Being from rural America myself, there truly is nothing better than small town living. Pair that with a very passionate Danish community and you have the most incredible small town in southwest Iowa – Elk Horn.
I recently stayed three days in Elk Horn with a few other amazing people and it was one of my favorite destinations yet. The manager of the Danish Windmill Corporation, Lisa Riggs, was our tour guide for these few days and was an expert in Elk Horn life. I loved her passion and devotion to her community.
Here’s my top reasons on why you must plan a weekend getaway there soon.
Danish Heritage. Elk Horn is the largest rural Danish settlement in the United States. Through the various Danish shops and eateries you can see the love the people of Elk Horn have for their community.
The Danish Windmill. Lisa led us on a climb inside the beautiful working Danish Windmill. She was an expert in teaching us everything about the windmill. You could see just how much appreciation she had for it and how much work it took into bringing it from Denmark.
Yes, that’s right! The town of Elk Horn raised the money to bring the Danish windmill to Elk Horn from Denmark.
The residents of Elk Horn raised over $100,000 to relocate the 1848 mill from Denmark to Elk Horn in 1976. It has become one of the largest tourist attractions in Iowa. You can see the beauty of it as you drive into town with the Danish and American flags flying proudly beside it.
During our climb to the top we were able to see the grinding stones and watch the wings go around through the windows. Over one million tourists have visited the mill since its doors opened! Be sure to visit the mill house gift shop. On the same property you can find the Viking Hjem, Morning Star Chapel and Ebeltoft Village that are open on summer weekends.
Viking Hjem. The Viking Hjem [home] is located on the Danish Windmill property. It’s a replica that shows how the vikings lived. It is a dwelling, complete with furnishings, and the other part is a blacksmith shop.
We actually got to gather in the Viking Hjem and learn more about the history of the vikings. We even had solo shot cups of Viking Blod Mead, a Danish alcohol, 19% alcohol to be exact. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t any good because I’m pretty sure we passed it around numerous times. It was delicious!
Museum of Danish America. We made our way to the Museum of Danish America walking the “Friends Walk” just a short, beautiful nature walk from town.
The museum and 35-acre park is absolutely stunning! Outdoors you’ll find a paved trail, picnic areas, homesteaders’ cabin, fitness equipment, and a green roof.
Once inside you’ll find exhibits filling three floors that are continually revamped. It shares the stories of Danish Americans from all across the U.S.
You’ll journey through 14,000 years of history in a 90-foot timeline wrapped around a glass room holding some of the museum’s expansive artifact collection.
The Museum of Danish America is a national museum that is accredited which is a distinction held by fewer than 3% of all U.S. museums! It really is incredible!
Be sure to talk a walk on the Friends Walk while you’re there! It’s a gorgeous nature walk with plenty of photo ops.
Genealogy Center. You can also find more by visiting the Genealogy Center on Main Street. There you will find an exhibit on the history of the Danish Villages, professional research assistance and extensive family history resources.
If you’re trying to find out or learn more about your Danish heritage, the ladies at the Genealogy Center work tirelessly to help you. They are amazing! People come from all over the world in need of their help.
Bedstemor’s House. Be taken back in time when you step foot into the Bedstemor’s House. We walked the Friends Walk from the museum to the Bedstemo’r House.
The charming historic home is completely furnished in the style of the period between 1910 and 1920 when Danish immigrants lived there.
Brun Ko Farms. Nathan & Emily Paulsen, the owners of Brun Ko Farms have been dreams for their acreage. With them both having Danish heritage in their families and living near Elk Horn, they wanted to incorporate that into their farm name. Taking that into consideration and their small herd of Jersey cattle, they decided on the name Brun Ko, meaning ‘brown cow’ which in Danish holds a lot of significance for them.
With a toddler in tow and a baby strapped to her chest, Emily took us on a tour of their farm and shared with us how they live off the land. You’ll find pigs, cattle, chickens, a horse and a large garden.
They sell pasture raised beef, and soon pork, at area farmers markets and through FarmTable Delivery, a food hub in Harlan, Iowa. The farm is a wonderful resource for the community.
Emily said they love having visitors out for field days and tours. She loves sharing the farm experience with her little ones. We sure enjoyed our visit and meeting her kids and animals. Living on a farm myself, I love visiting others and learning how they live off their land.
Danish Food. You could seriously just visit Elk Horn to eat every meal. They have the most amazing food! Whether you are looking for Danish or American food, they have it all. Check out my post on 8 Great Places to Eat in Elk Horn, Iowa. You’ll be glad you did.
Since everyone probably knows how much I love a good tenderloin then you know I’m going to suggest a must visit to Larsen’s Pub to snag Iowa’s #1 tenderloin. Of course, I’d start off my day at The Danish Table for more of their Aebleskiver, a Danish dessert, like doughnuts. Who am I kidding, I’d stop by every single place. They are all delicious!
And be sure to stop by and stock up on wine at Countryside Vines and Wines before you leave town! I grabbed me a bottle when we went for a wine tasting.
Festivals. If you love festivals then be sure to head to Elk Horn for the Tivoli Fest and Julefest. Tivoli Fest takes place every year on Memorial Day weekend and is Elk Horn’s Danish celebration. Julefest is coming up on Thanksgiving weekend and you can celebrate the holidays with Elk Horn.
Small Town Charm. Elk Horn is a population of 650 people. Being from a town of 190 I know how much pride one can have coming from a small town. Elk Horn is no exception. Everyone knew we were coming and welcomed us with open arms. You won’t meet a stranger in Elk Horn.
A Ride in a Military Vehicle. I’m not sure this is available to all visitors but it was an incredible experience we had. After breakfast and filling ourselves with Aebleskiver at The Danish Table, Mike Howard was waiting for us outside with a military vehicle, a 1942 weapons carrier.
We rode in the back as Mike drove us to the neighboring Danish town, Kimballton, to visit the Little Mermaid Fountain and the Freedom Rock.
He then took us to his shop where he restores military vehicles and then to his own personal shop. His collection of military vehicles, which he calls veterans, is unimaginable.
Mike shared many stories with us but I loved hearing about how he has gone through the WWI Parachute School in Oklahoma. It’s as close as you can get to WWII paratroop training. He travels the world parachuting from planes in reenactments to remember, honor and serve the memory of those who fought and died to preserve America’s freedom.
Selfie Ops. Of course, visiting any destination is not complete without a great selfie which I am absolutely terrible at. I’ve learned traveling with my selfie stick definitely helps me. Here’s my favorite selfie ops in and around Elk Horn:
- The Danish Windmill
- Little Mermaid Statue Garden in Kimballton
- Freedom Rock in Kimballton
Hans Christian Andersen statue garden includes a replica of The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen Harbor and eight additional statues representing his best-loved fairy tales.
You can view Auburn County’s Freedom Rock in Kimballton, Iowa. The Freedom Rock Tour, created by the artist of The Freedom Rock; Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, aims to boost tourism and spread the message of thanking our Veterans while providing a unique to their area Freedom Rock for all 99 counties in the great state of Iowa.
Anyone traveling through southwest Iowa must stop in at Elk Horn to experience this incredible community. You can stay at their local motel, Tivoli Inn and Suites that’s right across the road from the beautiful Danish Windmill. Or, they do have campgrounds and RV lodging available.
I’d like to thank the community of Elk Horn for welcoming us to their home. It was an incredible experience!
For more information about Elk Horn, Iowa attractions and events visit their website at www.danishvillage.com.