Taking a drive across Iowa might be one of the best adventures you can experience in your lifetime. The Hawkeye State boasts a rich mix of nature and culture that has something in store for people with unique tastes. It has miles and miles of sceneries to witness and many stories to learn, making it a worthwhile vacation for you and your loved ones. So check out or sampling of Iowa Road Trip Destinations now!.
Iowa has a lot of destinations to visit on a road trip. The many byways, natural resources, outdoor and indoor attractions will help you understand why there’s so much to celebrate in the state. If you love to take a long drive and discover where the road takes you, these places in Iowa can be where you’ll make the memories that last a lifetime. Further if you want to find out a few affordable things to do in Iowa, check out our dedicated sampling.
Browse through the below slides to find out the best Iowa road trip destinations in no time!
- Adventureland – 100+ Rides & Performances
- Iowa Great Lakes – Okoboji & Big Sprite Lake
- Maquoketa Caves State Park – 13 caves, 370 Acres
- Amana Colonies – German Legacy, Self Sufficient Economy
- Decorah’s Scandinavian Heritage – Norway of America
- Grotto of the Redemption – Life of Jesus in 9 Grottos
- Loess Hills – 220 Miles Long Housing Parks, Forests, Prairies
- Great River Road National Scenic Byway – Bellevue & its Antique Beauty
- Iowa 80 – World’s Largest Truck Stop
- Madison County – 19 Iconic Bridges
- Ready to drive across Iowa?
Adventureland – 100+ Rides & Performances
The family-owned Adventureland in Altoona is where you can kickstart your Iowa journey. It has more than a hundred rides, attractions, and performances that you can catch while you’re there. There’s a waterpark to get yourself some refreshing fun, roller coasters, and kiddie rides that the whole family will love.
When you’ve spent energy on the thrilling rides, you can take a break and grab a signature Monster Burger. It’s two-feet tall and has two three-ounce patties, a five-ounce chicken breast, a seven-ounce pork tenderloin, four American cheese slices, four slab bacon, cheese sauce, chili, jalapeno poppers, and cheese fritters—all in the mix! It’s held by a wooden skewer and comes with onion rings on the side. It’s definitely a must-try!
Speaking of food, there’s another unique Iowa special, the BBQ Sundae, which consists of baked beans, mashed potatoes, pulled pork, and coleslaw filling a Mason jar with a barbecue sauce drizzle. If you take a drive around Altoona, you will find restaurants serving classic, mouth-watering barbecue, like Jethro’s BBQ, that serves steaks slow-smoked to perfection.
Iowa Great Lakes – Okoboji & Big Sprite Lake
About 210 miles northwest Des Moines is the Iowa Great Lakes, a string of majestic lakes that covers around 15,000 acres, which is one of the old but gold road trip spots in the state. Families love to return to Okoboji and Big Spirit Lake for yearly getaways, enjoying the waterscape and the surrounding scenery.
If you’re more into actively experiencing the area, you can head to Arnolds Park for some carnival rides with a retro feel, giving you that turn-of-the-century vibe. You can also fish off the many docks or visit Okoboji Boat Works, where there are glass-bottom boat tours, a playground, and a swimming beach. The place has no shortage of adventures and sights to discover while you’re out exploring the lakes.
Maquoketa Caves State Park – 13 caves, 370 Acres
The Maquoketa Caves are the perfect road trip destination for hiking lovers and spelunkers. The state park is home to caves formed from water erosion spanning millennia, transforming the limestone bedrock into majestic creations of nature. The park has the greatest number of caves than other Iowa state parks, covering 370 acres and surrounded by high bluffs and hardwood trees.
Other than the thirteen caves you can explore, there is an interpretive center that stores geology information and the history of the park. It also features the relics of Native American inhabitants.
You can also take a hike on the largest cave in the area, the Dancehall Cave. It’s 800 feet long and has an opening to a large room that served as a venue for dances, hence the name. It’s also the home of brown bats in wintertime.
You can take picnics or go camping on designated areas, or go canoeing and tubing at the Maquoketa River.
Amana Colonies – German Legacy, Self Sufficient Economy
The tiny German villages found in the Amana Colonies can make you feel like you’re in another country. It’s easy to forget that you’re still in the US when you see picturesque neighborhoods and little shops where almost everything on display is handmade. The colony has maintained its self-sufficient local economy, barely importing anything for 80 years until the Great Depression. It’s a major road trip destination that’s known primarily for craft shops and the Millstream craft brewery.
