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Iowa in Pictures: 15 Beautiful Places to Photograph

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 27, 2020

At the heart of the Midwest in the United States, visitors can find the beauty of Iowa across the state. From the state capital of Des Moines, with postcard places like the Des Moines Sculpture Garden, to more rural spots in the state like the Loess Hills, Iowa is well captured with a camera. Pack your bags and don't forget the memory cards - the most beautiful places in Iowa produce some marvelous photographs.

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

1. Des Moines Sculpture Garden

Des Moines Sculpture Garden
Des Moines Sculpture Garden | Todd Van Hoosear / photo modified

At the heart of downtown, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a must-see when visiting Des Moines. The Des Moines skyline, including the Principal Building, makes a beautiful backdrop to this art-infused public space. Several sculptures are throughout the park, including the often-photographed "Nomade" installation. The surrounding Western Gateway Park is central for summer events like the Des Moines Art Festival and the 80/35 Music Festival.

2. Loess Hills

Preparation Canyon State Park
Preparation Canyon State Park

Spanning much of the western border of Iowa, the Loess Hills are a unique geological formation that add some elevation to the landscape. Comprised of prairie and rolling hills, the Loess Hills were created thousands of years ago by glacier runoff and high winds. Preparation Canyon State Park provides a great place to hike and camp in this scenic environment.

3. Ledges State Park

Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park

Near the campus of Iowa State University, and less than an hour from Des Moines, Ledges State Park is fun to photograph throughout the seasons. Sandstone cliffs, wooden steps, and panoramic views of a dense woodland define much of the sights at Ledges. The best way to experience Ledges is through the network of hiking trails within the park. The best way to photograph the golden hours of the park is to stay at the Ledge State Park Campground.

4. High Trestle Bridge

High Trestle Bridge
High Trestle Bridge

Stretching for 25 miles between four counties in central Iowa, the High Trestle Trail offers one of the most scenic bike routes in the state. The centerpiece attraction of this pedestrian trail is the art-inspired High Trestle Bridge. With over 40 steel frames that achieve an eye-catching pattern, the bridge spans 13 stories above the Des Moines River watershed. The bridge also lights up at night for extra photographic attraction.

5. Pella

Tulip Festival in Pella
Tulip Festival in Pella

Tulips and windmills are some of the top things to photograph in this charming small city in south-central Iowa. Pella proudly displays a strong Dutch heritage throughout the streets. Museums, windmills, and Dutch Bakeries showcase this culture of the city, as do the city's annual celebrations. The best time to visit Pella for photography is during the annual Tulip Festival in May.

6. Maquoketa Caves State Park

Maquoketa Caves State Park
Maquoketa Caves State Park

This unique state park has more caves than any other in the state. Nearly every underground space is accessible on the park's six-mile network of hiking trails. One of the biggest caves in the park, Natural Bridge, spans over 50 feet above Raccoon Creek and features a lighted boardwalk path. Other caves in the park require more crawling around.

7. Dubuque

Beautiful view over Dubuque
Beautiful view over Dubuque

On the mighty Mississippi River and eastern border of the state, Dubuque is a river town featuring massive postcard appeal. Paddlewheel boats and bald eagles add extra subjects to photograph on the river, and the historic aesthetics of the city are also very photogenic. A great place to get a picture of both is atop Eagle Point Park in the northern part of the town.

8. The Bridges of Madison County

Cedar Bridge, Madison County
Cedar Bridge, Madison County

Less than an hour drive southwest of Des Moines, Madison County has a beautiful collection of seven covered bridges. Surrounded by scenic natural landscapes, many of the bridges are only accessible via gravel roads. The 1992 novel, The Bridges of Madison County, and subsequent 1995 movie helped put these bridges back on the map.

9. Des Moines State Capitol Building

Interior of the State Capitol in Des Moines
Interior of the State Capitol in Des Moines | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The gold dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is quite the sight to see. The surrounding campus is also well-manicured, with statues, memorials, and big trees. The interior of the State Capitol is equally as ornate with several eye-catching details like wood carvings and murals. Guided tours of the capitol offer a fascinating look at the inside of the gold dome.

10. Pikes Peak State Park

Mississippi River seen from Pikes Peak State Park
Mississippi River seen from Pikes Peak State Park

Over 11 miles of hiking trails navigate the forest and rolling hills of this state park in northwest Iowa. Many of the trails lead to a fantastic view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. Atop the highest bluffs in the park, viewing platforms offer a great photo overlooking the river valley.

11. Decorah

Daisies blooming at the Decorah Fish Hatchery
Daisies blooming at the Decorah Fish Hatchery

Highlighting the beautiful bluffs of northeast Iowa, Decorah is a small city with big natural appeal. Outdoor recreation defines much of the fun in Decorah. Popular outlets for adventure include hiking trails, campgrounds, and waterfalls. Mountain biking and non-motorized water sports are also popular. The Decorah Fish Hatchery is one of many great spots to take a photo in the city.

12. Lake Okoboji

Lake Okoboji
Lake Okoboji

Part of the "Great Lakes of Iowa," Lake Okoboji is a vacation destination in the northwest part of the state. Split between East and West Okoboji Lake, several attractions line both shores. Hiking trails, resorts, marinas, and places like Arnolds Park Amusement Park have enticed family vacationers for generations. Sunsets on this state-famous lake make for some of the best pictures.

13. Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad

Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad

Less than an hour north of Des Moines, this heritage railroad line transports visitors through some of the best natural scenery in Iowa. The Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad runs from Memorial Day weekend through October. Holiday excursions are also available during the winter. Special dining excursions on the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad feature a meal with moving scenery.

14. Amana Colonies

Historic home in the Amana Colonies
Historic home in the Amana Colonies

A half-hour drive from Iowa City in eastern Iowa, the Amana Colonies are seven scenic villages with authentic German heritage. The communal aspect of Amana Colonies dates back nearly 100 years. Today, visitors from across the state enjoy the welcoming ambience of the community. Restaurants, festivals, and shopping opportunities define much of the fun at the Amana Colonies.

15. Effigy Mounds National Monument

American Indian Mound at Effigy Mounds National Monument
American Indian Mound at Effigy Mounds National Monument

In northeast Iowa near Pikes Peak State Park, this national monument preserves over 200 American Indian Mounds. The verdant Mississippi River Valley surrounds this sacred public space and national monument. Several hiking trails in the park lead to the top of bluffs for a great view of the Mississippi and Wisconsin River.

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