19 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Iowa

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Iowa, nicknamed The Hawkeye State, is located in the Midwestern US and offers some of the most beautiful and spectacular sights and places to visit! Just browse through these awesome pictures and be amazed by it’s beauty. Looking these up I also discovered Strawberry Point is the home of the world’s largest strawberry, not sure what to do with that but fun to know:)

1. Grotto of the Redemption

Grotto of the RedemptionSource: Lost_in_the_Midwest / shutterstock
Grotto Of The Redemption

The largest man-made grotto in the world, this Iowa institution is a must-visit for anyone heading to the state. Frequently described as the eighth Wonder of the World, the Grotto of the Redemption is a series of nine grottos that each depict a scene from the life of Jesus.

More than 100,000 people head to the grotto every year, with some $4 million worth of minerals and rocks having been used to create this beautiful place. The grotto was given a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and jasper, quartz, topaz, calcite, stalactites and stalagmites can all be seen at the Grotto of the Redemption.

2. Iowa River Valley

Effigy Mounds National Monument, IowaSource: Zack Frank / shutterstock
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

Iowa is known as being one of the most rural places in the United States, if not in the whole world, but that does not make the state any less beautiful. The Iowa River Valley is arguably the best place in the state to experience its raw, natural beauty, while the River Valley Lodge and Campground in Farmington is worth visiting for anyone seeking somewhere more developed. Dozens of miles of unspoiled horse trails can be enjoyed at your own pace in gorgeous Iowa.

3. Snake Alley, Burlington

Snake AlleySource: formulanone / Flickr | CC BY-SA
Snake Alley

Once recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not for being the world’s most crooked road, Snake Alley in Burlington is without a doubt one of the oddest sights to see in Iowa. With seven curves over 275 feet, Snake Alley is lit by replica Victorian lampposts in order to maintain its unique old-timey feel. The alley dates back over 100 years and was originally created as a shortcut to Burlington’s business district, but today it is best known as a strangely beautiful tourist attraction.

4. Pikes Peak State Park

Pikes Peak State ParkSource: Wildnerdpix / shutterstock
Pikes Peak State Park

One of the most photographed places in Iowa, Pikes Peak State Park is a must-visit location in the state for anyone who wants to experience the natural, cultural and historical resources of Iowa. majestic views of the Mississippi River are available from the highest point in the park and the breathtaking scenery is well worth the tough climb to the top.

Pikes Peak, which officially became a state park in 1936, covers nearly a thousand acres and there are hiking trails and campgrounds to enjoy within the grounds of the state park.

5. Des Moines

Des Moines, IowaSource: Henryk Sadura / shutterstock
Des Moines

The capital of Iowa, Des Moines is also the most populous city in the state and is home to many of the most popular tourist attractions in Iowa too. The Capitol Building is a must-visit location for anyone who wants to see stunning architecture, while the best day out to be enjoyed in Des Moines is arguably at Iowa State Fairgrounds, Blank Park Zoo, Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden are also well worth visiting. The State of Iowa Historical Museum is another Des Moines place to add to the list of places in the city to check out.

6. Black Hawk Bridge

Black Hawk BridgeSource: John Brueske / shutterstock
Black Hawk Bridge

Popularly referred to locally as the Lansing bridge, Black Hawk Bridge is a crossing over the Mississippi River from Iowa to Wisconsin. Opened in 1931, the bridge is a stunning piece of engineering, boasting one of the more unusual designs of any Mississippi River bridge. The bridge is named after Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk tribe, who were involved in an uprising in 1832.

7. Crystal Lake Cave

Crystal Lake CaveSource: Pookeesmom / Flickr | CC BY-SA
Crystal Lake Cave

Located five miles south of Dubuque, Crystal Lake Cave is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places to visit in the state of Iowa. Pristine stalagmites, helictites and rare anthodites are all on show in this stunning cave system, which is described by its organisers as a Matchless Wonder. The picnic-perfect outdoor pavilion at Crystal Lake Cave is a great place to relax, while the cave complex also has its own gift shop.

