Home / U.S. State Travel Guides / U.S. Vacations / U.S. National Parks / U.S. State Highpoints / U.S. Road Trip Planning

IOWA TRAVEL GUIDE

Albert the Bull in Audubon, Iowa

Welcome to the bigroads.com travel guide to Iowa! Hopefully this page helps provide some inspiration and tips to help you plan your next trip to Iowa.

Take note that I build and maintain this website as both a hobby and public service. I take joy in performing travel research and sharing my experiences and adventures. I do not make any profit from this website, and you will see no ads on it. Your constructive feedback about this site and its content is encouraged. Please email me if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement.

Author/Contributor: Greg Parsons

OVERVIEW



All 50 U.S. states are worth visiting, and I say that without hesitation. While much of Iowa is farmland, there's plenty of natural beauty to be found in the Hawkeye state. Spin through some of Iowa's finest state parks-such as Ledges State Park Maquoketa Caves State Park, and Pikes Peak State Park-and see if you disagree. Iowa has also embraced the rails-to-trail movement, and you'll find some truly exceptional cycling paths there (including the buzz-worthy High Trestle Trail).

TOP 10 ATTRACTIONS IN IOWA



Are you short on time or struggling to choose something to do or see in Iowa? Here are my selections for the top 10 attractions or experiences in Iowa, in no particular order:

See the six covered bridges of Madison County
Cycle the High Trestle Trail, a fantastic 25-mile paved rail trail with a series of diamond-shaped steel structures to ride through
Marvel at the art sculptures found at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines
Stop at the world's largest truck stop on I-80 in Walcott
Walk among 200 prehistoric Native American mounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument
Step on the famous baseball field shown in the Field of Dreams
Go deep into a cave and see a natural bridge at Maquoketa Caves State Park
See more than 200 motorcycles on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa
Score great views of the Mississippi River from Pikes Peak State Park
Visit the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, believed to be the largest grotto in the world

If I could select only one place to visit in Iowa, I would select one of Iowa's amazing rail trails and cycle it. Maybe the High Trestle Trail?

For a list of 10 great attractions in each U.S. state, click here.

5-STAR ATTRACTIONS IN IOWA



Here is my opinionated list of 5-star attractions in Iowa. I believe each of these attractions should be on your Iowa bucket list since they are all noteworthy from a national perspective:

Western Iowa (including Sioux City and the Iowa suburbs of Omaha, NE)
Albert The Bull, Audubon - supposedly the world's largest bull statue; arguably Iowa's greatest roadside attraction
Danish Windmill, Elk Horn - authentic 1848 windmill in the largest rural Danish settlement in the U.S.
Horseshoe Council Bluffs, Council Bluffs - arguably Iowa's best casino
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Sioux City - one of several great Lewis & Clark museums in the U.S.; on the banks of the Missouri River
Sauk Rail Trail - excellent 33-mile paved rail trail that travels between Lake View & Carroll
Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City - a top-rated regional history museum
Smiley Face Water Tower, Adair - one of several water towers in the U.S. that is painted yellow with a smiley face
Trinity Heights, Sioux City - giant statues of Jesus (33ft) and the Virgin Mary (30ft)
Wabash Trace Natural Trail - a top-rated, partially-paved 63-mile rail trail that travels from Council Bluffs to Blanchard

