There’s so much more to the Hawkeye State than meets the eye and this list of the 10 best things to do in Iowa will help you see it all.
From the Missouri River snaking its way through the rolling farmland, to the picture-perfect towns, to the softly rolling hills – Iowa is one of the most underrated and off-the-beaten-path destinations in the US.
It’s hard to run out of things to do in Iowa thanks to its contrasting landscapes, quaint rural towns, and expansive farmland.
Simply put, it’s a destination that effortlessly captures the true essence of America – with the Bridges of Madison Country, to being the setting the of ever-so-famous “American Gothic Paintings”, Iowa appeals to all types of travelers out there.
Fancy satisfying your adventurous side and getting your pulse racing? The places to visit in Iowa offer plenty of adrenaline-inducing opportunities – from cave explorations to ziplining to whitewater paddling.
Across every corner of Iowa is an example as to why Iowa should be on top of your bucket list this year. Planning on visiting soon and not really sure what to do in Iowa? I’ve got you!
Top 10 Things to Do in Iowa
Let’s start with one of the top Iowa attractions out there. The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is a treasure trove for anyone who’s interested to learn about the importance of the Mississippi river and its significance in defining the country and the states around it.
You’ll get to see plenty of:
- Live animals reflecting the geological makeup of the river.
- Permanent exhibits at the Mississipi River Discovery Center.
- A fully immersive 4D theater.
- Rotating displays aimed at both adults and children.
- A large aquarium housing all types of wildlife found in the river banks. We’re talking alligators, otters and sturgeon!
This is a grand institute that is fully committed to preserving, sharing and protecting the history and culture of the Czech and Sovak people.
Located amidst the Cedar Rapids, the museum is an immersive experience where you’ll get to listen to stories about the people who live there, and the effect of history on the present.
Make sure you check out the permanent exhibits at this top Iowa attraction, check their schedule for special events, and indulge in the educational traveling displays. All of these are displayed to exhibit the idea of freedom, what it’s like to be an immigrant and the immigrant life.
The history of the Amana Colonies is captivating, to say the least.
It’s a story of hope, hard work and religion and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Iowa. The Amana Colonies comprises seven different villages that will take you on a journey through the past right to the 19th century.
It’s the story of how a group of pietists left Germany and broke soil in Iowa and lived there with absolutely no outside interference. The communities worked, shared their resources and their villages thrived gloriously.
You will get to experience the sweet slow pace of life lived by the community there, you’ll get to check their historical structures, local establishments and enjoy the surrounding scenic landscapes.
If you’re an art fan, then you’ll most definitely love Des Moines Art Center.
It’s one of the best places to visit in Iowa thanks to its vital contribution to the modern art scene in the state, its Art Deco style and its rotating works of photography, sculptures, paintings and much more.
5. State Capitol
The gold-domed Iowa State Capitol is an incredible symbol of the state of Iowa that offers one of the best views of Des Moines in the city.
You can go on a tour inside of the building where you’ll find an incredible display of architecture, exhibits, and historical artifacts.
6. The Iowa River in Iowa Falls
If you’re looking for an unparalleled picturesque waterway then The Iowa River is for you.
It’s surrounded by lush greenery, gorgeous little shops, and plenty of restaurants to indulge in. the thing about this area is how much of an antidote to the rush of urban life it is.
You’ll spend your time paddling the water, fishing for catfish, and relaxing by the banks of the river that stretches along the city.
I highly recommend visiting during October where the bridge comes to life during the Covered Bridge Festival!
The bridges of Madison County quickly became a blockbuster and has since provided an opportunity for countless photographs and scenic walks.
8. Maquoketa Caves State Park
This is a great way to take a look into the expansive world that lies beneath your feet.
It’s also a great introduction to the natural side of Iowa that many travelers usually look past.
While Maquoketa didn’t quit make our list of best caves in the US, the state park is great for all you adventure lovers out there – offering above-ground hiking trails, plenty of lighted (and dark) caves with a light campsite as well.
If you’ve seen the movie starring Kevin Costner, you know what I’m talking about!
The Field of Dreams is great if you’re a fan of the movie with plenty of interactive exhibits and photo ops everywhere.
10. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
This commemorative historic site celebrates the life of the 31st president of the United States with its rotating exhibits, permanent exhibits that tell the story of his life and a lot more.
What to do in Iowa in winter?
The dropping temperatures in Iowa during winter should mean noting to adventurous travelers like yourself!
There are plenty of things to do in Iowa during winter that will keep you, both, warm and entertained.
- Participate in the Winter Games at Arnolds Park.
- Make sure you try skiing at the Skiing Sundown Mountain Resort. You’ll find 21 different trails that cater to different types of skiers (and levels).
- Participate in the Winterfest at the Amana colonies.
- Practice your ice-climbing at the Silo Ice Climbing center at Cedar Falls.
- Get festive and sleigh ride in Jester Park.
- Stay at one of the heated cabins at Backbone State Park so you can stay warm between your snowshoeing.
- Try snowmobiling.
When’s the best time to visit Iowa?
The best time to visit Iowa is most definitely during the fall months. The summer months are extremely hot and humid with the most rainfall across the year, the winters are extremely harsh hand the spring months also see a lot of rain. If you’re planning on visiting Iowa, I highly recommend visiting during the fall months.
You can see much of what’s listed above if you follow my Great River Road itinerary as well.
I can’t stress how much I highly recommend visiting Iowa in general.
Whether you want to satisfy your historical cravings or indulge in some adventure, you’ll arguably find it all in Iowa!