Iowa Vacation Guide

Though not often thought of as a major destination for tourism, if you haven’t yet made the trek to the Hawkeye State of Iowa, you’re missing out. Iowa is the only state in the nation bordered by two navigable rivers; the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Beyond that, Iowa is known for its scenic rolling plains, laid-back atmosphere, and a surprising array of things to do. 

There are several great things to do in Iowa, including spending time on the water in the Iowa Great Lakes Region and exploring the capital city of Des Moines.

Things To Do In Iowa

At first glance, Iowa appears covered by cornfields and farmland. Though that’s true, given that up to 92% of the land in Iowa is farmland, there are also so many more things to do in Iowa than it appears at first glance. From swimming and boating on regional lakes to visiting iconic museums and cultural attractions, we’ve listed several of the best things to do in Iowa below.

Outdoor Enthusiasts

Given that both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers border Iowa, it’s probably no surprise that there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation and adventure – especially if it involves the water!  Iowa’s Great Lakes Region, home to Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake, is a popular summertime destination with boating, swimming, hiking, biking, and more opportunities. 

The state’s relatively flat landscape also makes it ideal for biking, with trails stretching across every corner of the state. There’s even an annual bike ride, Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, that crosses the state every July and celebrates the interconnected network of trails that makes Iowa a biker’s paradise. 

Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to hike or drive through the scenic Loess Hills of Western Iowa. Popular places to visit include the Loess Hills State Forest, the Lewis and Clark Monument and Scenic Overlook in Council Bluffs, and the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway

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Food & Drink

With up to 92% of Iowa’s lands dedicated to farmland, it’s no surprise that food here is as fresh and local as it gets. You can expect to find plenty of great steakhouses everywhere you turn, including one of the best steakhouses in the nation, Archie’s Waeside.

Like in other states that belong to the Midwest Association of Independent Inns, you can expect your food journey at every Bed and Breakfast in Iowa to be spectacular, emphasizing locally sourced, homemade goodness. But more than that, you can find plenty of fantastic agritourism opportunities around the state, as Iowa farmers take great pride in everything they do.

Given the heavy focus on farming across Iowa, it’s also probably not a big surprise that there’s a new emphasis on things like grain to glass, which is excellent news for lovers of wine, beer, and other spirits. With an increasing network of these industries across the state, it’s a great way to explore local culture as you go.  

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Arts & Culture

One of the more exciting routes to explore Iowa happens to stretch right across the center of it; the Lincoln Highway. This stretch of road was part of the first transcontinental road that stretched from New York City to San Francisco, and today stands as a testament to this fascinating period of history. There are 16 fantastic cultural attractions worth seeing as you cross the Lincoln Highway in Iowa. 

History isn’t all the state of Iowa has to offer, though. You can also find great cultural centers, including the Sioux City Art Center and several historic theaters around the state. Finally, don’t miss the Grant Wood Art Gallery, home to several paintings by one of America’s leading painters.

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Best Time to Visit Iowa

It’s hard to go wrong with a visit to Iowa, but if we had to choose the best time to visit Iowa, it would arguably be during the summer. Spending your days under the summer sun, of course, offers you endless opportunities to enjoy the lakes of the Iowa Great Lakes Region, both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, not to mention other great hot spots for adventures, like Iowa State Parks

Spring and fall, of course, offer their own scenic beauty, and things come into bloom and gradually fade brightly away into winter. As Iowa’s winter wonderland gets blanketed in snow, you can expect to find more people indoors enjoying the state’s museums, cultural centers, restaurants, and more – though for those die-hard outdoor enthusiasts, there are plenty of great things to do on a blanket of white, powdery snow, too.

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Winter in Iowa

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Spring in Iowa

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Summer in Iowa

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Fall in Iowa

Top Destination Cities in Iowa

There’s no doubt that Des Moines, as the state capital, is one of Iowa’s top cities to visit. It offers plenty of fantastic culture and a range of fun things to do for the average traveler, too. However, no trip to Iowa should include only a visit to its major city, as there are many more great things to do and places to see around the state. We’ve highlighted three more great cities below, all worth adding to your itinerary.

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Across the river from Galena, Illinois, is a city larger in size yet equal in charm. Dubuque, Iowa, is situated on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River and offers a range of outdoor and cultural pursuits to rival other cities in the state. One of the top attractions here, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a partner of the Smithsonian Institute, is a tribute to this vital waterway and its role in our society. 

Dubuque is also a great place to hop aboard an authentic paddle-wheeler for a classic river experience. It is also a fantastic city to enjoy shopping, a delicious array of restaurants, excellent craft breweries, and so much more.

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Sioux City

Sioux City is a popular tri-state area of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota and part of western Iowa’s stunningly beautiful Loess Hills portion. In total, the Sioux City region is made up of six smaller communities known as Siouxland, an area filled with unique attractions and plenty of recreational opportunities. 

From exploring the exhibits of the Sioux City Art Center to exploring beautiful destinations like Stone State Park, there are so many things to do in Sioux City.

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If spending time on the water, boating, paddling, or fishing is your priority, Okoboji, in the heart of the Iowa Great Lakes Region, is the place for you. Families have been traveling to Lake Okoboji, Spirit Lake, and the other lakes in this region for generations, treating it as their favorite summertime escape. With a gorgeous network of interconnected lakes to explore, it’s easy to see why. 

Though the lakes are the biggest draw to this area, it doesn’t hurt that the surrounding communities, like Okoboji, are filled with abundant charms. From the nostalgic Arnolds Amusement Park to fantastic breweries like West o Beer, it’s hard not to love everything about this scenic part of the state.

Best Places To Stay In Iowa

Whether you choose to visit some of Iowa’s more prominent cities like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, or Dubuque or would prefer to center your getaways around smaller communities like Okoboji or Sioux City, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better accommodations than a Bed and Breakfast in Iowa – particularly those that are part of the Midwest Association of Independent Inns. 

Like all of our partner Inns across the Midwest, These Bed and Breakfasts in Iowa are dedicated to excellence in everything they do. From delicious breakfasts and welcoming accommodations to personalized recommendations and hospitality, you won’t find a better home away from home than a Bed and Breakfast in Iowa. With so much on offer and so many fantastic destinations to visit, it’s no wonder our network of Inns are rated as the best places to stay in Iowa. 

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The Olde Rectory Bed & Breakfast

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Fisher House Bed & Breakfast