Alright, cool cats and kittens, buckle up. If you clicked on this article expecting me to direct you to the nearest cornfield and tell you to appreciate the “artistic nuances of corn farming,” you’re mistaken.
While yes, Iowa’s cornfields have their own hypnotic charm, the state is more than that.
So put on your most comfortable pants, pack your sense of humor, and let’s jump into 17 unconventional things you can do in Iowa – all guaranteed to make you rethink this overlooked heartland gem.
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1. Visit the “Field of Dreams” Movie Site, Dyersville
“Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.” And with that, a small baseball diamond in a Dyersville cornfield became world-famous.
The original movie site is open for tours. You can run the bases, wander through the corn, or just sit in the bleachers and reminisce.
Traveler’s tip: The gift shop might be a tourist trap, but you know you want that “Is this heaven?” T-shirt. Go ahead, we won’t judge.
2. Travel Through Time in the Amana Colonies
This collection of seven villages was established by German Pietists in the 19th century, creating a self-sufficient community.
Today, it’s a delightful dive into yesteryears, with local crafts, restaurants, and wineries.
Traveler’s tip: If you’re a fan of bratwurst and beer, this is your paradise.
3. Traverse the Bridges of Madison County
Those book club novels aren’t all fluff and nonsense. The famed bridges of Madison County do exist, and they’re worth a visit.
Perfect for photography, picnics, and pretending you’re in a romance novel.
Traveler’s tip: Can’t find your Clint Eastwood? Don’t worry, the bridges are romantic enough on their own.
4. Marvel at the Grotto of Redemption, West Bend
The world’s most extensive man-made grotto is right here in Iowa. It’s like Narnia, only with fewer talking animals and more minerals.
Traveler’s tip: Shine a flashlight on the rocks for a dazzling light show.
5. Camp Out at Maquoketa Caves State Park
For the rugged at heart, there’s Maquoketa Caves State Park. With its caves, trails, and campsites, it’s the ultimate spot for those who prefer their vacations a little dirty.
Traveler’s tip: Pack for mud. It’s not just a good idea – it’s a necessity.
6. Explore the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, Des Moines
Don’t worry, art lovers – I’ve got you covered. Stroll among the 30 works of art in this downtown Des Moines park, and remember, that piece that looks like giant spilled spaghetti is actually “postmodern”.
Traveler’s tip: Do your best impression of ‘The Thinker’. It’s practically a rite of passage.
7. Meander Through the Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry
Mounds shaped like animals and built by people who lived over a thousand years ago.
Fascinating, right? Don’t be surprised if you feel the urge to build your own.
Traveler’s tip: Respect the site; don’t actually build your own effigy mound.
8. Brave Adventureland, Altoona
Because who doesn’t love a classic amusement park?
Get your adrenaline fix on the roller coasters or enjoy the log flume.
Traveler’s tip: The cotton candy is a fluffy sugar cloud of happiness. Don’t deny yourself.
9. Seek Thrills at Okoboji
With six interconnected lakes, you’ve got watersports, boat tours, fishing – essentially all things wet and fun.
Traveler’s tip: Sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. Trust me.
10. Step into Literature at the American Writers Museum, Iowa City
From Mark Twain to Sylvia Plath, the museum honors a wide variety of American literary giants. Soak up the inspiration.
Traveler’s tip: Take a notepad. You never know when you’ll be struck by literary genius.
11. Enjoy Nature at Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor
Unrivaled views of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, miles of hiking trails, and picnic spots galore make this state park a must-visit.
Traveler’s tip: Take binoculars. The bird watching is top-notch.
12. Visit the Reiman Gardens, Ames
Stroll through a butterfly wing, visit the gigantic gnome (weirdly awesome), and enjoy the serenity in this 17-acre garden.
Traveler’s tip: Don’t rush. Slow down and smell the roses. Literally.
13. Dig Deep at Crystal Lake Cave, Dubuque
A subterranean wonderland filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites awaits.
Traveler’s tip: Wear good shoes. Cave floors are slippery when wet (or dry).
14. Unearth Fossils at Devonian Fossil Gorge, Iowa City
Prehistoric sea life, right under your nose! The fossils at Devonian Fossil Gorge are a testament to our world’s fascinating past.
Traveler’s tip: Take a guidebook for fossils. It makes the hunt more exciting.
15. Revel in Nostalgia at Antique Archaeology, Le Claire
The home base of History Channel’s American Pickers. Nostalgia, junk, treasures – you name it, it’s here.
Traveler’s tip: Take your time. Hidden gems are everywhere.
16. Savor the Flavors at the Iowa State Fair, Des Moines
Try the award-winning apple pie, marvel at the butter sculptures, or just take in the atmosphere of this classic American experience.
Traveler’s tip: The fair food is out of this world. Calories don’t count when you’re having fun, right?
17. Pay Homage at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake
The last concert venue of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson before their tragic plane crash.
It’s like a time capsule, preserving the magic of the 1950s.
Traveler’s tip: Dance. Regardless of your skills.
So there you have it – 17 reasons why Iowa is worth putting on your travel bucket list. It’s not just about the cornfields (though, let’s be honest, they’re pretty cool in their own right). From majestic natural wonders to kooky man-made attractions, Iowa has something to satisfy every type of traveler.
So pack your bags, and remember: the journey is just as important as the destination – especially if that journey includes bratwurst and corny souvenirs