In a stunning location just downstream from the widest stretch of the Mississippi River, Clinton is a city that has always depended on that great waterway.
In the final decades of the 19th century, the town was dubbed the “Lumber Capital of the World”, and it was here that sawmills processed the monumental amounts of timber sent down the Mississippi from the forests in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The lumber days ended as quickly as they started, but there’s now a museum devoted to the industry, and you can visit the lavish preserved home of a 19th-century lumber baron.
It’s appropriate that the river bank should be the center of attention in Clinton, and here you can walk or ride by the Mississippi, catch a Clinton LumberKings baseball game or enjoy some live entertainment in a converted riverboat.
1. Eagle Point Park
High on the bluffs in the north of Clinton, Eagle Point Park is a great starting point for any visit to the city.
As part of a series of improvements in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a castle-like lodge was constructed at the panoramic overlook, Eagle Point.
For close to 90 years, this romantic monument has been a backdrop for all kinds of community and private events. From here you can marvel at the widest section of the Mississippi, at 1.8 miles across.
The park is packed with other amenities, including a 1930s stone footbridge, miles of trails, shelters, restrooms and play equipment.
Thanksgiving through December the park is the scene for the Symphony of Lights, with 40 enchanting displays and more than half a million supporting lights.
2. Sawmill Museum
For a taste of working life in Clinton in the 19th century, there’s a museum dedicated to that short-lived lumber industry.
The Sawmill Museum has all sorts of enlightening exhibits, looking at the industry from different angles.
You can trace the long river journey made by timber harvested from the forests of Wisconsin, and find out just what made Clinton such a useful hub for the lumber industry.
There’s preserved equipment from the Struve Mill to check out, along with a vintage single-blade sawmill, a floating log raft simulator and animatronic lumber barons to regale you with their stories.
3. Riverview Park
True to its name, this 65-acre park is in a breathtaking spot, right on the Mississippi. Riverview Park is home to major local attractions like the Clinton LumberKings’ NelsonCorp Field, and the Clinton Showboat, housing a highly popular summer theatre.
There’s also a marina and restaurant, public boat ramps and an RV park (first come, first served).
For recreation you’ve got an eight-lane outdoor pool, a riverside bike path, a playground, ball diamonds, sand volleyball courts, a skate park and pickleball courts.
Finally, the Riverview Bandshell, on the north side of the pool, provides a stage for events like Juneteenth, Clinton’s 4th of July Festival and concerts by the Clinton Symphony Orchestra.
4. Clinton Area Showboat Theatre
An evocative way to enjoy some live entertainment is aboard this historic riverboat, which is drydocked at Riverview Park in Clinton.
The Showboat is the venue for the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre (CAST), the premier summer theatre company in the Upper Mississippi River Valley region.
Throughout the season more than 10,000 people come to watch comedies and musicals, produced with real flair.
When we wrote this article the upcoming shows included Sister Act, Calendar Girls, State Fair and The Wedding Singer.
As for the vessel, she was originally The Omar, launched by the Ohio River Company in 1935, and with an impressive paddlewheel, 32 feet in diameter.
5. Clinton Discovery Trail
Almost all of Clinton’s main attractions are connected to this 4.8-mile multi-use trail, staying close to the bank of the Mississippi River from Eagle Point Park in the north to the Gateway Suspension Bridge in the south.
Traveling atop the levee you’ll be treated to magnificent views of this wide stretch of the Mississippi, and can watch those barges shuttling along the river.
Although the Discovery Trail is on the city’s waterfront, it passes through large green spaces, like Joyce Island, just north of Riverview Park.
The trail is dedicated to the three astronauts to hail from Clinton County: Dale Gardner (1948-2014), George Nelson (b. 1950) and David Hilmers (b. 1950).
6. Wild Rose Casino & Resort
Going back to the early days of riverboat gambling in Clinton, Wild Rose is a casino brand with three locations in Iowa.
The current resort is firmly on dry land in the southwest of the city. Along with a 60-room hotel, sports bar and grill, Wild Rose Casino & Resort has more than 500 slot machines, 14 table games and a Draftkings sportsbook.
Check the website for details of upcoming concerts, as some major recording artists have played dates here in the last few years.
7. Clinton LumberKings
Also in Riverview Park is the historic NelsonCorp Field, home to the Clinton Lumberkings. Built in 1937, the stadium can hold 5,500 fans, and has a canopied grandstand that gets you close to the plate and a classic wooden outfield wall.
This might be one of the best places in the Midwest to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.
Under various names, the Lumberkings have history going back to 1895, and currently play in the Prospect League, a collegiate summer league, after spending decades in Minor League Baseball’s Midwest League.
The list of alumni is extraordinary, featuring Ian Kinsler, Mike Scoscia, Steve Sax, Orel Hershiser and Matt Williams, to name just a handful.