Central Iowa (including Des Moines, Pella, and Winterset)
Adventureland, Altoona - Iowa's best amusement park
Blank Park Zoo, Des Moines - the only accredited zoo in Iowa
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Boone - one of the best scenic railroads in the Midwest
Capitol Building, Des Moines - impressive gold-domed state capitol building; the building "shines like a Renaissance palace"
Covered bridges of Madison County - visit six covered bridges made famous by a Hollywood movie (e.g. Roseman, Imes, Cedar, Hogback, etc.)
Des Moines - the capital and largest city in Iowa has an impressive state capitol building and also a few great museums and green spaces
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines - one of the best art museums in the Midwest
Des Moines Art Festival, Des Moines - a famous three-day arts festival that is typically held in June
Elwood the Gnome, Ames - the world's largest concrete gnome; a great photo-worthy roadside attraction
Greater Des Moines Botanical Center, Des Moines - beloved indoor and outdoor botanic garden
Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend - supposedly the largest grotto in the world
High Trestle Trail - fantastic 25-mile paved rail trail that includes a section with 43 diamond-shaped steel structures
Historical Village Museum & Vermeer Mill Museum, Pella - rumored to be tallest working grain windmill in the U.S.
Iowa State Fair, Des Moines - one of the oldest and largest state fairs in the country
Ledges State Park, Madrid - state park renown for natural beauty and several Civilian Conservation Corp structures (e.g. arch stone bridge)
Living History Farms, Urbandale - interactive working agricultural history museum
Matchstick Marvels Museum, Gladbrook - quirky museum with impressive art pieces made of matchsticks
Pappajohn Sculpture Park, Des Moines - small but impressive outdoor sculpture park in downtown Des Moines
Pella - a very small city known for its Dutch-style architecture and huge windmill; has a historic downtown area
Rail Explorers, Boone - one of several areas in the U.S. for "rail biking" (ride a pedal-powered machine on a railroad track)
Raccoon River Valley Trail - 89-mile paved rail trail from Jefferson to Clive; considered one of the premier long-distance rail trails in the U.S.
Reiman Gardens, Ames - lovely indoor and outdoor gardens
Winterset - a small town close to the six remaining covered bridges of Madison County; location of the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum

Eastern Iowa (including Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Dubuque, and Waterloo)
Amana Colonies, Amana - visit seven rural villages and 1850's-era buildings
American Gothic House, Eldon - the gothic house used in a famous 1930 painting
Dubuque - a medium-sized city where you can ride one of the world's steepest scenic railways, visit the National Mississippi River Museum and score views of the Mississippi River from Eagle Point Park
Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Dubuque - large and currently free botanical gardens
Dunning's Spring Park, Decorah - green space with natural waterfall
Eagle Point Park, Dubuque - offers great views of the Mississippi River and three states (IA, IL, and WI)
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry - see over 200 prehistoric Native American mounds
Fenelon Place Elevator Co., Dubuque - one of the shortest & steepest railways in the world
Field of Dreams Movie Site, Dyersville - famous baseball field from beloved Hollywood movie
Figge Art Museum, Davenport - one of the best art museums in the Midwest
Heritage Trail - excellent 29-mile partially paved rail trail from Dubuque to Dyersville
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch - library and final resting place of the 31st U.S. president
Iowa 80, World's Largest Truck Stop & Trucking Museum, Walcott - supposedly the world's largest truck stop; good museum on site
John Deere Tractor Assembly Plant, Waterloo - tour one of the U.S.'s most famous manufacturers
Lost Island Water Park, Waterloo - one of the best water parks in the Midwest
Lover's Leap Swinging Bridge, Columbus Junction - walk across a famous suspension bridge that is 260+ feet long
Maquoketa Caves State Park, Maquoketa - excellent guided cave tours
Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, Dubuque - rugged, wooded blufflands & burr oak trees
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque - arguably the best of several Mississippi River-focused museums in the U.S.
National Motorcycle Museum, Anamosa - more than 200 motorcycles on display
Nile Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City - beloved stadium that is home to the University of Iowa's college football team (Hawkeyes)
Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor - score great views of the Mississippi River from 500ft tall bluffs; there's also a good seasonal waterfall
Riverboat Twilight, Le Claire - offers one and two-day riverboat cruises along the Mississippi River
Sitting Man, Iowa City - large limestone sculpture of a 20-foot-tall Buddha sitting on a bench; one of Iowa's best roadside attractions
Snake Alley, Burlington - one of the world's most crooked streets; similar to Lombard Street in San Francisco

Are you aware of any other 5-star attractions in Iowa? If so, please email me at gparsons66@hotmail.com.

