Discover Iowa: 50 Things You Need to Experience in the Hawkeye State
From delicious food to adventurous state parks and more, Iowa is full of must-see attractions, activities, restaurants, and more that you need to add to your bucket list.

If you have never visited the Hawkeye State, you may not know that it features Ripley’s “Crookedest Street in the World”, is the birthplace of John Wayne, and is home to the largest Danish community in the United States. Experience everything great in the state with these 50 bucket list activities.

Photo

1. Spend a day at Amana Colonies.

The seven villages of Amana Colonies[1] in Amana, Iowa are full of rich German heritage and fun things to do. Attend a local festival, get lost in the shops filled with handmade goods and wine, dine on a variety of international cuisine and, so much more.

Photo

2. Go to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium[2] in Dubuque, Iowa is great for all ages and features both historical and living collections. Experience the Titanic, feed real live paddlefish or visit historic buildings on site like the Mathias Ham House and the Old Jail Museum.

Photo

3. Be inspired by the Grotto of the Redemption.

The Grotto of the Redemption[3] is located in West Bend, Iowa and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Home to the largest collection of precious stones in one location, this incredible place encourages visitors to look upon the scenes of nine different grottos that tell the story of Jesus’ life.

Photo

4. Check out the sculpture park at the Des Moines Art Center.

The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park at the Des Moines Art Center[4] is one attraction that shouldn’t be missed. The 4.4 acres of public art are accompanied by the Art Center itself, which offers exhibitions, permanent modern and contemporary collections, and educational classes and workshops.

Photo

5. Hike the trails at Pikes Peak State Park.

Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true, with magnificent views of the Mississippi River and the bridges connecting Iowa and Wisconsin. Hike to the top of the towering bluffs and immerse yourself in the gorgeous wilderness of Iowa.

Photo

6. Visit Effigy Mounds National Monument.

While you’re at Pike’s Peak State Park, head 15 minutes north to Harpers Ferry where you’ll find the incredible Effigy Mounds National Monument[5]. The monument area is made up of more than 200 mounds of earth, all shaped like animals. They were built by American Indians as ceremonial and sacred sites.

Photo

7. Discover Iowa’s farming culture at Living History Farms.

Learn about the iconic history of Iowa farmers and the story behind agriculture in the Midwest. Living History Farms[6] in Urbandale, Iowa is an open-air museum that’s home to interactive exhibits and three different working farm sites.

Photo

8. Go to the Iowa State Fair.

Held every August, the Iowa State Fair[7] in Des Moines is just one thing every visitor has to experience. Ye Old Mill, the fair’s oldest permanent ride from the early 1900’s, and the infamous sculpted butter cow are just two of the things that make this fair unique.

Photo

9. Eat at Zombie Burger + Drink Lab.

Of all the places in Des Moines to eat, The Zombie Burger + Drink Lab[8] certainly deserves a special mention. This zombie-themed restaurant has two locations — one in West Des Moines and East Village and serves up the traditional American dishes with some very untraditional names. (The Dead Moines and The Walking Ched are two of our favorites.) The West Des Moines Shake Lab also serves some incredible cereal and cake shakes that merit a shout out. I mean, why wouldn’t you want a Zombie Unicorn shake made with Fruity Pebbles?

Photo

10. Get nerdy at the Grout Museum District.

The Grout Museum District[9] in Waterloo, Iowa is home to five different museums: The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, the Grout Museum of History and Science, Carl A. & Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, the Rensselaer Russell House Museum and the Snowden House.

Photo

12. Take a photo in front of the American Gothic House.

Everyone and their mom has recreated the famous 1930’s American Gothic painting at some point, but only the legit ones have actually recreated the scene at the actual house. And in costume. Stop by the American Gothic House[10], also known as the Dibble House, in Eldon, Iowa to get yours.

