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Iowa is known for its cornfields. In fact, it produces more corn than any other state in the United States. But Iowa has more than cornfields. From border to border, Iowa’s landscape holds some hidden gems. It’s also home to fascinating history and notable personalities. The state’s culture is rich in fun and educational activities, too. With so much to explore in the state, we broke it down into the 5 Best Reasons to visit Iowa.

1. Nature and Recreation

It should be no surprise that number 1 of 5 Best Reasons to Visit Iowa is Nature and Recreation. Iowa is a primarily rural state. Even near its population centers like the state capital in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, there are numerous state parks and preserves. Some of the best places to visit and experience nature include:

Backbone State Park – Delaware County

Located in Delaware County, Iowa’s oldest state park was established in 1919. It boasts beautiful hiking along Backbone Lake and camping and cabin sites. Fishing, boating, and climbing are also available.

Effigy Mounds – Harpers Ferry
little bear mound
Little Bear Mound at Effigy Mounds National Monument

Considered sacred, Effigy Mounds is part of the National Park System and is a designated National Monument. Home to some 200 animal-shaped American Indian mounds, the monument offers cultural, natural, and historical significance.

Crystal Lake Cave – Dubuque

Crystal Lake Cave is a natural work of art located 5 miles south of Dubuque. Explore the living cave with guided tours. Mine gemstones or exercise your knowledge of stalagmites and stalactites.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium – Port of Dubuque

Located along the Mighty Mississippi River at the Port of Dubuque, the 14-acre facility features historical exhibits and a wide variety of species from both the air, land, and water.

Okojobi Lake – Okajobi

Five interconnected lakes make up the largest natural lake in Iowa. Also known as the Iowa Great Lakes, these lakes host year-round recreation, dining, and shopping.

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad – Boone

Tour the museum and history of the area before taking an almost two-hour scenic ride on the Fraser Train from Boone to Fraser, IA.

Maquoketa Caves State Park – Maquoketa

A spelunkers dream, Maquoketa Caves State Park boasts more caves than any other state park. However, there’s a cave for just about everyone, so you don’t have to be an experienced spelunker to go exploring.

Pikes Peak State Park – McGregor

No, you’re not in Colorado. Pikes Peak State Park overlooks the Mississippi River and features some of the most beautiful scenery in the state. The park also offers year-round recreation.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Center – Des Moines

Comprised of both indoor and outdoor gardens, Greater Des Moines Botanical Center offers year-round beauty to horticulture lovers. Explore bonsai, orchids, corpse flowers, water gardens, roses, art, and more in beautiful and serene settings.

2. Odd and Unusual

Iowa is not immune to the odd and unusual. That’s why Odd and Unusual is number 2 of 5 Best Reasons to Visit Iowa. For those who like to explore the out-of-the-way places, interesting backstories, or prefer the weird and quirky, Iowa has collected its fair share.

Historic Squirrel Cage Jail – Council Bluffs

We know what you’re thinking. “Why are squirrels in jail?” Well, at the Squirrel Cage Jail, they aren’t. The jail’s name comes from its unique design. The rotating, pie-shaped cells allow for maximum security and minimum staffing. In fact, this jail is three stories tall, the tallest squirrel cage jail ever built. Yes, you read that right. There are more than one of these still in existence.

Fenelon Place Elevator – Dubuque

If you don’t mind a quick trip, travel from Fourth Street in Dubuque up to Fenelon Place (still in Dubuque). This train ride is touted as the shortest and steepest train ride. The whole round trip ride covers 592 feet and elevates riders to a view of three states and downtown Dubuque.

Ida Grove Castles – Ida Grove

Ida Grove thanks one person for the unique architecture of the city. Byron Leroy began building castles in the city back in 1969 when he built Lake LaJune, named after his wife. There are six more castles found around Ida Grove.

Villisca Ax Murder House – Villisca

If the macabre piques your interest, the Villisca Axe Murder House will interest you. Shrouded in rumor, the murder of eight people, including six children, remains an unsolved mystery. If you’re up to a challenge, you can rent it out overnight.

Rollercoaster Road – Allamakee County 

Near Harpers Ferry, this stretch of rural country road gives a thrill as you go over several successive hills. Just make sure your shocks are well maintained.