For a list of 5-star attractions in neighboring states, click on any of these links:  IL  |  MN  |  MO  |  NE  |  SD  |  WI

BEST TOWNS & CITIES TO VISIT IN IOWA



These towns and cities in Iowa are generally regarded as the most interesting to travelers:

Des Moines - the capital and largest city in Iowa has an impressive state capitol building and also a few great museums and green spaces
Dubuque - a medium-sized city where you can ride one of the world's steepest scenic railways, visit the National Mississippi River Museum and score views of the Mississippi River from Eagle Point Park
Pella - a very small city known for its Dutch-style architecture and huge windmill; has a historic downtown area
Winterset - a small town close to the six remaining covered bridges of Madison County; location of the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum

My favorite city in Iowa is Des Moines - I recommend that first-time visitors spend at least 1-2 nights there

Click here if you'd like to see a complete list of towns and cities that I find interesting across the entire U.S.

WHAT IS IOWA FAMOUS FOR?



Here are some things that Iowa is famous or well-known for:

agriculture industry (e.g. corn, pork, soybeans)
Amana colonies
covered bridges (e.g. Madison County)
farms / farmland
political caucuses
rivers (e.g. Mississippi River, Missouri River)

Click here if you'd like to explore what other U.S. states are famous for.

NATIONAL PARKS IN IOWA



Iowa currently does not have any national parks, national forests, or national recreation areas. There are a few other federally-managed parks and properties in the state though, including:

National Monuments
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry - over 200 prehistoric Native American mounds

National Historical Parks / Other National Parks & Properties
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

For more information on Iowa's national parks, visit the Iowa page of the National Park Service. For an overview of all U.S. national parks, click here.

STATE PARKS IN IOWA



Iowa has more than 80 state parks. Many would agree that these represent Iowa's finest state parks:

Ledges State Park, Madrid - state park renown for natural beauty and several Civilian Conservation Corp structures (e.g. arch stone bridge)
Maquoketa Caves State Park, Maquoketa - excellent guided cave tours
Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor - score great views of the Mississippi River from 500ft tall bluffs; there's also a good seasonal waterfall

To see my list of the top 100 state parks in the country, click here.

BEST WATERFALLS IN IOWA



Iowa only has a few natural waterfalls, and they all appear to be highly seasonal. Here are the best waterfalls in Iowa:

Beulah Falls in Spook Cave Campground, McGregor
Bridal Veil Falls in Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor
Malanaphy Springs in Malanaphy Springs State Preserve, Decorah
Woodman Hollow Falls in Woodman Hollow State Preserve, Otho

For a listing of all known waterfalls in Iowa, visit the World Waterfall Database.

BEST SCENIC DRIVES IN IOWA



Here is a list of the best scenic drives in Iowa:

Covered Bridges Scenic Byway - a 82-mile mostly-paved route in the famed Madison County that visits six covered bridges
Great River Road - a 2,069-mile paved route along the Mississippi River that travels from Minnesota to Louisiana; 328 miles are in Iowa
Loess Hills National Scenic Byway - a 225-mile paved route from Sioux City, Iowa south to St. Joseph, Missouri

I haven't driven them yet, but the Driftless Area Scenic Byway, Grant Wood Scenic Byway, Historic Hills Scenic Byway, and/or Western Skies Scenic Byway may also be worthy of inclusion in the list above. I can't tell from my research whether or not they have scenery that is notable on a national scale.

Madison County publishes a great guide of the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway. Click here for that PDF guide.

For a list of great scenic drives in each U.S. state, click here.

BEST RAIL TRAILS IN IOWA



Iowa surprises many cyclists with its excellent rail trails. Altogether, they are more than 200 rail trails in Iowa, making it one of the very best U.S. states for rail trails. Here is a list of some of the best rail trails (or similar cycling paths) in Iowa:

Western Iowa (including Sioux City and the Iowa suburbs of Omaha, NE)
Sauk Rail Trail - 33-mile paved rail trail
Wabash Trace Natural Trail - 63-mile partially paved rail trail; often rated one of the best rail trails in the U.S.

Central Iowa (including Des Moines and Winterset)
Chichaqua Valley Trail - 27-mile paved rail trail
High Trestle Trail - 30-mile paved rail trail; often rated one of the best rail trails in the U.S.
Raccoon River Valley Trail - 89-mile paved rail trail; often rated one of the best rail trails in the U.S.

