11 Interesting and Beautiful Places to See in Iowa

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I couldn’t get excited about it.

After crossing the country over thirty times I had yet to land in the state of Iowa. I had visions of corn. Popped, creamed, boiled, roasted and coming from everywhere. The only thing I knew about Iowa was that they knew how to grow food and that many of the foods that I love come from the “Food Capital of the World”.

Yet, I just could muster the interest in discovering this place in the middle of the country that, for me seemed pretty boring.

However, this is just because I was ignorant! Iowa has so much to offer, yet is overshadowed by its neighbors of Chicago to the East and the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” of Minnesota to the North.

Iowa has lakes, forests and mighty rivers. It has fun-loving cities and caves for miles underground. While here, you can see the world’s largest strawberry or play baseball on the famous “Field of Dreams”.

There’s a lot to do in this state and I feel poorly that I wouldn’t give it a chance before. So come with me and let’s explore the “Hawkeye State” and all its nooks and crannies!

1. Des Moines

What city is known for the best state fair in the country, a park made by a pizza man and one of the best farmer’s markets on the planet? If you’ve been to Des Moines, Iowa, the capital of this interesting state then you know!

You might not think that a city in Iowa would have it going on, but this young and hip place has great walkable neighborhoods, a thriving art scene and the cost of living is below the national average. That’s tough to find these days.

If you visit, make sure you come in for some of the ten days in August when the best state fair in the country will be showing off its arts, crafts, festival food and fun! You can also visit the Papajohn Sculpture Park and the Downtown Farmer’s Market to top off the day. Eat at Harbinger for small-plate Asian fare or Eatery for scrumptious Mediterranean.

Des Moines really has it going on and you could spend quite some time filling out your days at one of the best places in Iowa to see and experience.

Des Moines by Sam Battaglieri on Unsplash

2. Tour of the covered bridges of Madison County

You may have heard of the book, or may even seen the Meryl Streep classic that put Iowa on the silver screen. However, the Bridges of Madison County are beautiful historic structures that are highly deserving of their Hollywood accolades. This is sure to be one of the coolest places that you tour in Iowa!

Visitors can take a two-hour guided tour of the six remaining bridges and learn all the history and lore of these iconic landmarks in Winterset, Iowa. Take the chance to drive across the Cedar Bridge as it is the only one you can still traverse with your car. Don’t miss the hidden guest book somewhere in the rafters of the Holliwell Bridge. It’s so fun to read about the ones that have come before you.

This is a must see trip as covered bridges are becoming a thing of the past. So, make sure you get in on this tour before you set off to see the rest of the beautiful state of Iowa.

Madison County Bridge by Kiwi Thompson on Unsplash

3. Shrine of the Grotto of Redemption

When Father Dobberstein prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to spare him death from an acute illness, he promised to build a shrine glorifying God. After stockpiling rocks for over a decade, his promise would come to fruition in 1912 as he constructed this amazing place to see In Iowa.

Today, you can tour this unique attraction in West Bend, Iowa and behold its architectural beauty.

The Grotto tells of the story of the Bible from Adam and Eve to The Ten Commandments to the Life of Jesus.

Thousands come to see this work of art and feel the emotion that Father Dobberstein so eloquently conveyed through his passion.

Shrine of the Grotto of Redemption Colin Borsheim on Unsplash

4.  Maquoketa Caves State Park

You can’t visit anywhere in the Midwest without passing signs on the highway for a cave to explore. Maquoketa Cave State Park is an awesome things to see in Iowa, because it boasts the most caves of any state park in the nation. Therefore, you can visit multiple times and see something different.

Explore some of the 13 caves that exist for anyone from a novice to a serious spelunker, ready for an adventure. After visiting the interpretation center, check out the 1,100 foot “Dancehall Cave” and “Shinbone Cave” among others.

There are also six miles of trails to explore the natural bridge and the 17 ton “Balanced Rock”. Camp out at the upgraded campground and do it all again the next day.

Maquoketa Caves by Venti Views on Unsplash

5. Cedar Rapids

Get a taste of old Europe in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with the Czech and Slovak influences that were brought to Iowa in the 1800’s. From the beautiful 26-acre Brucemore Estate and its gardens and woodlands to the famous Paramount Theatre, there are some eclectic things to do in this midwestern city.

Get some exercise by renting a bike and taking on the Cedar River trail on its 12- mile route. See the city and experience nature on this trail that has it all. Then, get some history at the Ushers Ferry Historic Village and see what life was like during the turn of the century.

Finish out the day with a night on the town in “The District”. Here, you will find a mix of Americana eats and Czech treats. There’s also a healthy helping of comfort food jaunts like The Map Room and coffee houses like Kismet Coffee.

