Shelby County offers historical museums, virgin prairies, ethnic celebrations, extensive county parks and recreational facilities to welcome you to the area.
Note: Also see individual community listings for further information.
Some of the Many Recreational Options in Shelby County
• Over 1,770 acres of parks, including two native wildlife areas
• Over 400 acres of public hunting
• 661-acre Prairie Rose Lake State Park, which offers a 218-acre lake featuring boating, picnicking, camping, swimming, fishing, walking and snowmobile trails
• Many other parks in the county offer swimming, walking, jogging, fishing, picnics, bike trails
• A wide range of athletic facilities for volleyball, softball, basketball, soccer, flag football, swimming and baseball
• Two nine-hole golf courses
• Eight tennis courts
• Ten lane bowling alley – Cyclone Lanes
Shelby County is known for its ethnic diversity and popular tourist attractions. It is the proud home of The German Colonies of Defiance, Earling, Panama, Portsmouth and Westphalia which feature their 19th Century Gothic German Catholic Churches and annual ethnic celebrations.
The largest rural Danish settlement in the U.S. is located in Elk Horn. It is the host to the Danish Immigrant Museum, an International Cultural Center; Bedstemor House, a fully restored Danish home of the late 1800’s; and an authentic 1848 transplanted Danish Windmill.
German Villages Tour
Many of Shelby County cities were settled by German Catholic families. This strong heritage left a lasting mark, which is evident throughout the communities and best seen in their historic churches. Five of these communities, Defiance, Earling, Panama, Portsmouth, and Westphalia, make up the German Villages Tour. The outer beauty and the craftsmanship of the interiors will absolutely stun you. A day touring these magnificent structures is a day well spent.
Annual Ethnic and Tourism Events
Defiance St. Peter’s Parish Picnic (June)
Earling St. Joseph’s Parish Picnic (July)
Elk Horn Tivoli Fest (May)
Harlan Log Cabin Day (June)
Panama St. Mary’s Parish Picnic (August)
Portsmouth St. Mary’s Parish Picnic (July)
Westphalia St. Boniface Parish Picnic (July)
Harlan Shelby County Speedway Racing Shelby County Fair (July)
Harlan Tiny Lund Festival (September)
National Historic Register Sites
Defiance George Rewerts home, 306 8th Avenue
Elk Horn Chris Larsen home, 4215 Main Street
Elk Horn Jens Otto Christensen (Bedstemor House) 2105 College Ave
Harlan Floral Hall at the Shelby County Fairgrounds
Harlan Shelby County Courthouse
Harlan Downtown Square & St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Jacksonville Chris Poldberg farm 1/2 mi. south of Hwy 44 on Wolf Creek
Shelby Rock Island Old Stone Arch Nature Trail
Westphalia St. Boniface Catholic Church & surroundings
For Those who Enjoy Professional and Collegiate Sports
The Omaha Storm Chasers are a United States minor league baseball team currently based in the Omaha suburb of Papillion, Nebraska. The team is the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals major league club. Omaha has been the only Triple-A location for the Kansas City Royals since their inception in 1969. In 2011, the Storm Chasers moved to their new home, Werner Park.
Throughout both collegiate and professional levels of hockey, the Omaha Lancers are considered to be one of the best Tier-1 programs in the United States. The Lancers along with the City of Ralston officially broke ground for their new home - the Ralston Entertainment & Sports Complex. The state-of-the-art facility will serve as the new home for the Lancers beginning in October 2012.
Creighton University Bluejays are known for their outstanding baseball and basketball teams.
University of Nebraska – Omaha Mavericks participate in a full-range of sporting events including baseball, basketball, ice hockey, football, etc.
The NCAA College World Series is held every June at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. The Cox Classic Golf Tournament is held each year in Omaha and is on the Nationwide Tour. Each year, some of the best golfers in the world compete to take that next step to the PGA TOUR. Thousands of fans turn out to see these great golfers.
Nearby Cultural Facilities Include
Joslyn Art Museum, Orpheum Theater, Omaha Symphony, Omaha Ballet Company, Rose Blumkin Children’s Theater and the Omaha Opera Company.
