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Iowa Travel Guide: Plan Your Perfect Trip

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Sep 24, 2021

Many things make Iowa a fun place for a vacation or extended travel. Whether you're looking to fly into Des Moines (the capital city) or branch out to one of the many charming communities throughout the state, let PlanetWare make your Iowa travel easy. Our guides to the top attractions, small towns, and places to visit uncover the beauty of the Hawkeye State. Upon visiting, don’t be surprised if you fall in love with Iowa, especially if you catch one of the state's notoriously beautiful sunsets.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

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Inspirational Ideas for a Trip to Iowa

Sunset over a cornfield in Iowa
Sunset over a cornfield in Iowa

Iowa is filled with fun weekend getaways and different vacation destinations. From state park resorts to Grant Wood studios and a notable Field of Dreams, it helps to know everything the state has to offer when planning a trip. Our overviews on the state are an excellent place to start outlining an Iowa adventure. From there, dive into the best resorts, natural spaces, and places to bring a camera.

Best Time to Visit Iowa

Fall colors in Iowa
Fall colors in Iowa

Summer: While Iowa has a four-seasons appeal, the summer is arguably the best time to visit. The warm weather and long days enable all types of exploration across the state. Baseball games, boating excursions, and barbecue events are just a sampling of activities this time of year. The season is also when the Register’s Annual Great Race Across Iowa takes place, better known as RAGBRAI.

Fall: September and October are beautiful months to visit Iowa. The state’s elms, oaks, and maples take on a stunning shade for a short period in the autumn, rivaling any fall colors across the country. This time of year also comes with a nice crisp bookending either end of the day, which pairs nicely with bonfires during the season. The taste of Iowa also comes out in the fall with several apple orchards offering u-pick opportunities across the state.

Winter: Winters can be cold in Iowa, but that doesn’t stop the fun. Popular outdoor activities this time of year include cross-country skiing and ice fishing. Even though the temperatures drop, the state usually experiences sunny days throughout the season. And like the Okoboji Winter Games or Winterfest in the Amana Colonies, communities across the state celebrate the cold weather in style.

Spring: March, April, and May are special times in Iowa. This spring season ushers in longer days and greener surroundings alongside the warming temperatures. This nice weather lends to activities unseen in winter, including long bike rides and camping. And it’s officially spring season in Iowa when the Dutch city of Pella hosts their annual Tulip Festival in May.

Visitors Guide to Des Moines

Des Moines skyline, seen from the Capitol
Des Moines skyline, seen from the Capitol

Whether visiting for business or family travel, expect a little pleasure with every trip to Des Moines. The rich history of the capital city unfolds the further you dive into its top attractions. And with the Des Moines population at 215,000 residents and quickly growing, the cultural scene is also blossoming with a hip demographic.

Best Towns in Iowa

Old Capitol Building in Iowa City
Old Capitol Building in Iowa City

There’s a lot more community to see outside of Des Moines. From the friendly faces of Iowa’s small towns to the bustling streets of the state’s second-largest city, Cedar Rapids, there’s a lot more to explore in Iowa. If on the eastern part of the state, be sure to spend some time in the home of the Hawkeyes, Iowa City, and the home of the state’s original capitol building.

Interesting and Fun Facts about Iowa

American Gothic House in Eldon
American Gothic House in Eldon

What is Iowa Known for? Iowa is known for its agriculture. Approximately 90 percent of the state is devoted to farmland. And while the harvest is mixed, the most predominant crop is corn. And Iowa corn is found on every kitchen table across the nation. The state produces over two billion bushels each year, more than any other state in the country.

Iowa also has a unique spot in pop culture. Alongside being the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the state is also home to the Field of Dreams, as depicted in the 1989 film of the same name. And the iconic American Gothic painting by Grant Wood is also a quintessential Iowa scene.

Population of Iowa: The population of Iowa is just over 3.1-million residents and counting. The state covers approximately 55,000 square miles. This state size and population translates to a density of roughly 55 people per square mile.

Sports Teams in Iowa: Iowa doesn’t have any professional sports teams. Because of that, university athletics in Iowa receive significant fanfare. The University of Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City may draw the biggest crowds, rivaled by Iowa State University in Ames. The annual Iowa vs. Iowa State football game in the fall is a time-honored sports tradition every year.

What is the Iowa State Flower? The wild rose is the official state flower of Iowa. Specifically, the wild prairie rose is often attributed as the state flower. The flower blooms across the state from June through August with various shades of petals.

Other unique Iowa state symbols include the eastern goldfinch (state bird), the oak (state tree), and the geode (state rock.) Iowa also has an unofficial state soil, Tama soil, which is on excellent display in Western Iowa in the Loess Hills.

What is RAGBRAI? RAGBRAI is the Register’s Annual Great Race Across Iowa. It’s a seven-day bicycle ride spanning west to east across the state, sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper. And while the name implies a competitive race, it’s more like a moving festival that enlivens each small town it stops in. Live music, friendly faces, and sore calf muscles are just a few of the standout qualities of the race every year.

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