Cedar Rapids is an interesting town and an unexpected reprieve that you may not have known you needed. So, make a stop at this little slice of heaven and one of the best cities in Iowa.

6. Iowa State Fair

What could be more fun than eleven days of amusement rides, carnival food, cute animals to pet and side show antics? The Iowa State fair has been pleasing crowds for almost 140 years and it is definitely the most fun place to go when visiting Iowa.

You must visit, but you won’t be alone. In eleven days the Iowa State Fair attracts more than 1 million visitors from all over the world. From sun up to passed sun down, there is never a dull moment.

Participate in the pie eating or bubble gum blowing contest, ride the sky rider or slide down the Giant Slide. Get yourself one of 63 foods to choose from on a stick and pet a sweet little mini goat. Later that night catch a live music show and then visit one of the many food trucks and have an Italian Grinder and some Bauder’s Ice Cream.

The Iowa State Fair is some good old fashioned fun and you’ll carry the memories home with you as you hit the road again.

Iowa State Fair by Britt Fowler on Unsplash

7. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

The Smithsonian Institution knows how to concoct a museum that will excite, interpret and engage you in all things of the natural world and the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is no exception. When in Dubuque, make sure you stop by this unique place to see and one of the best places to go in Iowa.

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is a well-rounded museum that includes an aquarium and tons of natural history for the lover of all things old. The museum celebrates the habitats, animals and the history of all the inhabitants of the Mississippi River by featuring exhibits and experiences that teach about the conservation and preservation of the area.

Enjoy exhibits like the blacksmith shop, experience stories in the cave from days gone by and learn about the first people of the area along with what sustained them for centuries.

Taking the time to stroll through this museum and learn about the Dubuque area will enrich your trip and show you the interesting things you can find in Iowa.

8. Amana Colonies

There’s something about stepping off the beaten path and into an unexpected century. Come see the Amana Colonies and experience the German heritage and history of the area. The Amana Colonies really is a unique experience in Iowa that is difficult to find anywhere else in the U.S.

There’s German food, beer and beautiful architecture. Docents dressed in period dress can guide you through an impeccably kept German town that is steeped in early American history.

You can also enjoy the festivals that the Colonies have throughout the year like Colonies in Bloom and Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is the best time to visit the Amana Colonies for that German spirit shown through food and drink that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Amana by An Hoang on Unsplash

9. Indian Creek Nature Center

People flock to the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids for the fun outdoor time and to learn about their natural world. Their trails, programs and events are a time honored tradition for families of the area as well as travelers like you!

Start at Indian Creek’s Amazing Space, one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the country. While you’re there, get some local wild honey or maple syrup at the Creekside Shop.

Then, hit the trails on one of their nine trails through wetlands, forests and prairies to see Iowa in its natural element. If you are lucky, you will be visiting when the center has one of its award winning festivals like the Maple Syrup Festival or Manarch Fest.

Save time to visit the Etzel Sugar Grove Farm, a regenerative, sustainable farm that can teach you the ways of raising organic produce and the preservation of watersheds and the environment. There are new and exciting experiences to be had at one of Iowa’s most interesting places to go.

10. Iowa City

In its hey day it was the capital of Iowa, but feelings that the capital should be in the middle of the state to more adequately serve all, moved it to Des Moines when the area became a state in 1857.

However, you can still tour the old Capitol Building, now a museum and see the grand architecture, history and exhibits. After, you can get out in nature and check out the Devonian Fossil Gorge and take a look at the hundreds of fossils along the trail.

Later, take a stroll down to Big Grove Brewery & Taproom, listen to some live music and try a pint of their Citrus Surfer, their newest hoppy concoction. When you have finished, watch the sun set with the “Sitting Man”, a 110-foot limestone statue that welcomes you to join him in the nightly show.

Iowa City should be on your list for places to stop across the state for a good time and a great place to rest from your travels as its one of the best places to visit in Iowa.

Old Capitol by Stephen Ogunnubi on Unsplash

11. Pikes Peak State Park

If you are road tripping with a tent or even an RV like we did, you have to make Pike’s Peak State Park a part of your travels. If chasing waters falls and amazing views is your jam, then this place will not disappoint as it is one of the best vacation spots in Iowa.

Wake up early at your campsite and set out to trek on the four-mile trail to Point Ann and see the fossils along the way and the breathtaking 500 foot views that over look the town of McGregor and the “old Mississip”.

Later, take the easy boardwalk to see the amazing Bridal Veil Falls and Bear Mound, an effigy built by Native Americans. Nature is in abundance at this park that champions geological history among the native flora and fauna. Don’t miss this chance to stop and recharge at this fantastic park.

Did we miss anything you would like to see in Iowa? We’d love to hear from you!

Leave what you’d like to see in the comments!

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