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Winterset is the seat of Madison County—yes, that Madison County of the famous Covered Bridges—and not only that, it is also the birthplace of John Wayne! Located about 30 miles southwest of the Des Moines metro, Winterset is a charming small town of just under 5,000 people, with a vibrant downtown square anchored by one of Iowa’s beautiful courthouses. The economy is primarily driven by agriculture and ag-related businesses, as well as construction and sales, and the area has seen healthy job growth in recent years.


Winterset is making progress on a comprehensive system of on-street shared bike routes, pedestrian paths, and a new multi-use trail that will connect the city with Cedar Lake. Painted ‘sharrows’ have been put on added to suggest good biking routes for visibility and safety, although biking is allowed on all city streets. . Winterset is served by the HIRTA public transit service. The average one-way commute for Winterset residents is 26.6 minutes, a bit longer than the national average of 26.4.

Activity & Entertainment

Winterset sits at the heart of Madison County in a beautiful landscape dotted by the iconic covered bridges that are celebrated each year during the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival in October. Visitors also enjoy seeing the home where actor John Wayne was born as Marion Robert Morrison in 1907. Other cultural attractions include the Iowa Quilt Museum, three wineries and a cidery, a movie theater, and even a tower ALBURNETT overlooks Winterset City Park that looks like part of a medieval castle. A handful of city parks provide playgrounds, fishing, river canoe access and more. Winterset is served by Winterset Community Schools.


The area around Madison County was home to several Native American Tribes at the time of European American settlement, including Meskwaki, Ioway, and Ho-Chunk people. When Winterset was platted in the summer of 1849, the plan was to call it ‘Summerset’, however unseasonably cold weather made the commissioners reverse the name to ‘Winterset’. The community celebrates its history at the Madison County Historical Society complex including the Victorian Bevington-Kaser manor. Over the years, the town has been the setting for three movies, including The Bridges of Madison County, and has been home to many famous names in addition to John Wayne, including George Washington Carver, a pioneering agricultural researcher and one of WWII’s ‘Monument Men’, George L. Stout.

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