Set along the banks of the Missouri River, Council Bluffs is known as a “Gateway to the American West.” Back in the mid-1800s, the city presented the last chance for pioneers embarking on the Oregon Trail to gear up before heading into the wilderness. Nowadays, Council Bluffs is a destination in its own right. The city has four Vegas-like casino resorts as well as several fine-dining restaurants, not to mention a scenic landscape filled with opportunities for hiking and camping.
The centrally located SpringHill Suites Council Bluffs by Marriott is close to the casinos and a number of restaurants. The hotel’s suites are outfitted with one king or two queen beds, flat-screen TVs, and free WiFi. Each morning, a complimentary breakfast buffet is available in the sunlit dining room. Nearby, there’s an indoor swimming pool where jets send streams of water arcing over the surface as in a fountain.
Council Bluffs, Iowa: Casino Haven Steeped in History
One of the largest casino markets in the United States, Council Bluffs sits across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska. In the early to mid-20th century, Omaha was the better-known gambling hot spot. But after a crackdown in their state, Omahans crossed the river to the more casino-friendly Council Bluffs—and the rest is gaming history.
The city has a fascinating past. For starters, it was the point of origin for the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the migratory route that Mormons traveled to escape persecution. There are several neighborhoods with restored buildings from the 1800s, including the historic Haymarket Square commercial district and a Red Light District. Other landmarks highlight the city’s railroad-industry ties, best experienced by touring the depot at the RailsWest Railroad Museum.
The Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail is also worth a visit. Called one of the “world’s strangest prisons” by Travel + Leisure, it’s one of the last remaining rotary jails—meaning jailers opened cells by turning a crank that caused them to rotate. You can see many of the pie-shaped cells as they were when the jail closed in 1969. Some inmates‘ signatures are still etched into the walls.