Photo

11. Head to Okoboji and discover the Iowa Great Lakes.

Okoboji[11] is a city located in northern Iowa’s Dickinson County and is one of the state’s top vacation destinations. The area’s main attractions are the Iowa Great Lakes. They cover 15,000 acres and offer countless opportunities for watersports like sailing, swimming, canoeing, fishing and more.

Photo

13. Bike the High Trestle Trail.

The world class bridge on the 25-mile High Trestle Trail is the cherry on top of a fantastic biking attraction. The High Trestle Bridge[12] on the trail brags a unique structure that mimics the view through a mine shaft. It offers beautiful views of the Des Moines River Valley and looks especially cool at night when it’s lit up.

Photo

15. Splash and play at Lost Island Waterpark.

Located in Waterloo, Iowa, Lost Island Waterpark[13] offers more than a dozen fun attractions ranging from huge water slides to a zipline, a wave pool, adventure mini golf, play areas just for the young kids and more. This hidden gem is the perfect place to spend a hot summer day.

Photo

14. Attend the Pella Tulip Time festival.

Everyone comes out for the parades, vendor booths and ethnic music, food and costumes of the annual Tulip Time Festival in Pella[14], Iowa. During this great celebration of Dutch heritage, the town is filled with gorgeous, blooming tulips and you’ll also have the opportunity to visit the tallest working dutch windmill in America. It was built in Holland and shipped to the United States.

Photo

15. Splash and play at Lost Island Waterpark.

Located in Waterloo, Iowa, Lost Island Waterpark[15] offers more than a dozen fun attractions ranging from huge water slides to a zipline, a wave pool, adventure mini golf, play areas just for the young kids and more. This hidden gem is the perfect place to spend a hot summer day.

Photo

17. Learn about the Animal Kingdom at Blank Park Zoo.

For an amazing time learning about the animals of the world, visit Blank Park Zoo[16] at Des Moines, Iowa. The zoo features tigers, bald eagles, giraffes, and plenty of interactive exhibits to delight all ages.

Photo

16. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

See the simple beginnings of President Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa with a visit to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site[17].

Photo

19. Tour Iowa State Capitol.

Another must-see landmark in Des Moines is the Iowa State Capitol[18]. Explore the hub of the state with informative tours and plenty of educational opportunities. Learn about the state’s government while experiencing the history of the area.

Photo

18. Attend Nordic Fest.

Next up on the list is Nordic Fest[19] in Decorah, Iowa. The festival is brimming with mouthwatering foods, crafts, a lively parade, entertainment, and even a fireworks display. Celebrate the culture of Norway in your own backyard.

Photo

21. Tour Johnny Carson’s birthplace.

Pop culture buffs can rejoice in Corning, Iowa. Visit Johnny Carson’s birthplace[20] and pay homage to the legendary The Tonight Show host. The home still stands in all of its glory, giving a great insight into the humble life of Carson.

Photo

20. Breathe in the fresh air at Ledges State Park.

Ledges State Park[21] in Madrid, Iowa is an amazing place to take in the beauty of nature. The park is brimming with photo opportunities as well as gorgeous scenery. Along with the views, the park offers activities such as camping, bicycling, and visiting the Hutton Memorial.

Photo

23. Go exploring at Maquoketa Caves State Park.

While in Maquoketa, Iowa, spend some time in the great outdoors at Maquoketa Caves State Park[22]. Aside from exploring the gorgeous caves, you can camp, hike trails, or have a picnic. Tons of adventure is to be had, so make sure you check it out if you are thirsting for excitement.

Photo

22. Satisfy your sushi cravings at Miyabi 9.

For the traveling foodie, Miyabi 9[23] in Des Moines is a must-try sushi experience. With fresh ingredients and stunning flavors, your taste buds are in for a real treat.

Photo

24. Check out the Madison County covered bridges.

The Madison County covered bridges[24] in Madison County, Iowa are an important aspect of the county’s history. While in Madison County, explore the bridges, take photos, or even visit the birthplace of John Wayne.

