Ten Offbeat Attractions and Things to Do in Iowa
Iowa is a growing, vital and beautiful state of scenic byways, genuinely hospitable people, cosmopolitan cities and significant historic sites. Whether you live in Iowa, are relocating to Iowa or are looking for a unique place to get away from it all in any season of the year, the state of Iowa will serve you up a double helping of fun, relaxation and wonderful attractions. Once you’ve visited Iowa, you’ll return again and again to sample more of the friendly charm and offbeat personality of the “land between two rivers”.
If you’re traveling to or through Iowa this summer, there are absolute must-sees in each of the state’s ten designated travel areas. Here’s a quick run through of each area with a quick overview and a specific attraction that can’t be missed.
The Port of Burlington on the Mississippi River is home to an official State of Iowa Welcome Center, offering information about local attractions and about the state as a whole. You’ll find Welcome Centers throughout Iowa, providing amenities and information for travelers to help you get around and make plans for your days and nights. Southeast is a land of discovery, with rocky trails and underground river caves just waiting for exploration. Starr’s Cave Nature Center and Preserve offers a taste of what the region has to offer, with limestone bluffs, three caves open to visitors and restored prairie land. The Preserve also offers special events during the summer, including concerts and lecture series.
Take full advantage of the sweeping prairie winds on one of South Central Iowa’s jewel-like lakes, or enjoy the view from high above on a balloon ride. South Central Iowa is home to the Amana Colonies, seven villages that form a religious communal society that is unique to the area. There are seven Amana Heritage Sites that are maintained by the Amana Heritage Society, and no visit to South Central Iowa is complete without a walking tour of the Amana Heritage Trail. For a very special treat, take the Amana GPS tour, a treasure hunt that leads you through some of the most beautiful and historic sites of the area by GPS coordinates.
The southwestern part of Iowa celebrates its western heritage, and there’s a distinctly wild west flair to the area. If you can, plan your trip to Iowa to coincide with the River City Roundup or the Sydney Iowa Championship Rodeo, two of the biggest events on the Pro Rodeo circuit. You’ll have all the fun and activities of a full scale rodeo and country fair, with agricultural events, calf-roping, bull-riding and bronc-busting, along with some of the best headliners in country music taking the events stage during the evenings.
Leave the kids with grandma and grandpa and head up the western border of Iowa for a very adult getaway. Start with a tour of Iowa’s small but thriving wine country, in and around Loess, Iowa. You can visit half a dozen vineyards, taste their specialty wines (many of them award winners), and enjoy the various treats that vineyard owners have paired up with their wines. Later, board the Ameristar Riverboat Casino in Council Bluffs to enjoy a luxurious night-into-morning of gambling, dining and entertainment on board Iowa’s largest riverboat.
Bring out the kid in your entire family with a visit to one of Northwest Iowa’s most popular “tourist” attractions, the Ice Cream Capital of the World. LeMars, Iowa is the home of Wells Dairy, makers of Blue Bunny Ice Cream since 1869. You can tour the production facility, then dig into samples of all your favorite flavors. After you’ve had your fill, head out to Lake Okoboji, home of Arnold Amusement Park, the oldest amusement park west of the Mississippi and home of one of the top ten wooden roller coasters in the world.
North Central Iowa abounds with lakes for fishing and boating, trails through woods and prairie and railroads. Spend a day at the Iowa Railway Museum, culminating with a ride on the historic Boone & Scenic Railroad in Boone. There are several different tours and scenic rides that you can take. The best of the lot – a two and a half hour scenic ride on the historic “City of Los Angeles” or “City of San Francisco” capped off with an elegant dinner served on board, just as it was during the heyday of the railroads.
Napoleon met his Waterloo, but we’re betting that it wasn’t anywhere near as much fun as the small city in Northeast Iowa. Spend a weekend – or a week – and you still won’t run out of things to do. You can immerse yourself in arts and culture with the Waterloo Center for the Arts Public Art Walking Tour, or enjoy the Symphony at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. Take a dip into history with a visit to one of the many historical and heritage museums in the area. When you’ve taken in all the culture you can handle, head over to the Lost Island Water Park to let off some steam.
In East Iowa, you’ll want to do the museum tour. Iowa is home to dozens of museums, but some of the best are located in the East region. Our favorite of the lot is the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville that has housed over 30,000 farm toys. While you’re in Dyersville, you can visit the movie set of Field of Dreams, the Dyer Botsford House and Doll Museum and the German Heritage House. Finish off your day with a hike along the Heritage Recreation Trail, or set up camp at a local campground so you can hit the museums in Dubuque tomorrow.
Our pick for must-see attraction in the East Central region of Iowa is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Opened in 1962 to honor Iowa’s only president, the Museum has become nationally recognized as a center for study of the twentieth century and the American presidency. Alongside the letters and exhibits about Hoover, you’ll also find the Laura Ingalls Wilder resources, available to teachers, students and visitors.