Windy Goat Acres: A Glamping Getaway with a Magical Menagerie

Owner Jessica Kettler at Winy Goat Acres in front of Hobbit House on the Hill, built by Jim Carney (photo by Meredith Siemsen)

Nestled in a verdant valley of the “Bohemian Alps” just 45 minutes west of Cedar Rapids flourishes a magical lil’ hobby farm and glamping venue called Windy Goat Acres.

While I love the idea of sleeping in a tent—you’re outside, but you’re inside!—I am now of the age when an actual mattress and the ironclad guarantee of a dry pillow in the morning have become necessary. Which is why glamping (glamorous camping), for me, is the ultimate pleasure—and why I figured an overnight stay in a spacious, light-filled yurt, equipped with its own kitchenette, appliances, couch, TV, air conditioner, hardwood floors, and off-the-ground beds, would hit the sweet spot. Truth is, glamping at Windy Goat Acres was even sweeter than I imagined.

Inside the 24-foot yurt at Windy Goat

After setting my luggage down and putting my feet up, my mind began to quiet—and soak up the sights and sounds of my new surroundings: the beautiful domed structure of the wood-framed yurt, a skylight view of wispy clouds cruising by, and the drumming vibration of birds’ wings as they hovered around feeders just inches away from my head, which by now had hit a dreamy (and deliciously dry) pillow. I immediately wished I could stay a week, not a day, and began fantasizing about building a yurt of my own.

Interior of the Hobbit House

But what I wouldn’t be able to recreate, without a Herculean effort and an exceedingly lucky real estate investment, is Windy Goat Acres’ gorgeous valley view and uniquely colorful soundscape—features that include not just diverse trees, wildflowers, and native birds, but a pastoral view of horses grazing peacefully on the hillside; a pair of doe-eyed llamas blinking at each other further down the slope; a gently bleating tribe of goats, young and old; the intermittent calls of the guinea fowl—“I’m here!”—that may as well have been coming from monkeys, not birds; a couple dozen ducks quacking in the grass; and two potbelly pigs grunting gregariously in their shaded pens. And from my yurt’s outdoor patio chair where I sipped a hot cup of tea, I could actually hear from a several hundred meters away the “train rattling” of a peacock, one of five, as it blushed its bandshell of plumes in hopes of attracting a mate. May had brought a special kind of spring fever to Windy Goat Acres, and I was melting right in.

As I now can attest: Camping + Creature Comforts + Creatures = A Great Glamping Getaway. But for many Windy Goat goers, and especially for hosts Jessica Kettler and Jim Carney, the ultimate equation actually includes a few more “c” words: community and creativity. And occasionally some costumes.

A Special Site

Since I visited the place on a weeknight early in the season, I was the only guest at the venue, a site capable of hosting many more overnighters in its various cabins, yurts, and cozy new Hobbit House—an enchanting gnome-sized in-ground cabin immaculately designed and built by Jim and adorned with sunny colors, rustic furniture, maps of Middle Earth, and a round door that serves as “a window out to the shire.” J. R. R. Tolkien fans, eat your heart out.

Chess, anyone?

A stroll around the grounds with Jess helped me fill in the rest of a very vibrant picture. Jess, born in Iowa but back home only “for a brief spell” about nine years ago, wasn’t envisioning sticking around, but when she and Jim laid eyes on the property (listed on Craigslist), Jess very quickly changed her mind. “The place had everything I wanted,” she says.

As an herbalist, she recognized a unique opportunity to expand on the property’s unique biodiversity, and as an artist, she was excited to continue her work out of the existing studio built just a stone’s throw away from the property’s house, barn, and cabin.

About six years in, on a whim, the couple decided to start renting the cute wood cabin out to visitors, “just to test the waters.” They wondered if others might enjoy the place as much as they did.

“People just loved it,” says Jess. “We were really surprised and thought, Oh, maybe we could keep going with this.” Jim began the expansion by building the first yurt, and over the past two years has added additional accommodations, bit by bit.