Black Angel – Iowa City

Theresa Dolezal Deldwert, a Czech-Bohemian immigrant, commissioned the statue for the grave of her son Eddie in 1912. Located in the Oakland Cemetery, the Black Angel is surrounded by myth. The hauntingly beautiful statue is made of brass that has oxidized over time to give the sculpture its black patina.

3. Historic Places

In the U.S., it’s difficult to go somewhere and not experience a little bit of history. Iowa is no exception. In fact, the state is rich in historical places that will satisfy any history buff.

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site – West Branch

Located in the childhood home of the country’s 31st president, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site follows the life and career of Herbert Hoover. It is also home to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The library also hosts numerous educational and fun events like Kites Over Hoover Park.

State Capital – Des Moines

Tour the majestic Iowa Statehouse. Designed by John C. Cochrane and Alfred H. Piquenard, the elaborate five-domed building took 15 years to build. The central dome is covered in 23-carat gold.

Amana Colonies – Amanda

Settled by German immigrants over 100 years ago, the Amana Colonies take visitors back in time. They boast immersive creative experiences, several festivals highlighting German culture, museums, authentic German food, and shopping.

National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

Iowa is rich in Czech, Bohemian, and Slovak culture. During the 1850s, they immigrated to Iowa and brought their traditions with them. Explore this history at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

4. Pop Culture

American Gothic House – Eldon

Known as the famous setting for Grant Woods’ iconic American Gothic painting, the house still stands and is a unique photo opportunity. In addition, the site offers exhibits and a gift shop.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park – Des Moines

Part of the Des Moines Art Center, the 4.4-acre park features artwork donated by John and Mary Pappajohn. Nine unique artists contributed unique pieces of art that visitors can explore, photograph, and enjoy.

Surf Ballroom – Clear Lake

On February 3, 1959, musical artists Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper completed a concert at the Surf Ballroom. They would board a plane piloted by Roger Peterson en route to Fargo, North Dakota. Unfortunately, they would never arrive but instead, perish in a plane crash. The Surf Ballroom serves as a memorial to these talented musicians and yet still hosts musical entertainment for the area. They also host a Winter Dance Party, taking everyone back in time to dance the night away.

Field of Dreams – Dyersville

The 1989 film Field of Dreams was filmed in Dyersville, Iowa. The baseball field and home featured in the film still stands and hosts baseball fans and movie lovers alike. Depending on the time of year, you might also hear the ghosts of baseball past echoing in the cornfield.

Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk – Riverdale

Trekkies love to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the fictional James T. Kirk in the very real town of Riverdale, Iowa. In just over 200 years from now, the captain of the Starship Enterprise will be born in this quaint community. They mark this future historic moment with a modest but peaceful monument.

John Wayne Birthplace And Museum – Winterset

The birthplace of one of Hollywood’s most beloved cowboys, John Wayne is the epitome of the western film genre. Born Marion Robert Morrison, “The Duke” grew up in a modest home in Winterset, which is located next to the museum. Not only does it include the largest collection of John Wayne memorabilia, but it also features a theatre where fans can watch his films in all their glory.

5. Festivals

Last but not least, on the 5 Best Reasons to Visit Iowa is all the fun festivals. These events bring people from all over the country for concerts, heritage, culture and let’s not forget the food.

Iowa State Fair – Des Moines

State fairs are one of the pinnacle events every summer in just about every state. They showcase the accomplishments of youth, agriculture, and the state as a whole. They also bring entertainment, food, and exhibits up close and personal to the visitors. Iowa State Fair is no different and is on everyone’s summer bucket list!

Pella Tulip Festival – Pella

Many Dutch settlers found their way to Iowa and especially to the community of Pella. So it should be no surprise that the community hosts a tulip festival to honor their heritage and usher in the warmer months with beautiful tulips!

National Balloon Classic – Indianola

There is nothing like seeing a brilliant blue sky filled with colorful hot air balloons. Each year in Indianola, the National Balloon Classic hosts more than a hundred balloons across the nine-day festival. Other attractions at the event include concerts, exhibits, balloon rides, and balloon races.

Midwest Old Threshers Reunion – Mount Pleasant

Every year in September, the ingenuity and heritage of Iowa go on display during the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. The five-day event features hundreds of farm machinery from the past as well as food, camping, and much more!

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