7 Things You Must See and Do in Iowa
Iowa, the Hawkeye State, is one of the square states that often gets overlooked due to its geographical location. Award-winning country music star Jason Aldean sings a popular song about the Flyover States, with Iowa being one of them.
Though it is not a typical vacation destination with theme parks, beaches, or big city shopping attractions, what Iowa does have is simply enough. I was so impressed that I am already planning my next trip!
The Hawkeye State is excelling by not trying to be something that it is not. It is simply Iowa; a beautiful state with a unique culture, fresh farm-to-table food, distinct charm, and friendly people. What better way to get to know the state than with these seven things you must see and do in Iowa.
#1 Ride the Rails in Boone County
Home of the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, the small town of Boone really impressed me. The Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad operate for freight and passengers. The train ride offers a lovely view of the picturesque Des Moines River Valley. Boone has many themed events so check the schedule here. Four miles South, take a stroll in Ledges State Park containing a sandstone gorge carved by a tributary of the Des Moines River.
Stop by Van Hemert’s Dutch Oven Bakery for scrumptious Dutch letter pastries, an almond paste filled flaky pastry that will satisfy any sweet tooth. There are dozens of other sweet treats to choose from as well as breakfast and lunch.
#2 Take Photos of the High Trestle Trail & Bridge
Also in Boone County, but worthy of its own subheading, the High Trestle Trail & Bridge looks like something out of a movie set. It runs 25-miles from Ankeny to Woodward. Part of the High Trestle Trail is used for recreation and contains a paved trail through the counties of Polk, Story, Boone, and Dallas. It is very popular for walking and bike riding.
A half mile long 13-story high bridge spans the Des Moines River Valley, affording beautiful views of working farms and nature. The star of the show is the stunning 43 diamond-shaped LED lit steel beams that resemble transiting into a mine shaft.
#3 Step into Magazine Covers at Meredith Test Gardens
This lovely oasis in the middle of the bustling city of Des Moines is better known as the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. It has a gorgeous prairie, path, and shade gardens, a testing ground for plants, and serves as the photography studio for the BH&G magazine and websites. You may even recognize a part of the Meredith Test Gardens (the parent company) from the glossy magazine pictures at your newsstand.
The garden is open to the public on Fridays from noon to 2 PM May through September.
#4 Take in Nature at Whiterock Conservancy
The Whiterock Conservancy is a beautiful 5,500-acre land trust and a Midwest spot for camping and getting in touch with nature. The property balances sustainable agriculture, natural resource protection and public recreation on the quintessential Midwestern landscape. Come here to see the stars, capture night writing in photography (as seen below), or walk, hike, run, bike, or ride your horse over the 32-mile backcountry soft trail system.
Campsites and cabins are available as well as guest rooms in the historic five-bedroom Garst Farmhouse.
#5 Explore Des Moines
Not only is Des Moines home to the Iowa State Capitol, but also the naturally beautiful Gray’s Lake Park that sits on the Southside of town. The park has a five-mile-long paved walking and biking trail that residents flock to for a bit of outdoor adventure. Gray’s illuminated pedestrian bridge makes for a wonderful photo opportunity. Kayaking and biking are popular activities here, as well.
In the heart of town, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is another great outdoor offering. Huge pieces of eclectic, contemporary art by 22 world-famous artists are spread through an urban park. Pop into the adjacent American Dream Machines to view incredible classic cars, mostly Corvettes.
#6 Stay in a Themed Room at Hotel Pattee
Perry, Iowa has one of the most charming and themed boutique hotels I’ve seen in the United States. Forty rooms at the Hotel Pattee have decors such as Marching Band (I stayed here!), Swedish, 1913 Farmhouse Room, and VT Snick Hamlin (he created the Alley Oop cartoon strip). Hotel Pattee’s rooms also have the upscale amenities of a luxury hotel.
Hotel Pattee’s lobby contains priceless rotating original art from a premiere collection while the onsite restaurant, David’s Milwaukee Diner, will more than satisfy your foodie desires with fabulous upscale dishes. Meanwhile, the cozy library, steam room, sauna, and bowling alley in the basement please guests to no end. From Egyptian cotton bedding to enormous Subway-tiled bathrooms, you will fall in love with the historic Hotel Pattee.
#7 Ooh and AAh Over the Bridges of Madison County
The Covered Bridges of Madison County, in Winterset, Iowa are where the award-winning movie by the same name was filmed. The location is rustic, charming, and frequented by visitors and bus groups daily. There are six bridges in Madison County including Imes, Holliwell, Cedar, Culter-Donahoe, Roseman, and Hogback. Roseman is the most popular bridge (built in 1883) most-likely due to its involvement in the movie.
The town of Winterset is darling as well. You can even sit on the stool that Clint Eastwood did in the local diner.
Tip: John Wayne was born in this town and a popular museum dedicated to his life is here.
Iowa: A State Worth Stopping By
Be sure to include Iowa in your road trip or summer travels. I read the Iowa: 75% Vowels, 100% Awesome phrase on a cool t-shirt at Raygun in Des Moines, and couldn’t agree more.
Iowa is much more than meets the eye and the surprises in the most remote parts of the state will dazzle you.
Thanks to the Iowa State Tourism for hosting my familiarization trip. All opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
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Check out our other posts about Iowa and the Midwest:
- 9 Reasons to Visit Wichita, Kansas
- The Bridges of Madison County, Iowa
- Road Trip Through the Flint Hills of Kansas
- Popular Things to Do in Kenosha, WI
- 24 Hours in Bloomington, IN