For those of you who aren’t natives of the Midwest, Iowa may not be on your list of places to visit, but we’re here to convince you otherwise. Because it is located on both the east and the west side of the state, it is an excellent state to travel through in terms of the scenic byways it offers. Amidst its sloping hills, you’ll find hidden caverns and large lakefronts to explore, as well as landmarks from pop culture and other cultures. The following are some of our favorite Iowa destinations.
1. Lost Island Waterpark
Suppose you are taking your family on vacation to Iowa. In that case, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit the Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo. Before you take your children to see more historical sites, this is the ideal location to give them a chance to relax, let off some steam, and burn off some of their excess energy.
There are nine significant water slides and three major attractions. One is the Kailahi River, on which you can float peacefully on a raft for a relaxing experience. Outside the park, specific areas are ideal for younger children, as well as activities that do not involve water, such as golf and go-karts.
2. High Trestle Trail Bridge
This beautiful bridge is not only functional, but also a work of art in its own right! This modern bridge that is half a mile high and crosses the Des Moines River Valley is decorated with a pattern that is made up of twisting squares. The bridge is just one segment of the 25-mile-long High Trestle Trail, which passes through five municipalities and four counties as it follows the route of an abandoned railroad track. Even if you only get a chance to see it after dark, you can still appreciate the elegant design of the bridge thanks to its lights.
3. Maquoketa Caves State Park
Maquoketa Caves State Park was established in 1921. More caves than any other Iowa park. The public can visit the caves, which have thousands-year-old formations.
Maquoketa Caves State Park is a fantastic day trip or overnight stay near Maquoketa. Caving, hiking, sightseeing, and vistas are popular park activities. The park’s hiking trails lead to caves and magnificent views.
Iowa’s natural wonders are must-sees. This park features more caves than any other east of Cedar Rapids and south of Dubuque. Both above and below, lush green forest surrounds limestone rock formations. The Information Center details the caves’ Native American history, artifacts, and geology. Explore bright walkways in Dancehall Cave or crawl into smaller caves. Above the cave system are trails, including Natural Bridge over Raccoon Creek and 17-ton Balanced Rock.
4. Iowa Great Lakes
Even though Iowa is a desert state, it hasn’t stopped its residents from having much fun with the water. The Iowa Great Lakes is located in the northwestern part of the state. Iowa and Minnesota meet at the Iowa-Minnesota boundary, where the Okoboji lakes — Big Spirit, West Okoboji, and East Okoboji – are located. In addition to water sports, lakeside hotels, and restaurants, the lakes are a popular vacation spot. No of your travel preferences, the Iowa Great Lakes have something for everyone, from fishing and trail hiking to fine eating and unique shopping.
5. The Great River Road National Scenic Byway
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway can be found across the state on the opposite side. On the longer route from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, this drive represents a piece of the Mississippi River’s path. The 328 miles in Iowa run from the state’s northernmost to its southernmost border, with stops in Dubuque, Davenport, and Burlington along the way. Along the byway route are several educational centers and museums, in addition to stunning lookouts and Indian burial mounds.
6. Iowa State Capitol
Iowa State Capitol is a must-visit, even though you can take a virtual tour through photos and videos on the internet. Because of its enormous golden dome plated in 23-karat gold, the State Capitol is impossible to miss from anywhere near Des Moines.
Four smaller domes are as beautiful as the central dome in the center. Be sure to schedule a tour in advance so that you can climb up the winding stairs and reach the top of the dome so you can take in its beauty from a closer point of view.
7. Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies comprise seven villages, each popular destination for vacationers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives. Traveling to the colonies can take in the local culture through the artwork, furnishings, and cuisine.
The Amana Colonies are one of the nation’s oldest communal societies, having roots in German villages in 1714. The villagers sought freedom when they made their way to Iowa in 1855. It should be no surprise that the Amana Colonies have been designated as a National Historic Landmark, given the depth and breadth of their history.
Spending as little as one day or as much as several weeks in the Amana Colonies is possible, making it an ideal addition to any trip to Iowa.
8. Blank Park Zoo
The Blank Park Zoo is consistently ranked as one of the top attractions in the city of Des Moines. The zoo displays 1,484 animals from all over the world, such as Japanese macaques, otters, and snow leopards. Both children and adults will have a good time exploring these displays.
Visit the Kids Kingdom to allow your children to interact with farm animals, play on the playground, or ride a camel. You will find all of these activities and more at the Kids Kingdom.
Zoo Brew held on Wednesdays during the summer, is excellent for adults who wish to observe the animals while drinking delicious beverages without children.