Photo

25. Get lost in nature at Greater Des Moines Botanical Center.

For those with a green thumb, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center is a botanical haven. Visit the center and celebrate the local plant life, take some great photos, or brush up on your gardening skill set.

Photo

24. Check out the Madison County covered bridges.

The Madison County covered bridges[25] in Madison County, Iowa are an important aspect of the county’s history. While in Madison County, explore the bridges, take photos, or even visit the birthplace of John Wayne.

Photo

28. Unleash your inner speed-demon at Iowa Speedway.

When visiting Newton, Iowa, the Iowa Speedway[26] is a must-see stop. The speedway is home to many different races throughout the season, making it a perfect venue for motorheads to get in their thrills.

Photo

26. Attend the Scenic Drive Festival.

The Scenic Drive Festival[27] is great for getting views of the beautiful fall foliage as well as perusing local crafts and booths. The festival is usually held on October, rain or shine. Bring the entire family for a fun time and some picturesque views in in Keosauqua, Iowa.

Photo

29. Scan the skies at the National Balloon Classic.

A nine day event in Indianola, Iowa, the National Balloon Classic showcases the brilliant and competitive hot air balloon hobby. The balloons are amazing and even feature unique shapes. Great for photo opportunities, the festival also features delicious foods, Nite Glow Extravaganza, fireworks, and more. The event runs from July to August.

Photo

27. Pick up a book at Prairie Lights.

Your inner bookworm is about to be cut loose at Prairie Lights[28] in Iowa City. This reader's paradise features a cafe, book club, plenty of novels, new and old, to peruse, and even signed copies of books you won’t find anywhere else. If you love a good book, make sure you check it out.

Photo

30. Hone your green thumb at Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.

Whether you hike the trails or take a tour, the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens[29] captures natural beauty in a way that you must experience first-hand. With more than 60 types of gardens, the botanical displays are absolutely breathtaking. The garden even hosts weddings, festivals, and other special events throughout the year.

Photo

31. Satisfy your inner filmmaker at Field of Dreams movie set.

If you love movies, the Field of Dreams movie set[30] in Dyersville, Iowa is not only recognizable, but a must-see area. The Field of Dreams movie was released in 1989 and even became an Academy Award nominee for “Best Picture of the Year”. Revisit this classic tale as you mark the set off of your bucket list.

Photo

33. All aboard the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad.

Visit the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad[31] for a unique adventure in Boone, Iowa. The railway features many different train rides throughout the seasons including dinner and dessert trains, a picnic train, and during the fall, The Pumpkin Express train ride. With so many different sights to see and enjoy, a train ride like this is definitely a great addition to any Iowa getaway.

Photo

32. Sink your teeth into a juicy steak at Northwestern Steakhouse.

All of this adventuring is sure to work up an appetite, so make your next meal memorable at Northwestern Steakhouse[32] in Mason City, Iowa. The menu features delicious options such as their famous steak, roasted chicken, broiled shrimp, lamb chops and more. It would almost be a crime if you left this restaurant hungry.

Photo

36. Tour the Historic Governor’s Mansion.

Iowa’s Historic Governor’s Mansion[33] in Des Moines is a great way to experience the history of the Iowan government. Explore Terrace Hill with a guided tour and learn about the gorgeous mansion grounds. Take photos and revel in the area’s architectural beauty.

Photo

34. Peruse the arts at Sioux City Art Center.

Art connoisseurs are sure to enjoy a visit to the Sioux City Art Center[34] in Sioux City, Iowa. The center features works from local, national, and even international artists. Whether you have a soft spot for abstract or post-modernism, you are sure to find something to please the eye and inspire the mind.

Photo

38. Catch the game at Kinnick Stadium.

Home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, Kinnick Stadium[35] in Iowa City is a staple in Iowa culture. Especially for the sports lover, a home football game is one of the best things about the year. With plenty of tailgating misadventures to be had, you are sure to remain entertained throughout your visit to the stadium. Go Hawkeyes!

