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See the USA: Visit Iowa, the Hawkeye State

See the USA: Visit Iowa, the Hawkeye State

If the word “Iowa” conjures up endless fields of corn, fair enough. After all, the Hawkeye State does produce more corn than any other in the United States. And, an Oscar nominated film, Field of Dreams, paired legendary baseball players with an Iowa cornfield. But Iowa has so much more to offer! Here are some of the activities that should be added to your Iowa bucket list when you visit Iowa.

To celebrate visiting all 50 states, an accomplishment that just happens to coincide with a milestone birthday of a similar number — WHAT??? I still feel 30 on the inside!!! — this article is part of a series that will cover all 50 states and Washington, DC, over the next year.

Growing up, most of my time in America’s heartland was clustered along I-70. The interstate that runs horizontally from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast took us to grandma and grandpa’s house every summer and played a feature role in our many moves across the country. So it’s no surprise that I didn’t visit Iowa for the first time until college when I celebrated Thanksgiving with a classmate’s family near Des Moines.

It’s less than two hours from Kansas City to the Iowa border, and yet I still haven’t spent much time in Iowa. There’s the occasional slip across the border when driving to and visiting Omaha and there was the college visit to Ames with my twins. So a long list of things to do and see remain cemented on my Iowa bucket list. And, the list has only grown longer as I’ve connected with a stable of amazing Midwestern travel bloggers who inspire me to want to explore more of the Hawkeye State.

Iowa is in America's heartland.

Here’s a complete Iowa bucket list for when you visit Iowa, the Hawkeye State:

Iowa Bucket List Things to Do and See in Northeastern Iowa

Things to do and see in Northeastern Iowa

Stay at the Hotel Julien Dubuque

Recommended by Katy from Flint & Co.

The beautiful and historic Hotel Julien in Dubuque, Iowa.
The beautiful and historic Hotel Julien in Dubuque, Iowa. Photo by Katy – Flint & Co.

Because Dubuque is where Iowa began, it’s the perfect first stop when you visit Iowa. Originally constructed in 1839, Hotel Julien has recently undergone a $33 million renovation to be restored to its original state.  A visit to the Hotel Julien will leave you feeling pampered and extra special!

Pro Tip:  If you plan on seeing the USA in an RV, be sure to check out the best RV road trips in the US.

Go Kayaking Under the Moonlight on the Upper Iowa River

Recommended by Kim Reiner of Oh My! Omaha

The Upper Iowa River is known for its picturesque setting, drawing kayakers, tubers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world to the small town of Decorah, Iowa. A unique way to explore the river, though, happens at night when the setting is cast in moonlight. Karst Adventures offers guided tours of the river at night when there is only a full moon to light the way.

It is an unsettling experience, at first, especially if your kayaking abilities are just a smidge above beginner level. However, after a few quiet minutes on the river, your senses sharpen and you see and hear more than you could imagine. Our guide, Amber, invited us to stop on a sandbar, where she built a bonfire for us to gather around. Our small group consisted of my two friends and a musician from Norway. We chatted for a few minutes, munched on snacks, and then continued on our way.

Other Places to See in the Northeast When You Visit Iowa

Iowa Bucket List Things to Do and See in Southeastern Iowa

Things to do and see in Southeastern Iowa

Take an American Gothic Selfie in Eldon

Recommended by Michelle Marine from SimpifyLiveLove

When you visit Iowa, be sure to take a selfie at the American Gothic house.
Your Iowa bucket list should include creating your own version of the iconic painting featuring a man, a woman, and a pitchfork in front of the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa. Photo by Michelle Marine.

No trip to Iowa is complete without a stop at the American Gothic House. Located in the tiny town of Eldon in Southeast Iowa, it features the original house that inspired Grant Wood’s iconic painting. Not only can you learn the history behind this inspirational American painter through museum displays and videos, but you can also don free outfits and take an amazing selfie to recreate the painting in your own likeness. The free visitor’s center at the American Gothic House has a large collection of outfits in all sizes, hats, and pitchforks too. They’ll even take the picture for you, if you ask nicely.

After touring the visitor’s center and taking your selfie, stop by Chommy’s Bar and Grill. It’s located just a few blocks from the visitor’s center, and they serve an amazingly delicious (and huge) pork tenderloin. You won’t regret either stop – but you might want to share the sandwich!

Other Places to see in Southeast When You Visit Iowa

Iowa Bucket List Things to Do and See in Northwestern Iowa

Things to do and see in northwestern Iowa

Visit the Ice Cream Capital of the World in LeMars

LeMars, Iowa is the ice cream capital of the world.

