(Editor’s note: Check with the establishments on updated hours/closures when planning your trip.)
By Cindy Hadish/for Edible Iowa River Valley
The Glacial Trail Scenic Byway’s setting, off the beaten path, contributes to its enchanting appeal.
Visitors seek out the Glacial Trail’s rolling hills and picturesque landscapes for its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities, as well as its local foods and wine, said Brandy Hoffert, executive director of Iowa Lakes Resource Conservation and Development, and coordinator of the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway.
As its name suggests, glaciers carved the area’s topography, along the Little Sioux River in northwest Iowa.
“The scenery is beautiful,” Hoffert said, citing peaks and valleys created by the glacier.
The Glacial Trail Scenic Byway forms a rectangle that connects the corners of four counties: O’Brien, Clay, Cherokee and Buena Vista, passing through the quaint communities of Peterson, Sutherland and Linn Grove along the way.
Hoffert pointed to popular attractions on the byway that include Bogenrief Studio in Sutherland, internationally renowned for its stained glass; the Inkpaduta Canoe Trail on the Little Sioux River and Dog Creek Park, which offers camping near Sutherland. Other outdoor opportunities, including fishing and camping, abound at Buena Vista County Conservation Park; the Martin Area in Cherokee County; the Linn Grove area and at Wanata State Park near Peterson.
The Prairie Heritage Center is another major attraction near Peterson, offering environmental education and breath-taking views of nature, historic hills and valleys from atop a Little Sioux River bluff. Classrooms, exhibit areas, demonstration plots and interpretive trails are available to aid in understanding the prairie ecosystem and history of the area.
A new restaurant, Crazy Bob’s MAXimum Bar B Que, recently opened in Peterson, offering comfort food, lunch specials and more. Other attractions in Peterson include the Christian Kirchner House; Kirchner Farm Machinery Museum; Rock Forest Schoolhouse; Fort Peterson; the Blockhouse; the Boarding House; Philip Kirchner Cabin; Jim’s History Barn and McGee Gallery & Framing.
Almost midway between Storm Lake and Spirit Lake/Okoboji, the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway is the smallest of Iowa’s byways, with just 36 miles in its loop. Hoffert said its small size allows visitors to take their time to not only enjoy the Glacial Trail’s attractions, but sites just off the byway, as well.
The Shrimp Shed, about 17 miles north of the byway near Everly, is owned and operated by Mike and Tammi Heuck. The couple raise saltwater shrimp that they sell to local customers, with no chemicals, antibiotics or hormones, providing a fresh seafood option in the heart of the Midwest.
Cocoa Bellissimo offers another unique local food option, just 12 miles southwest of the byway in Cherokee, through its custom-made confections that can be purchased at special events, markets, online and made-to-order. Owner Rita Pierson uses high quality chocolate produced by a bean-to-bar company in alliance with the World Cocoa Foundation, Rainforest Alliance, and the International Cocoa Initiative that utilizes sustainable agricultural and fair trade practices.
GoodEetens Produce Farm grows a variety of vegetables and strawberries for farmers markets and for its Community Supported Agriculture enterprise in Everly, while in Sanborn, Getting’s Garden offers pick-your-own berries, jams and more, and Solsma’s Punkin Patch sells its own ruby red popcorn among a variety of other products in its country store.
Travelers on their way to the Iowa Great Lakes can easily swing by the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway, which is less than 40 miles away. Visitors can also view American buffalo at the Skelton Bison farm near Rembrandt, about 10 miles off the byway, and attend farmers markets in towns including Sheldon and Storm Lake.
InnSpiration Vines & Wines and Vacation Destination attracts some of those travelers to its site on the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway near Linn Grove.
“We are off the beaten path, for sure,” owner Sheila Thomsen said, noting that visitors see that as a plus. “They have privacy and seclusion, but it’s not far from Storm Lake and Okoboji.”
Thomsen and her husband, Paul, started InnSpiration as a bed & breakfast in 2008, but transitioned to a winery and retreat in recent years, turning their former home into a vacation rental that can fit up to 18 people and adding a luxury cabin that can sleep up to 10.
“It’s a great location for quality family time,” Thomsen said, adding that popular uses include retreats, reunions and weddings. The five-bedroom vacation rental overlooks a 2-acre pond with three decks, while the cabin is situated on a timbered ridge with a view of the Little Sioux River valley.
Eight varieties of Midwest-hardy grapes are grown on more than 7 acres of the family’s land. Paul Thomsen serves as the winemaker for InnSpiration, which produced 4,000 gallons of wine last year. Their son, Tyler, works full time for the family’s business, while their three daughters all have helped in one way or another, Thomsen said.
The wines are increasingly making their way into area grocery stores and restaurants, with 40 locations now in a 60-mile radius, she said, adding that the number of outlets continues to grow. “Apple Razz,” made with apples from InnSpiration’s orchard, has been its most popular seller.
Thomsen also has been creating recipes and food and wine pairings, some of which incorporate products from other farms and enterprises along the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway and nearby areas.
“We try to encourage those local connections,” she said.
Read more about Iowa’s local foods at: Edible Iowa River Valley and find more information on the Glacial Trail at:
Recipe: Iowa Pork Chop Medley Sauteed in Frontenac
2-4 Iowa Pork Chops/Loins 1½” thick
1 pkg fresh mushrooms (I used portobellos).
Seasoning Rub for Pork
Fresh Thyme 1 tsp
½-¾ cup InnSpiration Frontenac red wine
Use your rub of preference, place on the chops and let sit for about 10-15 minutes.
In a large fry pan:
Use however much olive oil needed to brown the chops.
Brown chops, 5 minutes per side or less. You do not want the chops done, just browned.
While the chops are browning start slicing your mushrooms and onions, but keep them separate.
Set chops aside, add the onions; in about 3 minutes add the mushrooms. This would be the time to add garlic.
Push everything to the side.
Add InnSpiration Frontenac Dry Wine, let the wine deglaze the pan; you may have to add more.
*Be sure to have a glass of InnSpiration wine as you are cooking.
Add the onions and mushrooms. Toss them around a little bit, push to the side and add the chops. Turn those over to soak up the juices.
Add the Thyme
Simmer for about 5-10 minutes depending on how you like your Iowa chop cooked.