Top attractions in Iowa
Pastures and fields of corn cover much of the heart of the Heartland, but theres much more to Iowa than its famously green fields. Our dramatic bluffs along the Mississippi River, quintessential small towns, and vibrant midsize cities like Des Moines offer countless reasons to explore the Hawkeye State. These including Dubuques outstanding National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Decorahs Norwegian heritage, the rolling Loess Hills, and the dramatic limestone formations of Maquoketa Caves State Park.
Early settlers of Clayton County often referred to the strange noises coming from a hole at the base of the hill along Bloody Run Creek. On Spook Cave’s underground boat tour, guides explain the discovery, development and history of the natural limestone cave and area. View stalactites and other natural formations with plenty of photo opportunities. No walking involved, fully lighted, out of the weather and always 47 degrees.
As one of the most commonly photographed places in the state, it is no surprise that Pikes Peak State Park is a top Iowa attraction. During your trip, climb the bluff 500 feet to get breathtaking views of where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers meet. There is a half-mile boardwalk that will take you to the Bridal Veil Falls, well worth several minutes of observation.
The museum features a permanent collection of 19th and 20th century American art, and the largest collection anywhere of puppets, marionettes and related props made by the famous puppeteer Bil Baird. Visitors can view changing exhibitions of sculptures, graphics, crafts and paintings. Enjoy art festivals, programs, music concerts, films and classes.
The largest motor home manufacturing facility in the world, Winnebago Industries, Inc., is located in Forest City in what is referred to as the most productive 60 acres in North Iowa. Founded in 1958, Winnebago became a household name after it became the first recreation vehicle manufacturer to build motor homes in an automotive-style assembly line system.
Features educational displays of Floyd Countys unique natural world and local history. Topics such as prairie ecosystem, native wildlife, fossil beds and their formation, conservation and preservation of our natural resources as well as the history of the Brick and Tile Company provide visitors a greater understanding of Floyd County and this unique area.
Le Mars, located in Northwestern Iowa, has been home to Wells Dairy since 1913. The Wells family still resides in Le Mars, along with nearly 10,000 other citizens who are proud to live, work and play in a community that has prospered since 1869. Visitors can view the past, present and future of dairy production with a tour through a family-friendly production exhibit.
The museum features an exciting collection of military, commercial and general aviation artifacts and memorabilia ranging from the Wright Flyer to the Space Shuttle. You can view military, general aviation and homebuilt static displayed aircraft. The museum also offers hands-on aero-science displays.
This century-old farm in Dyersville made movie history when it became the set of the 1989 baseball film starring Kevin Costner. Sit in the bleachers, run the bases or bat a few balls. The place still looks exactly like you remember from the film. On some summer Sundays, a team of ghosts performs.
A journey along Iowas 325 miles of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway blasts away stereotypical images of a flat Hawkeye State. The massive river eases around a parade of communities from tiny towns to busy mid-size cities with spectacular vistas filling the spaces in between.
Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, opened in late 2008, tells the stories of Americas wars through the lens of five brothers from Iowa who perished in World War II. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium makes science fun for kids with optical illusions, plasma gloves and more. Rensselaer Russell House Museum, built in 1861, has been restored to 1890s Victorian splendor. All are part of the Grout Museum District.
In the green east-central Iowa River Valley along Interstate 80, the seven Amana Colonies have clung to their roots with German steadfastness since 1855. Almost half the residents are descendants of the original German colonists. Local inns, restaurants and shops draw heavily on traditional foods and handicrafts.
Towering stone walls, moss-covered rocks and an emerald canopy unfold around the Maquoketa Caves 16 caves and crawl spaces. Ducking under low hanging rocks and clambering along a roller coaster of steps, visitors feel like real explorers. Bring a flashlight and a towel to wipe the mud off your shoes!
Many people consider the Grotto of Redemption to be the Eighth Wonder of the World and in 2001 this miracle in stone was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The grotto is made up of nine different grottos which portray different scenes in Christs life. It is also the largest of all man-made grottos in the world and has the most gems and precious stones to be found in one location.
The Iowa State Fair is 11 days of farm animals (the Big Boar), midway rides, blue-ribbon prizes, a butter cow, contests, live music and fried food on a stick (deep-fried Snickers bars.) The fairs 400 acres can navigated by using the free downloadable walking tours offered from the fair website. For a view above the crowds, relax for a few minutes on the Sky Glider ride.