Headquartered in the small town of LeMars, Iowa, Blue Bunny produces more ice cream than any other company in any other city in the world. So no Iowa bucket list is complete without this sweet stop. Add to the adventure by locating all 55 ice cream cone sculptures sprinkled around town.

Pro Tip:  Not sure what flavor to try when you visit? Take this scoop-o-nality quiz from Blue Bunny to select the perfect sweet treat for your tastebuds.

Other Places to See in the Northwest When You Visit Iowa

Iowa Bucket List Things to Do and See in Southwestern Iowa

Things to do and see in Southwestern Iowa

Experience the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines

Recommended by Kylie from Between England and Iowa

Ride the Sky Glider when you visit the Iowa State Fair.
You can’t go to the Iowa State Fair without going on the Sky Glider, a quick way to get across the fairgrounds and a great way to save tired legs! Photo by Between England and Iowa.

Occurring over 11 days every August, the Iowa State Fair is so big that it’s impossible to see everything in one day! Believe me, I know. I tried and failed!  With a primary purpose of celebrating the state’s agriculture industry, farming families dress in matching shirts and proudly display their animals.

There are also various demonstrations throughout the day (and part of the reason it’s impossible to see everything, as the demonstrations tend to overlap).  The chicken washing one was particularly interesting, who knew there were so many steps involved in washing a chicken! You could even have a go yourself!

Moving on from real animals, a must see of the Iowa State Fair is the ‘butter cow’.  It’s exactly what it says on the tin…a giant cow sculpted out from butter! The lines to see this State Fair wonder were HUGE.

Of course there is then the State Fair foods.  The Iowa State Fair has a wide range of food on sticks, from eggs to deep fried fruit and you can wash it all down with giant cups of classic lemonade!

Hike the Loess Hills

Recommended by Lindsay Hindman from Siouxland Families

Your Iowa bucket list should include hiking the Loess Hills.
Loess is a loosely compacted yellowish-gray windblown sediment. Although roughly 10% of the earth’s land is covered by loess, it’s mostly isolated to China and this part of Iowa. That’s why hiking the Loess Hills should be on your Iowa bucket list! Photo by Lindsay Hindman.

Along much of western Iowa, just a few miles from the Missouri River, you find a rare geological formation known as loess — essentially prehistoric windblown silt — and the only example of loess deposits as extensive as Iowa’s Loess Hills is in a remote part of China. To enjoy their unique beauty, you can take the Loess Hills scenic byway instead of I-29 and stop at some of the many state parks and nature centers along the way to learn more about the geology, flora, and fauna (many species aren’t found anywhere else in Iowa, and at least one type of fern is endemic) of the Loess Hills. Some of my personal favorites include Stone State Park and the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, both in Sioux City, and Five Ridge State Prairie at the northernmost end of the Loess Hills in Westfield, Iowa. You’ll be blown away by the Loess Hills!

Other Places to See in the Southwest When You Visit Iowa

Add Even More to Your Iowa Bucket List

  • Round out your Iowa bucket list by visiting the Hawkeye State’s national parks. National Park Obsessed has a complete list of  the national parks of Iowa.
  • Test your knowledge with these fun facts about Iowa from my friend Kylie over at Between England and Iowa.

To Plan Your Visit to Iowa

Start with the Travel Iowa website where you can:

  • order an Iowa travel guide,
  • get trip ideas, from girlfriends’ getaways to family fun, and
  • find other tools and tips to plan your trip.

Have You Visited Iowa?

What did you like most about the Hawkeye State? Is there an activity on your Iowa bucket list that you’d add to this article? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Want to See More of the USA? 

Here are the other articles in this See the USA series:

What to do, see, and eat when you visit Iowa. Add these Iowa things to do to your Iowa bucket list! #iowa #desmoines #hawkeyestate #mwtravel #ThisIsIowa #US #USA #USTravel   What to do, see, and eat when you visit Iowa. Add these Iowa things to do to your Iowa bucket list! #iowa #desmoines #hawkeyestate #mwtravel #ThisIsIowa #US #USA #USTravel   What to do, see, and eat when you visit Iowa. Add these Iowa things to do to your Iowa bucket list! #iowa #desmoines #hawkeyestate #mwtravel #ThisIsIowa #US #USA #USTravel

Please note:  Photos not watermarked by me or clearly attributed to a specific photographer or organization are from the community of talented photographers over at Pixabay.

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