Photo

35. Visit the Buddy Holly crash site.

Remember the musical legend by visiting the Buddy Holly crash site[36] in Clear Lake, Iowa. Because Buddy Holly shaped rock and roll as we know it, the crash site is one of the most significant areas in musical history. Oftentimes, the crash is referred to as, ‘the day music died’. Pay homage to the great artist and celebrate his life while taking in the history of the area.

Photo

39. Learn about cultures at National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

At the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library[37] in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, guests can learn all about different cultures. The museum is home to many different exhibits that showcase the lives of Czech and Slovak people. These exhibits include a replicated immigrant home, Faces of Freedom, and Rising Above. The mission of the museum and library is to pay respects to the immigrants who worked hard to form their national identities and help America grow.

Photo

37. Learn about railroads at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.

With free admission into the museum, checking out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum[38] is a no-brainer. The museum features many different activities throughout the year to entertain and inform visitors, and the many exhibits are sure to impress. Exhibits include The Lincoln Collection, Building America, and America Travels by Rail. Unveil the history of railway transportation at this fascinating museum.

Photo

40. Have a blast at Adventureland.

Perfect for the entire family, Adventureland[39] in Altoona, Iowa is a great place to have a fantastic time on your Iowa vacation. The park features thrill rides, family rides, kiddie rides, and even Adventure Bay, a water area to cool off in in the hot, summer months. The park is also home to many different concession stands and games to keep you energized and entertained.

Photo

41. Attempt to bike Snake Alley.

Snake Alley[40] in Burlington, Iowa is considered the “Crookedest Street in the World” by Ripley’s Believe It! Or Not. Constructed in 1894, the street was used to test the abilities of carriage-pulling fire department horses. Nowadays it is not only a unique piece of architectural history, but events like the Snake Alley Art Fair are also held to keep the significance of the street alive.

Photo

43. Sip some wine at Iowa Wine Trail.

For some boozy fun, check out the Iowa Wine Trail[41]. Located in the upper Mississippi Valley wine region in northwest Iowa, the trail offers plenty of hand-crafted wines and more in cities such as Anamosa, Baldwin, and Decorah. Wineries along the trail can be visited pretty much daily, with special events every so often to spice things up. Relax and try some delicious wine at one of these amazing places.

Photo

44. Embark upon a road trip along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway[42] in eastern Iowa is a great way to experience one of the most beautiful areas in the state. The byway itself stretches from the tip of South Louisiana all the way to North Minnesota and encompasses hundreds of river towns along the way. Make it a 36-hour adventure along the entire highway, or simply experience the gorgeous fall foliage in Iowa this October.

Photo

45. See the castle at Eagle Point Park.

Spanning one hundred and sixty-four acres and overlooking the Mississippi River, Eagle Point Park[43] provides a view of the tri-state areas along Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. With a stone lookout structure locals lovingly refer to as the “castle,” select pet-friendly parks and trails, and plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities, the park is a popular place to visit in Clinton, Iowa.

Photo

42. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor.

If you are like me, you probably have a ridiculously needy sweet tooth. Satisfy your sugar cravings at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor[44]. The parlor sits in the heart of the Le Mars’ business district in Le Mars, Iowa, and includes historical photos, exhibits, and even a private, reservable room for parties and other events. The star of the show is the ice cream, though, so be sure to sample menu items that include favorites like a banana split, The Avalanche, and the Chocolate Mudslide.

Photo

46. Have a paranormal experience at the Villisca Axe Murder House.

To experience the creepy side of Iowa, just visit the Villisca Axe Murder House[45] in Villisca, Iowa. Ravaged by the gruesome murders of the Josiah Moore family, the house still creaks and groans with its haunted history. If you dare to enter, make sure to bring along your ghost-hunting equipment, because the house is said (and possibly even proven) to be a hub for the dead.

