When it comes to travel destinations, Iowa may not be the first place that comes to mind. However, this hidden gem of the Midwest has a lot to offer for those willing to explore. From sprawling cornfields to picturesque prairies and traditional towns, Iowa boasts a unique charm that is worth experiencing.

Iowa is a relaxing destination that offers a unique opportunity to see a side of the nation that remains hidden from most travelers. People who mainly travel to the east or west coast of the US will certainly appreciate a change of scenery and change of atmosphere.

So, if you are interested in exploring Iowa join us for this full travel guide. We’ll give you a quick overview of visiting Iowa and tips on how to make the best out of your vacation.

Discover the Hidden Gems of Iowa

Iowa is a state filled with hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Here are some of the must-visit attractions in Iowa:

  1. Field of Dreams Movie Site: If you’re a fan of the classic film “Field of Dreams,” a visit to the movie site is a must. Walk on the iconic baseball diamond and feel the magic of the movie come to life.
  2. The Bridges of Madison County: Made famous by the best-selling novel and subsequent movie, the bridges of Madison County offer a romantic and picturesque setting. Take a drive or stroll through the covered bridges and enjoy the scenic views.
  3. Maquoketa Caves State Park: Explore the underground wonders of Maquoketa Caves State Park. With over six miles of caves and trails, this park is perfect for hiking and spelunking enthusiasts.
  4. Grotto of the Redemption: Located in West Bend, the Grotto of the Redemption is a unique religious site. It features a series of nine grottos that depict scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, all made from a wide variety of minerals and semi-precious stones.
  5. Iowa State Capitol: Pay a visit to the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Take a guided tour and admire the stunning architecture and beautiful artwork that adorns this historic building.
Iowa State Capitol
The Iowa State Capitol Building

Why Visit Iowa?

There are several reasons why you should consider visiting Iowa:

  • Scenic Beauty: Iowa is known for its picturesque landscapes, including sprawling cornfields, rolling prairies, and scenic river valleys. Take a road trip through the state and enjoy the breathtaking views along the way.
  • Outdoor Adventures: Whether you’re into hiking, biking, boating, or fishing, Iowa offers a wealth of outdoor activities. Explore the state parks, lakes, and trails that make Iowa a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Rich History and Culture: Iowa is steeped in history and culture. From historic landmarks and museums to vibrant arts and music scenes, Iowa always has something to discover and learn about.
  • Delicious Food: Iowa is known for its farm-to-table cuisine and delicious local specialties. Don’t miss the chance to try Iowa’s famous sweet corn, breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, or mouthwatering steak.
  • Warm Hospitality: Iowans are known for their friendly and welcoming nature. Experience the warm hospitality of the Midwest as you explore the state and interact with the locals.

Iowa may not be the most popular tourist destination, but it definitely has its charm. Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventures, unique attractions, or a taste of the Midwest, Iowa has something for everyone. So pack your bags and embark on a journey to discover the hidden gems of Iowa!

Iowa Travel Guide

Exploring Vibrant Downtowns and Charming Communities

Downtown Des Moines
The downtown area of Des Moines

Iowa is an inviting State in the heartland of the United States, offering visitors a unique blend of vibrant downtowns and charming communities. Whether you’re looking for cultural experiences, historical landmarks, or simply a welcoming small-town atmosphere, Iowa has something for everyone. Here are some highlights of what you can expect when exploring Iowa’s downtowns and communities:

1. Des Moines: The capital city of Iowa, Des Moines, offers a vibrant downtown area with a variety of shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. Visit the iconic State Capitol Building, stroll along the Des Moines Riverwalk, and explore the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. You can also immerse yourself in art and culture at the Des Moines Art Center or enjoy interactive exhibits at the Science Center of Iowa.

2. Dubuque: Situated on the Mississippi River, Dubuque is known for its historic architecture and picturesque scenery. Take a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator for panoramic views of the city, visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, or explore the charming Old Main District. You can even experience the beauty of the Mississippi River with a riverboat cruise.

3. Amana Colonies: Step back in time by visiting the Amana Colonies, a collection of seven historic German villages. Explore the unique shops, galleries, and restaurants in Amana and learn about the communal lifestyle of the Amana Society. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample some delicious German cuisine and homemade goods.

4. Madison County Covered Bridges: Fans of the novel and movie “The Bridges of Madison County” will be delighted to see the picturesque covered bridges that inspired the story. Take a scenic drive through Madison County and marvel at the beautiful craftsmanship of these historic structures.

These are just a few examples of the many vibrant downtowns and charming communities Iowa has to offer. Each town has its own character and attractions, making it worth exploring beyond the big cities.

Outdoor Recreation in Iowa

Despite being a landlocked state, Iowa provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. From serene natural lakes to rolling plains and riverbanks, there are numerous places to enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Here are some of the top outdoor recreation options in Iowa:

1. Iowa State Parks: Iowa is home to a variety of state parks, offering hiking trails, camping sites, and recreational activities. Discover the beauty of Lake Okoboji, explore the sand dunes at Honey Creek Resort, or enjoy boating and fishing at Lake Macbride State Park.

2. Water Adventures: While Iowa may not have an ocean coastline, it boasts the Iowa Great Lakes, a collection of natural lakes perfect for water adventures. Join the ranks of sailboats and pontoons on Lake Okoboji, grab a drink at a lakeside bar, or relax and swim at the beaches.

3. Wildlife Viewing: Iowa’s diverse natural landscapes make it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Visit Effigy Mounds National Monument to see ancient Native American burial mounds and spot various bird species. You can also go birdwatching at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge or explore the Loess Hills for beautiful vistas and unique flora and fauna.