More than 80 theater screens serve the area and annual ethnic cultural events are held throughout the region such as the annual Council Bluffs Renaissance Fair.
The area includes a diverse array of restaurants; the world-renowned Henry Doorly Zoo, Simmons Wildlife Safari, SAC Air Force Museum and the Omaha Children’s Museum.
Shelby County Parks
Shelby County Conservation Board
The Shelby County Conservation Board,
created in 1960, manages 700+ acres of parks and natural areas; including lakes, rivers, streams, prairies and woodlands for recreation, wildlife habitat and outdoor learning.
Dinesen Prairie – State Preserve
Located on 1400th and Peach Roads, this 40-acre virgin prairie north of Harlan is one of only a few virgin prairies in Iowa. Available for public hunting.
Elk Horn Creek Recreational Area
Located 2½ miles southwest of Elk Horn this multi-use area is ideal for a family on an outing, or for a person looking for solitude. With its groomed trails and unique wildlife, the adventures are never ending. The upper picnic area contains what is believed to be the original site of the pioneer village of Elk Horn.
Features include: 7 electrical sites with full electrical hookup, grass pads, tent camping, picnic sites with grills, two areas with playground equipment, rural water and sanitary facilities.
Lyle and Wava Petersen Nature Preserve
A 40 acre oak and meadow tract which borders the Elk Horn Creek Recreation Area. Donated in 1995, this area was designated a nature preserve. A prairie was planted and a hiking trail is mowed through the area with picnicking available.
Manteno Park - Six Bee Tree Nature Trail
8 miles northwest of Defiance, set in the hills of Grove Township, is Manteno Park, a multi-use area that accommodates camping, fishing and hiking.
Nielsen RV Park
This facility, 6 miles north of Harlan, features camping with water and electricity; showers, picnicking and swimming.
Nishna Bend Recreation Area – Nature Learning Center
Located 7 miles south of Harlan, the office of the Shelby County Conservation Board is located at this site. This 80 acre area contains over 30 acres of wetland. The ponds contain various species of game fish and the area also contains a hiking trail, river access, an arboretum, and a Nature Learning Center. Included is a handicapped accessible fishing pier.
Oak Ridge Habitat Area
Located on County Road F28 and Quince Road, east of Corley. This 95 acre wildlife management area contains dense woodlands and open grass areas. Large patches of native grasses were established to promote wildlife cover and is home to a high population of song birds (hunting is allowed).
Prairie Rose State Park
6 miles east and 3 miles south of Harlan. This park is one of the most attractive outdoor recreation areas in western Iowa. The 422-acre park and 218-acre lake lie in a region of scenic hills. The park received its name from a small town called Village of Prairie Rose, which was once located near the present park location. The park offers all amenities for camping, hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, and winter sports.
Reinig River Access
Located along the Nishnabotna River. Its purpose is to allow for easy river access for canoe and flatboats. This area is accompanied by a seven acre section of river forest (hunting is allowed).
Rosenow Timber Area
5 miles northwest of Earling. This is 120 acres of mature oak, ash, hackberry, and other hardwoods. This truly natural spot features sanitary facilities and a hiking trail for year round use (hunting is allowed).
Rosman Glendale Farm Recreation Area
6 miles north of Harlan. This multiple use area exists in combination with a nine hole golf course and wildlife habitat (hunting is allowed, but not on golf course).
Schimerowski Recreation Area
¼ mile east of Earling. This area serves as a park for group picnics with a picnic shelter, sanitary facilities, and picnic sites with grills and water are provided for park users.
Upper ‘Nish’ Habitat Area
1 mile northeast of Irwin. This area is four miles of railroad right-of-way and is best suited for those that enjoy hunting and hiking (hunting is allowed).
Wilmer & Vern Petersen Reserve
Located on Quince Road between County Road F16 and 2400th Street; 15 miles northwest of Harlan. This 432-acre hunting reserve includes gentle rolling hills, a small lake, creek and an abundance of trees, shrubs, and native grasses. Deer, pheasants, owls, rabbits and a multitude of other wildlife can be found on the reserve.