If you want to discover the area’s food culture, head to Ronneburg Restaurant for a sample of their family-style portions. It has been operating since 1950, serving classic German and American dishes. There’s a great list of delicacies on the menu—even their salads are an absolute delight to try!
In northeast Iowa, the small town of Decorah boasts a rich Scandinavian influence that can make you experience something different when you’re visiting the state. This town has quaint shops and museums that give you a taste of Norway right in America. It is where the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, holding 16 historic buildings and over 24,000 artifacts that tell a well-detailed story about the town. It’s also among Fodor’s top 15 Small-Town Museums.
You can travel over in the summer and celebrate Nord Fest with the locals. You’ll witness a parade, dancing, music, tours, and a lot more activities to fill your days. While you’re in Decorah, you can also check out the Ice Cave and the trout hatchery, or score some good wine right at the Winneshiek Wildberry Winery.
Grotto of the Redemption – Life of Jesus in 9 Grottos
The Grotto of the Redemption is found in Westbend, Iowa, and is the religious shrine depicting the life of Jesus in nine grottos. It has the largest collection of petrification and minerals and is considered as the world’s largest grotto. Another distinction it has earned is a complete human-made assembly of minerals, petrification, shells, and fossils in a single place.
More than 100,000 people travel to the Grotto every year. If you want to go on a religious pilgrimage tour, the Grotto of Redemption is a good place to start. The shrine boasts precious and semiprecious minerals sourced worldwide. It’s in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City and was featured in The Straight Story, a David Lynch film.
Loess Hills – 220 Miles Long Housing Parks, Forests, Prairies
Iowa’s western edge features grand rolling hills that are home to diverse flora and fauna, which you can see when you drive by the area. The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is 220 miles long and links parks, forests, prairies, and overlooks that stretch to Missouri. It’s a geologic formation that features “loose” soil, a fine deposit of clay-like, yellowish-gray sediment. This material is thought to be carried by winds during and after the world’s glacial periods.
You can find more about the area by heading to the Loess Hills Visitors Center, which is headquartered in Moorhead. It provides brochures and maps, so you know what to look for as you drive to the byway.
Great River Road National Scenic Byway – Bellevue & its Antique Beauty
The state’s Great River Road National Scenic Byway is another perfect road trip itinerary. This journey stretches 325 miles and hosts the typical scenery of the flat Hawkeye State. The rivers and vistas in between are smattered with tiny towns and mid sized cities, giving you a great view of the state.
When you head north, you’ll see the river weaving through Bellevue and its antique beauty, the Dubuque river port that hosts waterfront activities, and the German-influenced Guttenberg. In the south, you can find fine buildings and homes at Keokuk, and maybe see an eagle fly above as you drive through the byway.
Iowa 80 – World’s Largest Truck Stop
Dubbed the world’s largest truck stop, Iowa 80 located in Walcott is a massive area where not only truck drivers but also road trip enthusiasts make a stop. It’s been existing since 1964 and is near the majestic Mississippi River. It’s home away from home for many drivers and a worthy getaway destination for anyone.
Some people consider this truckstop as a small town, and it has everything—a barbershop, museum, theater, and even a dentist office. It also hosts a Trucker’s Jamboree every year, celebrating the trucking industry and its contribution to the national economy.
Madison County – 19 Iconic Bridges
If you’ve seen the movie, you’d be delighted to see The Bridges of Madison County in its realness. It’s an actual district in Iowa where John Wayne was born, and originally has nineteen iconic bridges that use expensive timbers on its flooring. However, only six bridges remain today.
There’s an annual Covered Bridge Festival every October, where local artists, musicians, and quilt enthusiasts get together to showcase the area’s rich history. You can also witness a parade and join one of the guided bus tours to the covered bridges, where you can see the unique architecture and appreciate the special aura of the town.
Ready to drive across Iowa?
Taking a road trip to Iowa might be one of the best decisions you’ll make in your life. If you’re already building your itinerary, include any of these places and discover what makes Iowa one of the best states to visit. You can enjoy both natural and human-made sceneries that will bring you and your family memorable experiences that last. Don’t forget to check your tires and gas up, because the ride is about to be a fun-filled adventure for you!
Hope our sampling of Iowa road trip destinations helps you plan an amazing vacation. To have the experience of a lifetime, book your vacation rentals at RentalTrader.com. If you need any more information, fill our web form or give us a call, we’ll be happy to help you.