Whether you enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, or simply taking in the beauty of nature, Iowa offers plentiful opportunities for outdoor recreation. Soak in the natural splendor and create lasting memories in this picturesque state.

Mississippi River in Iowa
The Mississippi River in Iowa

Must-See Attractions in Iowa

When visiting Iowa, there are several must-see attractions that showcase the state’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and architectural wonders. Here are three sights that should be on every traveler’s itinerary:

Field of Dreams: A Visit to the Iconic Movie Site

Located in Dyersville, Iowa, the Field of Dreams Movie Site is a must-visit destination for fans of the iconic movie. Built on a family-century farm, the site features a baseball diamond carved into the heart of the farm. Visitors can explore the field, reenact scenes from the movie, and even play a game of catch. The site also offers tours of the Field of Dreams House, which has been restored to look just like it did in the movie. It’s a nostalgic experience that will transport you back to the magic of the film.

The Bridges of Madison County: A Journey Through Scenic Beauty

Madison County is the Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa, home to the largest group of covered bridges in the western half of the Mississippi Valley. Exploring the bridges provides a scenic adventure that takes you through picturesque landscapes. Each bridge has its own unique charm and history. Some bridges, like the Roseman Bridge, are famous for their appearances in movies and novels, such as “The Bridges of Madison County.” Whether you’re a history buff or a fan of beautiful landscapes, a visit to the covered bridges is a must.

Historic Park Inn Hotel: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece

Mason City is home to the Historic Park Inn Hotel, the last remaining hotel designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This architectural masterpiece showcases Wright’s signature style and is a treat for design enthusiasts. The hotel has been beautifully restored while incorporating modern conveniences. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn about the history of the hotel and explore its elegant interiors. Staying overnight at the hotel is also a unique experience, immersing you in the ambiance of a bygone era.

These attractions are just a glimpse of what Iowa has to offer. From its iconic movie sites to its scenic beauty and architectural wonders, Iowa is a destination that offers something for every traveler. Explore and discover the hidden gems of the Hawkeye State.

Note: The data provided for this blog section is accurate as of the time of writing. Please check the respective websites for the latest information on attractions, tours, and accommodations. 

Unique Experiences in Iowa

Roadside Attractions: Discovering the Quirky Side of Iowa

Albert the Bull
Jritchie46, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When exploring Iowa, don’t miss out on the opportunity to discover its unique roadside attractions. From giant sculptures to unusual museums, these attractions offer a glimpse into the quirky side of Iowa:

  • Albert the Bull: Located in Audubon, Iowa, Albert is a 45-ton, 28-foot-tall concrete replica of a Hereford bull. Push a button, and he’ll tell you his story.
  • Snake Alley: Located in Burlington, Iowa, Snake Alley is known as the “World’s Crookedest Street.” Unlike San Francisco’s famous crooked street, Snake Alley doesn’t have any traffic back-ups and offers a unique driving experience.
  • Old Jail Museum: Located in Independence, Iowa, the Old Jail Museum is the largest revolving jail in the U.S. Although it no longer revolves, it provides a glimpse into the horror of Victorian criminal justice.
  • Matchstick Marvels Museum: Located in Gladbrook, Iowa, this museum showcases impressively-detailed giant models made entirely out of wooden matchsticks.
  • Field of Dreams Movie Site: Located in Dyersville, Iowa, the Field of Dreams Movie Site preserves the 1959 site of the last performance of rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper before their plane crashed nearby.

For more unusual tourist attractions and sights in Iowa, you can visit Travel Iowa to explore a comprehensive guide.

Regional Flavors: Sample Iowa’s Hearty Foods and Craft Breweries

Iowa is not just known for its cornfields; it also offers a vibrant food and craft brewery scene. Here are some regional flavors to sample during your visit:

  • Hearty Foods: Iowa is famous for its comfort foods, including dishes like Iowa pork tenderloin sandwiches, Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches, breaded pork tenderloin, and corn-fed beef.
  • Craft Breweries: Iowa’s craft brewing industry is thriving, offering a wide range of award-winning beers. Many breweries are known for their innovative flavors and local ingredients. Some popular breweries to visit include Alluvial Brewing Company, Pulpit Rock Brewing Company, and Keg Creek Brewing Company.

For more information on breweries, wineries, and distilleries in Iowa, you can visit the Travel Iowa website.

Covered Bridges of Madison County: A Journey Through History

A visit to Iowa wouldn’t be complete without exploring the covered bridges of Madison County. Made famous by the novel and movie “The Bridges of Madison County,” these historic landmarks offer a journey through history. Here are some key details about the covered bridges:

  • Madison County is known as the “Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa,” with the largest group of covered bridges in one area in the western half of the Mississippi Valley.
  • The bridges are historically significant and were all added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.
  • Touring the covered bridges is a popular activity, and guided tours are available to provide insights into their construction, history, and local historical information.

To plan your visit to the covered bridges of Madison County, you can visit the Madison County Iowa Chamber & Welcome Center for maps, brochures, and tour information.

Iowa offers a variety of unique experiences that allow visitors to explore its quirky attractions, savor its regional flavors, and immerse themselves in its rich history.

Closing Thoughts

Iowa is one of these places that people must visit to truly understand. We definitely won’t recommend it to all and every traveler though. Those who enjoy the sunshine and the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico or those who love the vibrant atmosphere of California might find Iowa lacking.

However, those who appreciate slow travel and those who want to explore some of the best small towns in the US will enjoy Iowa. They will enjoy the hospitality, the amazing food, and the many local businesses they can support by traveling to these parts of the nation.