9. Loess Hills National Scenic Byways
When approaching the western boundary of Iowa, travelers are frequently astonished by the sight of an extraordinary landscape consisting of steep bluffs, narrow ridges, and rolling hills covered in prairie and forest. These extraordinary landform features are known as the Loess Hills of Iowa.
Along the eastern edge of the Missouri River flood plain lies a landform in the state of Iowa known as the Loess Hills. This landform is a treasure that spans more than 1,080 square miles.
10: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium can be found within the Port of Dubuque and is considered to be the most significant attraction in the surrounding area. The purpose of the interest is to take guests on an adventure down the Mississippi River through interactive aquariums, wetlands, a boatyard, and historical exhibits.
During your vacation, you can navigate a boat, tour the well-known steamboat William M. Black, and even get closer to some living creatures.
During your trip, you should stroll along the Woodward Nature Wetland Trail and make a pit stop at the Pfohl Family Boatyard.
11. Greater Des Moines Botanical Center
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Center is one of the best attractions in Iowa that can be found in the state’s capital city, as the name of the center suggests. The botanical gardens offer a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city by providing escape with their temperate and tropical gardens.
Attend one of the many monthly events, or explore the Amaryllis, Bonsai, Coleus & Plectranthus, Gesneriad, or Orchid Collections.
You can find events and workshops focused on enhancing your gardening skills in your garden or outdoor area. The Botanical Design Series can give you advice on how to bring nature into your home, and you can also find events focused on improving your gardening skills.
12. Adventureland Park
Adventureland Park in Altoona, Iowa, is an excellent destination for thrill-seekers. This amusement and resort complex is a great choice for a fun-filled family day.
More than 100 rides are available at Adventureland Park, making it the largest amusement park in Iowa. Overriding theme: Iowa’s past and the Wild West, with sub-themes for each ride in the park. Attractions for all ages include five roller coasters and over two dozen water rides. Consider seeing a live event, such as a circus show, a live music performance, or a magic show, during your visit.
Every year, Adventureland Park strives to keep up with the most incredible amusement parks in the country by adding new rides and improving existing ones. This park is only open from the end of April through the end of September.
13. Pikes Peak State Park
It should be no surprise that Pikes Peak State Park is one of the best attractions in Iowa, given that it is one of the locations in the state that is most frequently photographed. Climbing the bluff to a height of 500 feet will reward you with breathtaking views of Mississippi-Wisconsin confluence during your trip.
There is a boardwalk that is a half mile long and will take you to Bridal Veil Falls. The falls are beautiful and are worth observing for a few minutes. In addition, there are 11.5 miles of hiking trails throughout the park that you can use to explore, and there is a campground where you can set up a tent for the night.
14. Buffalo Bill Museum
Buffalo Bill’s life and accomplishments are honored at a number of museums across the United States. Still, if you go to the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire, you can learn more about his life and see several other displays. The Mississippi River runs through LeClaire, a big part of the city’s growth. The museum shows how the river has affected the way people live there.
The Buffalo Bill Museum opened in 1957, and it has many exhibits that are about the city. Buffalo Bill is one of the best parts of the shows about famous people from the area. He was a showman, a hunter, and a soldier. Other famous people include inventors, engineers, and many others.
The museum is home to the Lone Star, a historic landmark in its own right, is another must-see. It is the only steam-powered towboat from 1868 that is still around and can be seen up close.
The museum offers information about the local Sauk and Fox Tribe, Mississippi River commerce, and LeClaire’s history.
15. Lake Okoboji
Okoboji is one of the best places to visit in Iowa because it offers many opportunities for amusement and relaxation. The glacier-carved lakes that stretch across the border of Minnesota and travel southwest of it cover an area of approximately 15,000 acres and are the primary draw for visitors to this region.
In Okoboji, the primary focus is on activities on or around the water, such as boating, fishing, parasailing, kayaking, and just about anything else you can think of.
In addition, there are several golf courses, an amusement park, over 20 miles of trails, opportunities for picnics and camping, museums, live music, and shopping for antiques, as well as other activities. Spend at least a few days in Okoboji so you can take advantage of everything the city has to offer.
16. Field of Dreams
The baseball field and farm featured in the 1989 film with the same name as the location are known as The Field of Dreams. Despite the fact that movie fans are likely to be the majority of the attraction’s visitors, it continues to draw a large number of tourists.
When you visit the farm, established in 1906, you will see feed corn planted all around the field in various locations.
Also you will notice that a nearby family plants their corn with great care. In order to provide the best possible experience for visitors, they make certain that each row faces the park.