A web of looping trails over the sandstone cliffs along Ledges, one of Iowas most popular state parks, is a top hiking spot in Iowa. Four miles of hiking trails lead up and down steep slopes to scenic overlooks and provide access to spectacular views of Peas Creek canyon. While most of the trails include steep portions, a fully accessible interpretive trail to Lost Lake is located at the southern part of the park.
A donation of more than two dozen sculptures worth $40 million instantly transformed a downtown green space in Des Moines. The Des Moines Art Center curates the collection at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which looks especially fabulous at night, when lights illuminate the oversize sculptures. Enjoy walking through the sculptures, but dont miss the art center either. It houses an outstanding contemporary collection.
About 30 miles west of Waterloo, the Barn Quilts of Grundy County adorn more than 60 barns and corncribs. You can traverse over 65 miles of trail and visit the towns of Wellsburg, Conrad and Grundy City; all of which have shops and restaurants to complete your day trip. More barn quilts are added every year.
Founded in 1973 by Robert L. Larsen for two important purposes: To provide an opportunity for gifted young American singers to perform and to educate Midwestern audiences about opera, something they have limited opportunity to experience. Metro Opera has accomplished this by offering three productions each year during the Summer Festival in June and July.
Located near Prairie City on Highway 163 in Jasper County, the refuge reconstructs the native plant and animal communities that greeted Iowas earliest settlers in the mid 1800s. Experience the breathtaking beauty of over 5,000 acres of tallgrass prairie and native midwest wildlife.
One of the most popular cultural attractions in Iowa, providing educational, recreational, and community resources to thousands. Its goal is to provide botanical displays and educational services for the people of Iowa. It is located on 14 acres along the east bank of the Des Moines River, close to downtown.
Twenty miles south of Des Moines, Indianola hosts the annual National Balloon Classic, a week-long festival that has graced the summer skies of central Iowa for more than 40 years. Balloon flights, music performances, a 5K road race, fireworks, a parade and an arts and crafts show are all part of the fun.
Offers exciting, full-sized waterpark attractions. At the center of the park is a Wave Pool featuring over 300,000 gallons and 22,000 square feet of exciting wave action and tube-riding fun. Other attractions include the Otters Den, a 200' speed slide plunge, 340' body slide, kayaking and paddle boats, sand volleyball, an indoor aquatic facility and lots more.
Housing scores of steam traction and stationary engines, antique tractors, agricultural implements and tools, the Midwest Old Threshers also feature a farm house, barn and mill, and exhibits on the use of water and electricity. An exhibit on farm women past and present is also highlighted.
The museum celebrates Iowas remarkable aviation heritage from the states first recorded flight in 1910, to native sons and daughters exploring the universe in space flight. 11 civil aircraft are on display, including some rare examples of early flying machines from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
Filled with too many attractions to count, there is something for everyone here. The biggest attractions in this zone are its glacier-carved lakes that cross the Minnesota border and travel southwest of it, covering around 15,000 acres. Water sports are the main activity in Okoboji and anything from boating to fishing to parasailing to kayaking is available for your enjoyment. There are also multiple golf courses, an amusement park, over 20 miles of trails, picnics, camping, museums, live music, antique shopping, and more to choose from.
Some people might be surprised by this classic vacation spot 210 miles northwest of Des Moines. A string of glacial lakes covers about 15,000 acres, forming the Iowa Great Lakes. Families return to places such as Big Spirit Lake and Okoboji year after year, fishing off the docks and hopping on carnival rides at Arnolds Park, a turn-of-the-last-century theme park that is as retro as they come.
The conservancy offers outdoor recreation including the best trail riding in Iowa. Rent a canoe, mountain bike, draft horse wagon or gator. Take a tour of commercial or alternative agriculture, learn about prairies, astronomy, raptors, local history and more. Try out one of the 35 fishing ponds, take a hike, or try bird watching while you stroll the expansive gardens.
The Hitchcock House is one of the few remaining Underground Railroad “stations” in Iowa. Most of the fugitive slaves passing through Cass County on their way east to Des Moines, Iowa came from the Kansas Territory. The house is open for tours from May 1 - September 30 in the afternoon except for Mondays. It is listed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom registry and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
Display cases hold items which tell the history of the Pioneer Lifestyle, the Mormon Trail and the early settlers in Adair County. Medical and military displays, as well as displays of vintage clothing and accessories, household and small farm implements, antique tools and Indian artifacts are highlighted.