With historical colonies, water parks, outdoor adventures, and more, Iowa is an ideal destination for your next family vacation.
There is no shortage of water and amusement parks in the state or if you prefer to spend your time outside doing a different activity, consider Iowa's unique agri-tourism, historical sites, or outdoor activities.
There are enough state parks to give you outdoor entertainment for days on end, and when you are done, you can enjoy a trip to a winery or a day of shopping to relax. The following top tourist attractions in Iowa include scenic locations, adventure, and family fun, perfect for any vacation length.
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While you can tour the Iowa State Capitol online via pictures and videos, this attraction is well worth a visit in person. The Capitol is impossible to miss, with its large 23-karat golden dome visible from anywhere nearby in Des Moines.
Around the main dome are four smaller but equally beautiful domes. Be sure to schedule a tour so you get the chance to climb up the winding steps and reach the top of the dome for a close up of its beauty.
Address: 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319
The Amana Colonies is made up of seven villages and are popular among tourists who want to relax away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. When you visit the colonies, you will enjoy local art, furniture, and food.
The Amana Colonies are one of the oldest communal societies in the country, dating back to German villages in 1714. The villagers sought freedom and arrived in Iowa in 1855. With such a rich history, it is no surprise that the Amana Colonies are a National Historic Landmark.
You can spend anywhere from a day to weeks in the Amana Colonies, letting it work perfectly with any Iowa vacation.
Address: 622 46th Ave, Amana, IA 52203
The Blank Park Zoo is one of the best places to visit in Des Moines. Children and grown-ups alike will enjoy their time at the zoo, exploring exhibits of 1,484 animals from around the world, such as Japanese macaques, otters, and snow leopards.
Head over to the Kids Kingdom to give your children the chance to interact with farm animals, play on the playground, or go on a camel ride.
There are even activities for other age groups, including the Zoo Brew on Wednesdays during the summer, which is perfect for adults who want to see the animals with delicious brews and no children around.
Address: 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315
Also Read: 30 Best Zoos in the US
As the name implies, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center is yet another one of the top Iowa attractions located in the capital city. With its location by downtown, the botanical gardens give you a chance to escape with temperate and tropical gardens.
Visit the Amaryllis, Bonsai, Coleus & Plectranthus, Gesneriad, or Orchid Collections or attend one of the many events that take place each month.
The Botanical Design Series can give you tips on bringing nature into your home or you can find events and workshops focusing on enhancing your gardening skills on your patio or lawn.
Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309
If you are traveling to Iowa with your family, Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo is a must-see attraction. This is the perfect place to let your kids cool off, unwind, and blow off some energy before you take them to more historical sites.
There are nine major water slides and three major attractions, including the Kailahi River, where you can float peacefully on a raft.
There are also specific areas perfect for younger children and non-water activities, such as golf and go-karts, outside the park. There is a slight discount for buying your tickets online, so plan ahead.
Address: 2225 E Shaulis Rd, Waterloo, IA 50701
The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is located within the Port of Dubuque and is actually the area's most important attraction. It aims to take visitors on a journey along the Mississippi River through dynamic aquariums, wetlands, a boatyard, and historical exhibits.
During your trip, you can pilot a barge, tour William M. Black, a famous steamboat on the National Historic Register, and even get close to living critters.
Take a walk along the Woodward Nature Wetland Trail and stop by the Pfohl Family Boatyard during your trip. Admission is $15, with discounts for children and seniors.
Address: 350 E 3rd St, Dubuque, IA 52001
As one of the most commonly photographed places in the state, it is no surprise that Pikes Peak State Park is one of the best Iowa attractions. During your trip, climb the bluff 500 feet to get breathtaking views of where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers meet.
There is a half-mile boardwalk that will take you to the Bridal Veil Falls, well worth several minutes of observation. You can also walk through the park along the 11.5 miles of hiking trails or spend the night camping at the campground.
Address: 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157
Also Read: 25 Best State Parks in the USA
Okoboji is one of the most amazing places to visit in Iowa, filled with too many attractions to count. The biggest attraction in this area is the glacier-carved lakes that cross the Minnesota border and travel southwest of it, covering around 15,000 acres.
Water sports are the main activity in Okoboji, and you can do anything from boating to fishing to parasailing to kayaking.
There are also multiple golf courses, an amusement park, over 20 miles of trails, picnics, camping, museums, live music, antique shopping, and more. Give yourself at least a few days in Okoboji to experience all it has to offer.