8. Bickelhaupt Arboretum
Featuring 2,000 different plants, this 14-acre arboretum is owned by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges and is free to visit all year.
The Bickelhaupt Arboretum was founded by Bob and Frances Bickelhaupt, on their property and opened to the public in 1970.
The Bickelhaupts planted these gardens and tree collections after the mature elms that lined Clinton’s streets were lost to Dutch Elm Disease.
Grouped by genus are important collections of beech, hickory, ash, birch, maple, magnolia, oak and linden, to name a few.
There’s an award-winning succession of gardens to enjoy, including a dwarf and rare conifers, a butterfly garden, rock garden, hosta glen, peony collection, herb garden and daffodil collection, and many more.
On the arboretum’s website you can find a detailed map showing where each plant is located.
9. George M. Curtis Mansion
Clinton’s lumber history also pervades this residence built for lumber industrialist and congressman George M. Curtis (1844-1921).
On the National Register of Historic Places, this opulent Queen Anne-style mansion was completed in 1883.
Something remarkable about the interior is that Curtis intended the main floor as a kind of woodworking showcase for Curtis Bros. & Co, producing doors, blinds, sashes and an array of other interior fittings.
The mansion belongs to the Clinton Women’s Club, which organizes guided tours to admire the imposing fireplaces, delicately carved banisters, dainty wood trim and more than 40 stained glass windows.
10. Felix Adler Children’s Discovery Center
Performing with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the “King of Clowns” Felix Adler (1895-1960), was born in Clinton and went on to perform in front of several US Presidents.
To continue his legacy of entertainment and education, this children’s museum opened in downtown Clinton in 1993.
In a fun, nurturing environment are smart, hands-on exhibits allowing children to explore outer space, treat patients at a hospital, shop for groceries, become an engineer aboard a train and even teach a class at school.
KAPLA Block Corner here has more than 10,000 KAPLA blocks, the most of any children’s attraction in Iowa.
11. Rock Creek Marina & Campground
Just down the Mississippi on the Iowa bank, is a campground and marina at the mouth of the Wapsipinicon River.
Despite the name, this is also a great place to come for day trips. The marina is the home of Blue Heron Eco-Cruises.
This company organizes naturalist-led pontoon cruises on the famous river to discover its rich wildlife, while the sunset cruises are the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening.
Also here is the Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, all about the river’s rich habitats and natural history.
12. Wide River Winery
A few minutes upriver from Clinton is a winery run by an attorney and retired judge, sitting among rows of vines growing cool-climate hybrid grape varieties that thrive in Iowa’s extremes.
In ten acres, resting on the Mississippi riverbank, Wide River Winery grows white varieties like Brianna and Frontenac Blanc, and red grapes such as Petite Pearl and St. Croix.
These produce wines with playful names like Jury Duty, Not Guilty, Conviction, Caught Red Handed, Ms. D’Meanor and Blushing Testimony.
You can drop by to relax on the deck, watching barges go by on the Mississippi while sharing a bottle, paired with bites like a cheese and sausage board.
13. Fulton “de Immigrant” Windmill
Sitting on the levee, or maybe “dike”, across the river in Fulton, IL is something you might not expect to see on the banks of the Mississippi.
Standing nearly 100 feet tall is an authentic and fully operational Dutch windmill, dedicated during the Dutch Days Festival in 2000.
This structure was engineered in the Netherlands, and all of its components were shipped to the United States to be assembled where it stands.
Dutch millwrights and masons visited from the Netherlands on three separate occasions to complete the windmill. You can visit for free, and see the mill grinding buckwheat, rye, corn and wheat flours, which can be purchased at the Windmill Cultural Center across the road.
14. Heritage Canyon
Also worthwhile across the river in Fulton is a 12-acre park in a former limestone quarry, home to a recreated village from the late 1800s.
These buildings are embedded in the nature that has returned to the quarry site since it was abandoned in 1954.
In the late-1960s the quarry was purchased by the couple Harold and Thelma Wierenga, who turned it into a document for Midwestern history.
The City of Fulton took over in 2005 and today you can go on a self-guided walk along nature trails, encountering a church, blacksmith, schoolhouse, doctor and dentist’s office, and several more.
If you come during the annual Fall Festival in early October there will be costumed reenactors displaying skills from the 19th century.
15. Tom and Audrey’s Antique & Collectible Mall
With more than ten antique businesses, Clinton is a delight for treasure hunters, and one of the largest malls can be found in a cavernous historic building downtown.
Awaiting you is a massive selection, set across two stories, with a total sales area of 18,000 square feet.
There’s a particularly large array of glassware and dinnerware, carefully displayed in cabinets, and billed as the biggest in the area.
Elsewhere you’ve got tons of books, furniture, records, fine china, lamps, tools, collectibles, sports equipment, vintage home appliances, signage, paintings and more than we could ever hope to list here.