Cities, but it still gets weather data from the Quad City National Weather Service office. You can follow them on Twitter @NWSQuadCities or search the website for the local office. The NWS will give you city-specific data, so don’t think you’re dependent on what’s happening hours away in Bettendorf and Davenport.
- 511ia.org is the state’s transportation department providing valuable road data for travelers. You’ll be able to see construction projects, real-time road closures, and traffic accidents, or cameras on snow plows in the winter.
- Do not cut through alleys in Fort Madison to save time. The police issued a warning on social media to let drivers know this isn’t the purpose of the alleys. The speed limit in alleys is 10 mph anyway, so you won’t save much time if you tried. Some people and pets walk through this area and you should respect their safety beyond your desire to save time.
- If you are traveling with a pet, make sure the animal is microchipped and has updated tags. As a dog lover, I’m heartbroken by the number of animals I see on the police department’s Facebook page of missing animals that were taken to the shelter. Be sure to have the latest rabies tag on the pet as well, so those interacting with the animal will know it’s safe to interact with it.
- When there is a snowstorm coming, don’t park on the public streets. Each city has its own rules, and some offer a potentially confusing “alternative numbering” parking rule. While living in a city makes it easy to remember how alternate parking works, a tourist shouldn’t have to keep up with that. Just park in a lot or a garage.
So... How Safe Is Fort Madison Really?
The hard part as a travel safety writer is telling people a city might be dangerous for visitors.
So much of the “danger” depends on where you are from, how good your “street smarts” are, and how well you practice personal safety steps.
Fort Madison makes the list of the most dangerous cities in the state, but that’s based on crime data alone.
Crime statistics that might make you think twice about living somewhere don’t always translate to the city being an unsafe place to visit.
There’s a trend in small-town Iowa to have a small part of the population leading to a large percentage of crime.
Many times, the crimes are all domestic or among people who know each other.
There isn’t a trend of random people getting attacked in Fort Madison.
Fort Madison is a working-class city with 14% of the population living in poverty.
The city continues to lose residents, with a 9% drop in population over the past 10 years.
That said, there are ongoing efforts to preserve and modernize the city.
According to the city’s Facebook page:
“This historic community is home to 18 different National Park’s Historic Places.
Offering epic festivals and parties, such as Riverfest & The Tri-State Rodeo, Fort Madison also hosts wine walks, scenic byways & artisans.
Locals and visitors alike can enjoy local bands at establishments like Sidelines & Vinnie’s & they can stop to enjoy themselves at the Agritourism sites along Highway 2.”
You’ll still need to lock your car doors here and roll up the windows when you park.
You should limit the number of valuables and cash you carry with you when visiting the sites here.
As with any city, avoid walking around at night and when severe weather is imminent, take it seriously.
How Does Fort Madison Compare?
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Plan for up to four months for your U.S. Visa application to be processed. Make sure you prepare all the required information ahead of time, including a list of the social media sites you've used in the past five years. You will need your visa at the airport, but not to get between the cities and states in the Midwest.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted here. Do any currency exchange at the airport, as it's not guaranteed the small towns will have a facility to do it.
You'll need to pack thick, warm clothing for the winter here. You'll see a lot of people wearing camouflage and work boots, so don't feel like you have to dress fancy. Spring and fall can bring wide swings in temperatures, so bring some layers to be comfortable no matter what weather pattern arrives. Summer will be hot and humid. Bring bug spray and sunscreen.
Des Moines International Airport is three hours west. The Quad Cities airport is about two hours north. Peoria, Illinois, is two hours east. If you want to fly in or out of Chicago, you'll need to plan for four-hour drive times. There isn't a commercial airport in Fort Madison.
Travel insurance is smart to avoid weather delays or cancellations and to keep you safe on the roads of Iowa and Illinois.
Fort Madison Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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