“Jim just loves to build,” says Jess, “He’s been building his whole life—that’s kind of his creative outlet, while I’m sort of the artist and have all these different event visions—things I want to do with the space. It’s my creative playground out here, and I invite others to have it be their creative playground too.”

Fantasy Events & Restorative Retreats

A leisurely hike took Jess and me up, down, and around the property, with mowed footpaths connecting patches of prairie and woodlands—made even more beautiful by the naturally sloping landscape and manicured “moments” that dapple the place, awakening the imagination and adding ambience and charm. Exploring guests will discover a community fire pit, woodfired oven, and pergola near the main farmhouse; a circle of colorful cushioned toadstools meant for games of musical chairs; a giant outdoor chess board set against a backdrop of rolling hills straight out of a Grant Wood painting; a covered tree house Jess affectionately calls “The Sanctuary”; a fruit orchard; whimsical installations intended for posed photo ops; and even a small stage. I was struck by the long community table built outdoors under the skeleton of an old hoop house—an inviting space, with sparkling lights, used for retreats and group gatherings.

The community table at Windy Goat Acres

“This table has been a really special thing,” says Jess. “When people come in for retreats, they’re kinda shy and they don’t know a lot of people, but then the next morning everybody’s at the table eating breakfast, getting to know each other and bonding.”

In addition to glamping experiences, Windy Goat Acres hosts several themed events each year, like the popular Hobbits and Elves immersive weekend, taking place this month on June 15 and 16. Guests of all ages will enjoy fantastical Forest Quests, Elven Archery, and a Hobbit High Tea, artisans and merchants, and live Middle Earth Music. And on Saturday, August 24, visitors are welcomed back to Windy Goat Acres for the annual Faery Experience. “Part dreamy summer camp, part creative renewal,” this enchanted event is made magical with live harp and flute music, costumed fae photoshoots, a restorative singing-bowl experience, art, vendors, and much more.

Jess is also passionate about helping other artists and organizations bring their dream events to life. “I love collaboration,” she says. “Working with different creative people, or women-owned businesses—those are things that feel good to me.” Last March, for instance, Windy Goat Acres collaborated with a nearby (former funeral home) B&B to turn the Windy Goat grounds into “a creepy, haunted Leprechaun forest—more fun than spooky!” Jess is also a costumer, and her visual skills and theater connections are put to very good use here.

Even if you’re not staying overnight at Windy Goat Acres, you can still enjoy its themed events with a day pass and many of its special offerings à la cart. Collaborative retreats for yoga and living “Your One Wild and Precious Life” (a Mary Oliver poem reference) are on the books, as well as an equine-focused restorative getaway. Jess is also dreaming up literary-themed events—for instance, a Jane Austen retreat with tea parties and traditional dancing.

“The retreats are super special—I can see how life-giving they are for people, something I felt was really needed,” Jess says.

“Clearly the whole place is life-giving,” I tell her. “It’s everywhere you look!”

Among the Animals

I may have been traveling alone, but I was not lonely for an instant. From the welcoming farm cats Stevie and Lou (“This is Lou’s place, he’s just letting us live here”), to the hysterical, clown-faced guinea fowl who look like someone painted their features on (drunk! with a sponge!), I just was not prepared for such an entertaining zoological experience.

Jess with Jester the Percheron

“How did you come by all these animals?” I ask Jess as we stroll up the lane to meet the impressive black-and-white Percheron, Jester.

“All I wanted was a horse,” says Jess, which hits us both as hilarious, considering how things have snowballed into a barnyard bursting at the seams.

“And Jim really wanted goats, he just really loves goats.” Originally thinking to make use of the goats’ milk, the couple quickly decided they’d rather put their time and attention elsewhere, explains Jess. “So we let them graze. They’re great lawnmowers and fertilizers. They fertilize this whole place,” she says with a sweep of the arm. The goats are being trained to graze on the hill (and away from Jess’s more precious plants and new trees), helping manage some of the wild “ruffage.” So horses, then goats … but where did the rest come from?