17. Grotto of the Redemption
The Grotto of Redemption is widely regarded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” In 2001, it has been declared as “miracle in stone” on the National Register of Historic Places. The Grotto comprises a total of nine grottos, each of which depicts a separate event in the life of Christ. It is also the largest artificial Grotto in the world. It is home to the most significant number of treasures and precious stones that can be discovered in a single location.
18. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Hoover was the 31st president. A year after his death, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was established in his hometown West Branch. Visitors can see his humble origins at the National Historic Landmark.
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site has restored buildings on 28 acres. The site includes replicas of his birthplace cottage, his father’s blacksmith shop, a classroom, and a meeting house. Tour visitors can enter each building.
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is a recent addition. It has archives, media, and artifacts from his life and presidency.
19. Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
Many routes pass through Iowa, which was once a prominent railroad state. As part of an 1890s-era railroad, the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad was founded in 1983. As a tourist destination, the Des Moines River Valley’s historic railroad is a popular choice for visitors.
It’s an 11-mile journey along the valley, passing through the Fraser mining town and across the Bass Point Creek High Bridge. Views of the Iowa countryside can be enjoyed from the comfort of the train. For those who opt to dine on the train, there is an option to purchase a dining cart. Every year, the train transports almost 30,000 people. During the holidays, it offers unique rides. Visit the historical center to see exhibits containing railroad-related artifacts and memorabilia.
20. American Gothic House & Center
The American Gothic painting, one of the most recognizable images of rural life in the United States, has been seen by most people. As a result of the painting’s widespread recognition, the house that serves as the backdrop in Eldon, Iowa, is a popular tourist destination.
The American Gothic House is among the best examples of American gothic-style architecture. It was constructed in the late 1800s and is now recognized as a historic landmark by the National Park Service.
Grant Wood finished the American Gothic painting, titled after the house’s design, in 1930. After touring the neighborhood, he decided on this house as the subject of his artwork. Since it became well-known, there have been numerous preservation attempts to keep it looking good.
A neighboring visitor center offers a wide variety of clothing and props for visitors to use in front of the house for photos. Lately, the house’s first floor has been opened up for public visits.
21. Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Pappajohn Sculpture Park is considered as one of the largest sculpture parks in the United States,located in Des Moines. The Western Gateway Park’s Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a 4.4-acre outdoor exhibition space dedicated to showcasing the work of world-renowned artists worldwide.
Located downtown, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park was opened in 2009. The Pappajohn’s, a prominent and well-known couple in the art world, donated a substantial amount of paintings that sparked the project.
In addition to Nomade, the park’s largest sculpture, visitors can see pieces by well-known artists such as Keith Haring, Ai Weiwei, and Louise Bourgeois. There is no cost to enter or use the facilities as a public park, including grass for a picnic or for taking pictures.
Take a tour of Brucemore and learn about three of the city’s wealthiest families while you are there. The Sinclair’s Douglases and the Halls were two of the most influential families in the area when the estate was established in the 1880s.
In addition to the three-story mansion’s 21 rooms and 26 acres of land, the property features various gardens and a pond. When the estate was donated to the town, a culture and art center was created in its replacement.
Brucemore attracts thousands of tourists annually for various events, performances, festivals, and more. Tours are also available. It is possible to learn about the lives of the former residents and their contributions to the community by taking a tour.
23. Ledges State Park
An early example of an Iowa state park, Ledges State Park, was established in 1924. (and among the best things to do in Iowa). Flooding and dam construction affected many parts of the area’s terrain. Still, they’re now a popular destination for people who love the great outdoors.
There are several unique natural landscape elements at Ledges State Park. Flowing through it is the Des Moines River, which has a 100-foot-deep gorge. Additionally, artificial constructions such as a stone bridge, stone cottages, and stone walls dot the landscape as a unique feature.
Hiking, canoeing, camping, and spotting wildlife are some of the most popular activities in the park.
24. National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
Dedicated to the study of Czech and Slovak history, culture, and artifacts can be found in the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. The Czech and Slovak American community in Cedar Rapids, where it is located, has a long history. The museum keeps a record of the region’s rich history while also working to educate the public about it.
Initially the museum housed only a few artifacts. It’s now a massive complex with more than 50,000 square feet of space, thanks to several moves and additions. Exhibition galleries, a library with Slavic language texts, a theater, an amphitheater, and an event area are all located in the current building.
The museum’s rotating and permanent exhibits offer a wide range of topics related to the Slavic peoples. An immigrant home and a miniature Czech hamlet are also on display. On the museum’s terrace, guests may take in the river and the city skyline of Cedar Rapids.