8. Interstate 80

Famous Iowa 80 Truckstop on Interstate 80Source: Frank Romeo / shutterstock
Famous Iowa 80 Truckstop On Interstate 80

With so much of Iowa being exceptionally rural, perhaps the best way to experience the state at its most natural is via the open road, with Interstate 80 the most obvious option from which to do this.

The road travels all the way through the heart of the state, while visitors should make sure they take a break at Iowa 80, which describes itself as the largest truck stop in the whole world. The truck stop now has a vast array of facilities including a 300-seat restaurant, a barber shop, a 60-seat movie theatre and a huge food court with a range of culinary options.

9. Mississippi River, Keokuk

Mississippi River, IowaSource: Nancy Bauer / shutterstock
Mississippi River, Iowa

The Mississippi River is one of the United States’ most beautiful natural attractions and one of the best places to see it is in Keokuk, Iowa. The Keokuk-Hamilton Bridge is one of the most beautiful crossings over the Mississippi River, which borders Iowa for a total of 300 miles.

Fishing is an extremely popular activity in the Mississippi River among the Iowa people, while Keokuk itself is home to an annual American Civil War reenactment, as well as attractions such as the Keokuk Veteran’s Memorial, the Miller House Museum and the George M. Verity River Museum.

10. Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Boone & Scenic Valley RailroadSource: BJontzPhoto / shutterstock
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

No trip to Iowa would be complete without a visit to the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, which has numerous locomotives and dozens of cars. The railroad offers a rare chance to ride on the train tracks in an open-air car, while special events including dinner trips are regularly put on by the organisers of the project too.

The most common trip on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is approximately one hour and forty five minutes in length and is without a doubt one of the best things you can do in the state of Iowa.

11. John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Pappajohn Sculpture ParkSource: Paul Brady Photography / shutterstock
Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Another of Iowa’s top tourist attractions is John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which can be found in Des Moines. With more than 20 sculptures from celebrated artists, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is one of the top places of its kind in the whole country.

The 4.4 acre park is open during city park hours, which run from sunrise to midnight, with guided tours of the sculptures available from April through to October. Touching and climbing on the sculptures is understandably forbidden, apart from Scott Burton’s incredibly beautiful Seating for Eight creation.

12. Downtown Pella

Downtown Pella, IowaSource: Laurens Hoddenbagh / shutterstock
Pella, Iowa

Pella is not one of the biggest towns in Iowa, but the Dutch community is certainly one of the most beautiful places to visit within the borders of the state. Pella has been given titles such as Tourism Community of the Year and Corporate Friend of Tourism, with many visitors soaking up the incredibly natural beauty at its Lake Red Rock, which is the largest lake in Iowa.

Tulip Time is perhaps the best opportunity to visit Pella, as this is when the Dutch community comes into its own, while the Sinterklaas Christmas parade and the July Dutch summer festival known as Kermis are also well worth checking out during a visit to Iowa. Among the best tourist attractions in the town are the Pella Historical Village and the Scholte House Museum and Gardens.

13. Central Iowa

Central IowaSource: RK2 Photography / shutterstock
Central Iowa

Central Iowa may be dominated by the state capital, Des Moines, but there is a lot more to explore in this part of the world too. One beautiful place that is well worth visiting on a trip to the state is Ames, which was ranked ninth on CNNMoney.com Best Places to Live list a few years ago. The Octagon Center for the Arts is one of the best spots in Ames, while nearby Fort Dodge is worth visiting too, with the Fort Museum and Frontier Village a particular highlight.

19 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Iowa:

  • Grotto of the Redemption
  • Iowa River Valley
  • Snake Alley, Burlington
  • Pikes Peak State Park
  • Des Moines
  • Black Hawk Bridge
  • Crystal Lake Cave
  • Interstate 80
  • Mississippi River, Keokuk
  • Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
  • John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
  • Downtown Pella
  • Central Iowa