Address: Okoboji, IA
The Field of Dreams is the actual baseball field and farm that appeared in the 1989 movie with the same name. While this attraction is particularly famous among those who love the movie, it has been attracting thousands of visitors for over 25 years.
The farm dates back to 1906 and when you visit, you will see feed corn planted all around the field.
If you take a closer look, you will notice that a nearby family actually plants their corn carefully - they make sure that every row faces the outfield so visitors can get the best view possible.
Address: 28995 Lansing Rd, Dyersville, IA 52040
Many people consider the Grotto of Redemption to be the "Eighth Wonder of the World" and in 2001, this "miracle in stone" was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Grotto is made up of nine different grottos which portray different scenes in Christ's life.
It is also the largest of all man-made Grottos in the world and has the most gems and precious stones to be found in one location.
Admission is $8 per adult and $5 per child and you can also stay at the on-site campground if you prefer to get the most out of your visit to this attraction.
Address: 300 N Broadway Ave, West Bend, IA 50597
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is dedicated to Czech and Slovak art, culture, and history. It’s located in Cedar Rapids, which has historically had a large community of Czech and Slovak Americans. The museum is a way of preserving the rich heritage and introducing it to curious visitors.
The museum opened in 1974 in a small house that only contained a small collection of artifacts. After relocating and expansions, it’s grown into an extensive facility covering more than 50,000 square feet. The current building includes exhibition galleries, an extensive library with Slavic language texts, a theatre, amphitheater, and event space.
Rotating and permanent exhibitions in the museum cover much of the past and present of the Slavic heritage. There is also a model Czech village and an immigrant house. Visitors can go to the museum terrace to enjoy views of the river and Cedar Rapids skyline.
Address: 1400 Inspiration Pl SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404
There are several museums dedicated to the legacy of Buffalo Bill around the country. Still, a visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire reveals a bit more of his story, along with several other exhibitions. The Mississippi River runs through LeClaire, a significant drive in the city’s development; the museum explores the river’s impact on the local livelihood.
Buffalo Bill Museum was established in 1957 and features a variety of exhibitions relevant to the city. Buffalo Bill is one of the main highlights in the exhibitions about famous local figures. He was a showman, hunter, and soldier, while other notable persons are inventors, engineers, and more.
Another top exhibition is the Lone Star, a national historic landmark housed inside the museum. It’s the oldest surviving steam-powered towboat from 1868 preserved for up-close viewing.
The museum showcases lots of information about the Sauk and Fox Tribe, a local Native American tribe, commerce along the Mississippi River, and LeClaire city history.
Address: 199 N Front St, Le Claire, IA 52753
Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States. After his death, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was established in 1965, a year later, in his birth town West Branch to commemorate his life. The National Historic Landmark recreates his childhood neighborhood for visitors to get a glimpse into his humble beginnings.
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site covers 28 acres and features several reconstructed buildings. His original birthplace cottage was the start of the site, which now contains replica buildings, including a blacksmith shop owned by his father, a schoolhouse, and a meeting house. Visitors can enter each of the buildings during a tour of the site.
One of the newest additions to the site is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. It contains many archives, media, and artifacts collected throughout his life and time in the presidency.
Herbert Hoover and his wife are buried on the grounds, and the memorial slabs are open to the public to visit.
Address: 110 Parkside Dr, West Branch, IA 52358
Adventurous travelers can satisfy their thrill-seeking by visiting Adventureland Park in Altoona, Iowa. It's a family-friendly amusement park and resort complex that's perfect for spending an entire day.
Adventureland Park features more than 100 rides, making it the largest park in Iowa. The park’s overall theme is Iowa’s past and the Wild West, with sub-themes across the park to host the various rides. There are five roller coasters, 24 water rides, and children’s rides. During your visit, be sure to catch one of the live shows, such as circus performances, live music, and magic shows.
In case you get hungry, there are a few places to grab a meal or stop by a snack vendor.
Adventureland Park is family-owned since 1974 and frequently introduces new rides and updates to the lineup to compete with the best amusement parks in the country. It’s a seasonal park open from late April to September.
Address: 3200 Adventureland Dr, Altoona, IA 50009
Established in 1921, Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Iowa. It’s famous for the abundance of caves, more than any other Iowa park. The caves are open to the public to explore and showcase formations created over thousands of years.