Eastern Iowa (including Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Dubuque, and Waterloo)
Heritage Trail - 29-mile partially paved rail trail

For detailed information on all known rail trails in Iowa, visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website.

BEST AMUSEMENT PARKS / THEME PARKS IN IOWA



There are a few notable amusement parks in Iowa:

Adventureland, Altoona
Arnolds Park Amusement Park, Arnolds Park
Huck's Harbor, Burlington
Lost Island Waterpark, Waterloo

BEST MUSEUMS IN IOWA



Iowa has a surprising number of notable museums. The best museums in Iowa include:

Western Iowa (including Sioux City and the Iowa suburbs of Omaha, NE)
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Sioux City - one of several great Lewis & Clark museums in the U.S.; on the banks of the Missouri River
Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City - a top-rated regional history museum
Squirrel Cage Jail, Council Bluffs
Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Council Bluffs

Central Iowa (including Des Moines and Winterset)
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines - one of the best art museums in the Midwest
Historical Village Museum & Vermeer Mill Museum, Pella - rumored to be tallest working grain windmill in the U.S.
John Wayne Birthplace & Museum, Winterset
Matchstick Marvels Museum, Gladbrook - quirky museum with impressive art pieces made of matchsticks
National Spring Car Hall of Fame & Museum, Knoxville
Stockman House Museum, Mason City

Eastern Iowa (including Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Dubuque, and Waterloo)
Amana Colonies, Amana - visit seven rural villages and 1850's-era buildings
Figge Art Museum, Davenport - one of the best art museums in the Midwest
Iowa 80, World's Largest Truck Stop & Trucking Museum, Walcott - supposedly the world's largest truck stop; good museum on site
Iowa Children's Museum, Coralville
John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum, Waterloo
National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids
National Farm Toy Museum, Dyersville
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque - arguably the best of several Mississippi River-focused museums in the U.S.
National Motorcycle Museum, Anamosa - more than 200 motorcycles on display
Putnam Museum & Science Center, Davenport

BEST DAY HIKES IN IOWA



Iowa offers a few great hiking trails/areas, including:

Western Iowa (including Sioux City and the Iowa suburbs of Omaha, NE)
Brent's Trail, Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area
Hitchcock Nature Center trails
Loess Hills State Forest trails
Mincer Trail & Sunset Ridge Trail Loop, Waubonsie State Park

Central Iowa (including Des Moines and Winterset)
Canyon Road and Table Rock Loop, Ledges State Park
Lost Lake Loop, Ledges State Park

Eastern Iowa (including Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Dubuque, and Waterloo)
Catfish Trail, Mines of Spain State Recreation Area
Effigy Mounds National Monument trails
Horseshoe Bluff Nature Trail, Mines of Spain State Recreation Area
Maquoketa Caves Loop, Maquoketa Caves State Park
Pikes Peak State Park trails
Wildcat Den Trail, Wildcat Den State Park
Yellow River State Forest trails

The highpoint of Iowa is Hawkeye Point (1,670'), located in the northwestern section of the state. A short walk is required to reach the top.

BEST BACKPACKING TRIPS IN IOWA



Iowa offers a few backpacking opportunities, including:

Backpack Trail in Yellow River State Forest
Preparation Canyon State Park
Stephens State Forest

CLASSIC OUTDOOR ADVENTURES IN IOWA



Iowa offers a few great outdoor adventures, including these classics:

Backpacking the Backpack Trail in Yellow River State Forest
Bouldering in the Ozark Wildlife Area
Canoeing/kayaking the Boone River
Canoeing/kayaking the Lower Des Moines River
Canoeing/kayaking the Maquoketa River
Canoeing/kayaking the Raccoon River
Canoeing/kayaking the Upper Iowa River
Cycling the High Trestle Trail
Cycling the RABGRAI event (cycling the entire state from west to east)
Cycling the Raccoon River Valley Trail
Cycling the Wabash Trace Natural Trail
Mountain biking the Decorah MTB trails
Mountain biking the Sunderbruch Park trails
Mountain biking the Whiterock Conservancy trails
Rock climbing in Backbone State Park
Rock climbing in Indian Bluffs State Wildlife Management Area
Rock climbing in Pictured Rocks County Park
Skydiving in Brooklyn and Winterset
Tubing the Des Moines River
Tubing the Nishnabotna River
Tubing the North Fork of the Maquoketa River
Tubing the Raccoon River
Tubing the Upper Iowa River
Tubing the Wapsipinicon River