“When people find out you love animals, they’re like, ‘Hey, do you want this animal I can’t take care of?’” Jess says—for example, the goat who “wasn’t living his best life” with a pack of dogs, the peacocks who arrived as a package deal with the horses, and the potbelly pig, raised in a Des Moines apartment, who had never before experienced a roll in the mud. Windy Goat Acres has become a bit of a small-scale animal sanctuary, which has been a steep learning curve and a lot of hard work, admits Jess—but for the couple and their guests, these animals offer gifts that are precious and irreplaceable.

Jess at the Goat Social

If you’re up for a close encounter, two of the featured “add-on” experiences offered are the Llama Hike (“with the divas of the farm,” says Jess) and the Goat Social. I was reluctant at first to sit inside the barnyard fence with dozens of goats and various waddling birds, but Jess opened the gate, welcomed me in, and offered me a chair, where I spent a good 45 minutes totally and absolutely mesmerized by the shenanigans of the animals all around me. “I have to be careful,” says Jess. “Sometimes I just sit down here and I never want to get up again.”

We watched fuzzy chicks being herded around by their protective parents. We laughed as three doelings (four-day-old baby goats!) succumbed to spasmic bouncing fits between nursing sessions with mom. A handful of full-grown females hovered around us like attentive dogs, ever hopeful for a treat. One of them, Molly, sat on a wooden stump just behind us, affectionately leaning her forehead against Jess’s back and then putting her lips on the brim of my hat. “Every goat has a different personality,” says Jess. “It’s really fun to see who attaches with who.” Molly was into me, but I had another secret admirer. The nearest of five peacocks, just a few yards away, gave up on wooing a disinterested rooster and decided to flirt with me instead, treating me to show after show of his fanned-out, quivering turquoise tail. Jess says there’s another peacock who flies out of the coop on a regular basis and hangs out on the roof of one the cabins, enjoying the view and guarding her guests.


In just two and a half years, Jess and Jim’s glamping spot has taken off in such a beautiful way. The reviews have been stellar, and awards like “Hipcamp’s #1 Best in State” have started rolling in. With all the growth and constant change, Jess often wonders if it’s working, “if it’s fast enough, and if we’re getting done all that we want to get done,” she reflects. “But then you pause and look back and it’s like, okay, we’re doing okay, look at what it’s become and what it’s evolving to be.”

Meredith and Molly

Windy Goat Acres is a healing and happy place, a testament not only to the setting but to the vision of its owners. “It brings me joy to see the little kids running wild up and down the hill. Warms my heart. It’s a safe spot, so parents don’t have to worry if they lose sight of their child for a minute. We have a good space for creative play, and thought, and exploring. And a lot of the adults who come here are just like, ‘I laid down for a minute … and then I just slept for hours!’ This place invites rest, too, for people who need it.”

Jim and Jess have certainly had their hands full, but the past year has also brought in volunteers who are drawn to the magic happening here, who want to help, and are up for bartering their time or talents. “Lots of people have come to help clean, help garden, or provide plants as a trade for a stay in a yurt and a space to relax in,” says Jess.

Somehow, despite the countless hours of cabin cleaning and animal caring, path mowing and costume building, event planning and tree planting, Jess and Jim graciously provide their guests with attentive care and thoughtful services that make for a truly special stay. Before my departure, I treated myself to a hot breakfast in my yurt—a gourmet “Waffle Bar Kit,” thoughtfully prepared and hand-delivered by Jess, with waffle maker, in the rain. God, it tasted good.

I can’t wait to go back.

Meredith Siemsen

Meredith, an Iowa native, was baffled when she earned her high school's writing award in 1993. It wasn't until twenty years later that she discovered she actually enjoyed wordcraft. (Too bad she's still a two-fingered typist.) Thanks for reading, friends!