Maquoketa Caves State Park is just outside of Maquoketa and makes for a fun day trip or overnight stay in the park at the campground. The top activities to do in the park include cave exploration, hiking, sightseeing, and viewpoints. Hiking trails lead around the park to the various caves and scenic overlooks of the landscape.
There are many caves within the park – the top caves include Dancehall Cave, Ice Cave, Shinbone Cave, and Twin Arch Cave. Each cave has unique characteristics and accessible for everyone with handrails installed inside.
Stop by the visitor center to get a map of the caves and the routes to see them.
Address: 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060
Des Moines is home to one of the largest art sculpture parks in the US. Pappajohn Sculpture Park is situated on 4.4 acres of the Western Gateway Park to create an outdoor exhibition of world-class artwork from artists worldwide.
Opened in 2009, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is part of the urban development process for downtown. It was initiated by a large art donation from the Pappajohn couple, an influential and notable couple in the art world. The Pappajohn’s donated their private collection, and a few other pieces were added to reach 28 current sculptures in the park.
Some of the park’s favorite sculptures are Nomade, the largest sculpture, and works by famous artists like Keith Haring, Ai Weiwei, and Louise Bourgeois. There is no entry fee to access the park – it’s a public space to take photos or have a picnic out on the lawn.
Address: 1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309
Established in 1924, Ledges State Park is one of the first state parks in Iowa (and among the best things to do in Iowa). A lot of the landscape was shaped by constant flooding and dam construction but now remains a top visitor attraction for enjoying the outdoors.
Ledges State Park has several natural landscape features worth seeing. The Des Moines River flows through it, and there is a massive gorge reaching depths of over 100-feet. There are also unique manmade structures, including a stone bridge, stone houses, and stone walls.
Some of the favorite activities to do in the park include hiking, canoeing, camping, and sightseeing wildlife. Hiking parks wind through the woodlands and lead to scenic viewpoints such as overlooking the Des Moines River Valley. You’ll encounter several forest wildlife, such as deer, beavers, and woodpeckers.
Native Americans formerly habited the grounds - burial mounds are still visible in the park and popular points of interest.
Address: 1515 P Ave, Madrid, IA 50156
Most people have already seen American Gothic painting, one of the most iconic American art paintings depicting rural life. The house serving as the backdrop is located in Eldon, Iowa, and a bustling tourist attraction thanks to the painting's popularity in pop culture.
American Gothic House is one of the best examples of American gothic-style architecture, mainly because of the gothic window focal point. It was built in the 19th century and is now included on the National Register of Historic Places.
The American Gothic painting, named after the house's architecture, was completed in 1930 by Grant Wood. He chose the house for the painting after touring the community. Ever since it gained prominence and preservation efforts to maintain its appearance.
The house features an adjacent visitor center that provides outfits and props to take photos in front of the house. More recently, the house opened for inside tours of the first floor.
Address: 300 American Gothic St, Eldon, IA 52554
Learn about three of the wealthiest families from Cedar Rapids when you visit the historical Brucemore estate. The estate was built in the 1880s and exchanged ownership amongst some of the most prominent local families – Sinclair’s Douglases and the Halls.
The three-story mansion includes 21 rooms, and outdoor includes multiple gardens, a pond, and woodlands - it covers 26 acres. After the house was donated to the community, it’s now used as a cultural and art center.
Tens of thousands of visitors come to Brucemore every year to attend various activities hosted at the estate – events, performances, festivals, and more. It’s also open for tours. Tours provide lots of details about the lifestyles of the former residents, their contributions to the community, and a glimpse into the elegant interior furnishings.
Brucemore is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Address: 2160 Linden Dr SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403
Iowa is a former major railroad state with lots of routes crossing it. Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad was established in 1983 after preserving a section of a much larger railroad built in the 1890s. Today, the heritage railroad is a popular visitor attraction to enjoy the sites and historical ride through the Des Moines River Valley.
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is an 11-mile journey in the valley, passing sights such as cornfields, crossing the Bass Point Creek High Bridge, and going through the Fraser mining town. Visitors can enjoy views of the Iowa landscape from the comfort of the passenger trains. There is an optional dining cart available for those who choose the dinner ride.
Over 30,000 passengers ride on the train annually. It hosts seasonal rides during the holidays. Visit the history center for exhibitions holding artifacts and memorabilia of Iowa’s railroad heritage.
Address: 225 10th St, Boone, IA 50036