SKI RESORTS IN IOWA



There are currently three ski areas in Iowa, and all three are small on a national scale:

Mt. Crescent - 11 trails
Seven Oaks - 11 trails
Sundown Mountain - 21 trails

IOWA TRAVEL TIPS



For offbeat and unique Iowa attractions, visit one or both of these amazing websites: Atlas Obscura and Roadside America

UNIQUE / SPECIALTY FOODS TO TRY IN IOWA



Here are some unique / specialty foods to try while you are in Iowa:

breaded pork tenderloin
chili with cinnamon rolls
cinnamon rolls
corn dogs
fried pork chops
ham balls
loosemeat
pickle wraps
puppy chow
scotcharoos
snickers salad
sour cream raisin pie
steak de burgo
sweet corn on the cob
taverns
tenderloin
turkey and dressing sandwich

For a list of unique foods and mom-and-pop type eateries and restaurants in Iowa (or any other U.S. state), visit the Roadfood.com website.
For a list of unique foods to try in each of the 50 U.S. states, click here.
For a list of the top-rated beers to try in Iowa (or any other U.S. state), visit the Beer Advocate website.

OTHER KEY IOWA INFORMATION



State Capital:
Des Moines

Major Airports:
Des Moines International Airport (DSM)

Largest Cities:
Des Moines (216,273), Cedar Rapids (139,986), Davenport (102,132), Sioux City (86,419), Iowa City (76,222), Ankeny (72,347)

Primary U.S. Interstates:
I-29, I-35, I-80

State Highpoint:
Hawkeye Point (1,670') in Sibley in northwestern Iowa; a short walk is required to reach the top

Professional Sports Teams:
None

Funny or Unique Town/City Names:
Beebeetown and What Cheer

Take note that in general this travel guide intentionally excluded restaurants, lodging/hotels, breweries, wineries/vineyards, and certain other types of attractions (like arcades, ax-throwing, bowling alleys, and escape rooms). These types of places tend to come and go, and keeping up with that would be too challenging. I encourage you to use Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and other travel sites that have reader reviews to find the latest and greatest places that I haven't covered here.



Albert the Bull in Audubon, Iowa
Albert the Bull in Audubon, Iowa


ROAD TRIP GUIDEBOOKS



In addition to the information found on my website, I personally recommend purchasing these road trip/travel-related guidebooks. Click on any book cover to read reviews and/or purchase these books on Amazon.com.

        


MORE U.S. STATE TRAVEL GUIDES



Did you enjoy this state travel guide? If so, here are links to more of my comprehensive U.S. state travel guides:

Alabama Maryland Oregon
Arizona Massachusetts Pennsylvania
Arkansas Michigan Rhode Island
California Minnesota South Carolina
Colorado Mississippi South Dakota
Connecticut Missouri Tennessee
Delaware Montana Texas
Florida Nebraska Utah
Georgia Nevada Vermont
Idaho New Hampshire Virginia
Illinois New Jersey Washington
Indiana New Mexico Washington DC
Iowa New York West Virginia
Kansas North Carolina Wisconsin
Kentucky North Dakota Wyoming
Louisiana Ohio  
Maine Oklahoma  

  Home / U.S. State Travel Guides / U.S. Vacations / U.S. National Parks / U.S. State Highpoints / U.S. Road Trip Planning
Travel & outdoor activities can be extremely dangerous. Use of this website and all of its information is at your own risk! We strongly believe in personal responsibility when it comes to staying safe. We will not be held liable for any injuries and/or death that occur.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
© www.bigroads.com / email: gparsons66@hotmail.com