Photo

47. Take a hike at Backbone State Park.

For an outdoor excursion, make sure you visit Backbone State Park[46] in Dundee, Iowa. The park is known as Iowa’s first state park, and it is home to many different activities to draw visitors. Whether you wish to hike or bike the trails, go rock climbing, or relax with your fishing line cast into the sparkling waters, you are sure to have a great time exploring the area.

Photo

48. Eat at Waterfront Seafood Market & Restaurant.

All this travel might make you work up an appetite, so head to Waterfront Seafood Market & Restaurant[47] in Ankeny and Des Moines, Iowa to get your fill of delicious, fresh-caught, local seafood. Not only will you be able to select your ingredients from a wide variety, but the staff is great at sharing recipes, cooking ideas, and more. You can even purchase spices and kitchen tools. If you are a little wary about your own cooking skills, you can taste some of the delicious creations offered by the great chefs on staff.

Photo

49. Watch the game at Principal Park.

If you enjoy a great game of baseball, you will want to attend a game at Principal Park[48] in Des Moines. The park is home to the Iowa Cubs. With a two-million-dollar clubhouse, a skybox, 88 home plate seats, and a state-of-the-art sound system and plenty of other features that will blow your mind, Principal Park offers a great experience for fans of America’s greatest game.

Photo

50. Unwind with a show at Englert Theatre.

After all this traveling, you may want to relax. Check out the Englert Theatre[49] in Iowa City and catch one of the brilliant shows. From musical concerts and theatre performances to ministry and comedy acts, a wide variety of performances are offered at the theater, making it easy for visitors to find something that they will enjoy. You will definitely want to check out some of the best talent in town.

Photo

47. Take a hike at Backbone State Park.

For an outdoor excursion, make sure you visit Backbone State Park[50] in Dundee, Iowa. The park is known as Iowa’s first state park, and it is home to many different activities to draw visitors. Whether you wish to hike or bike the trails, go rock climbing, or relax with your fishing line cast into the sparkling waters, you are sure to have a great time exploring the area.

What do you think are the best Iowa attractions worthy of your bucket list? Did your favorite Iowa Activities make the list? Let us know in the comments below, and share with your friends!

1. ^ Amana Colonies
2. ^ National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
3. ^ Grotto of the Redemption
4. ^ Des Moines Art Center
5. ^ Effigy Mounds National Monument
6. ^ Living History Farms
7. ^ Iowa State Fair
8. ^ The Zombie Burger + Drink Lab
9. ^ Grout Museum District
10. ^ American Gothic House
11. ^ Okoboji
12. ^ High Trestle Bridge
13. ^ Lost Island Waterpark
14. ^ Tulip Time Festival in Pella
15. ^ Lost Island Waterpark
16. ^ Blank Park Zoo
17. ^ Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
18. ^ Iowa State Capitol
19. ^ Nordic Fest
20. ^ Johnny Carson’s birthplace
21. ^ Ledges State Park
22. ^ Maquoketa Caves State Park
23. ^ Miyabi 9
24. ^ Madison County covered bridges
25. ^ Madison County covered bridges
26. ^ Iowa Speedway
27. ^ Scenic Drive Festival
28. ^ Prairie Lights
29. ^ Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
30. ^ Field of Dreams movie set
31. ^ Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
32. ^ Northwestern Steakhouse
33. ^ Historic Governor’s Mansion
34. ^ Sioux City Art Center
35. ^ Kinnick Stadium
36. ^ Buddy Holly crash site
37. ^ National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library
38. ^ Union Pacific Railroad Museum
39. ^ Adventureland
40. ^ Snake Alley
41. ^ Iowa Wine Trail
42. ^ Great River Road National Scenic Byway
43. ^ Eagle Point Park
44. ^ Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor
45. ^ Villisca Axe Murder House
46. ^ Backbone State Park
47. ^ Waterfront Seafood Market & Restaurant
48. ^ Principal Park
49. ^ Englert Theatre
50. ^ Backbone State Park
Facebook
 

 
As Seen In