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The Ultimate Iowa Bucket List : 27 Places You HAVE to Go!

Iowa? We’re going to…Iowa? What is there to do in Iowa?

Those are the feelings I had when I found out we were moving to Iowa four years ago. Having never been here before, I had no idea what Iowa had to offer. I assumed we were moving to some tiny town in the middle of corn fields. While I may live in a small-ish town and we do have corn fields all the way around our neighborhood, I could not have been more wrong about all of the awesome things that Iowa has to offer! My time here is coming to an end soon, and it made me start thinking about everything that we have seen and everything that we need to before we go. Here is my Ultimate Iowa Bucket List!

Field of Dreams

One of the things that Iowa is known for in pop culture is the Field of Dreams. The actual farm house and field used when filming the movie is located Dyersville. The summer is a perfect time to visit because the corn is high and green. It’s just like in the movie.

Bridges of Madison County

Since we’re talking about movies that include Iowa, let’s talk about the Bridges of Madison County. Madison County, Iowa still has 6 out of their original 17 covered bridges that you can go visit. There is also a covered bridge festival in October each year.

Hoover House and Presidential Library

West Branch, Iowa is the home town of President Herbert Hoover. You can visit the two room cottage President Hoover was born in. You can also visit the Presidential Library and Museum while in West Branch and learn more about President Hoover. For tons of information for visiting with your family, check out our Parent’s Guide to the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum

John Deere Museum

Located in Waterloo, IA, the John Deere Engine and Tractor Museum is the perfect place to check out tractors up close and personal. It’s the perfect place to visit if you have little people who love big pieces of equipment.  Admission costs $8 for adults, and children 12 and under are free.

Boone and Scenic Valley Railway

Boone and Scenic Valley Railway is home to a reconstructed depot, which also serves as a museum. The railway is home to classic steam engines and trolleys that you can ride through the valley. If you want an extra special visit, you can book a ride on Thomas the Tank Engine in September when he comes to visit.

Amana Colonies

If you would like to step back in time, visit the charm of this German town. The town is full of quaint shops and restaurants. There is also a cute theater and seasonal events for the community. They also have one of the cutest Santas every Christmas with a great set up.

Decorah

Decorah celebrates its Scandinavian heritage with a great museum and Nordic Fest every summer. The museum was listed as one of the top 15 small town museums, so it’s worth the visit.

Dubuque

Dubuque is a small river town that has so much to offer. There is a casino, the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, and the Fenelon Place Elevator. You can check out the Adventures in Iowa: Dubuque post to get a full review and activity descriptions.

Des Moines

You have to spend at least a few days in the capital of Iowa. There is just so much to see and do there. There is the zoo, several museums, the sculpture garden, amazing restaurants, Adventureland, and of course, the State Fair. You can get lots more information on my Adventures in Iowa: Des Moines post.

Iowa Capitol Building

The Capitol Building is beautiful inside and out and is full of Iowa History. My kids loved seeing the miniature version of the USS Iowa and the porcelain dolls dressed like Iowa’s First Ladies. I really enjoyed the art and the beautiful architecture. You can do a self-tour or a guided tour.

Iowa State Fair

August in Iowa means it’s time to play at the State Fair. If you have never seen the Butter Cow, you need to! There are awesome entertainers and so many food options. Bring your sunscreen and lots of water because you are going to spend all day at the fair, and it’s going to be hot!

Zombie Burger

Zombie Burger and Drink Lab located in Des Moines is the flagship store. This is the only location that offers special milkshakes (read: with alcohol). The other locations in Iowa City, Ankeny, West Des Moines, and Coralville have most of the menu, minus the special milkshakes. Just a heads up: there tends to be a wait, but it’s worth it!

Pella

Pella is a beautiful town just east of Des Moines full of Dutch heritage. It boasts delicious bakeries, festivals, and the tallest working windmill in the nation. The annual Tulip Festival in Pella is a sight to see. There are 3 days full of fun and thousands of beautiful flowers.

National Balloon Festival

The National Balloon Festival in Indianola in the summer is a chance to see hundreds of hot air balloons. There is a 5K and activities going all day long. Admission is free in the morning, and adults cost $5 during the evening.  

Kalona Days

In June head over to Kalona for a fun, family day in this beautiful small town. The day starts with a parade, so don’t forget your bag for candy! There is a carnival full of free games for the kids, as well as pony rides and barrel train rides. There is a stage with live entertainment, and part of downtown is blocked off for tractor pulls and other fun competitions for the whole family.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

This state park hosts the most caves in Iowa. There are over 6 miles of trails to explore and a campground to stay in during the summer months.

Backbone State Park

Backbone is home to over 21 miles of trails and home to one of the highest peaks in Iowa. There are so many beautiful sights to see and a large campground so you can stay for the whole weekend, or longer!

Pikes Peak State Park

This beautiful park on the Mississippi River has a small campground and over 11 miles of trails. You can explore waterfalls and the ancient Effigy Mounds.

iowa bucket list

Ledges State Park

Ledges State Park is one of the most popular parks in Iowa. It has just over 4 miles of trails and a beautiful view of the Des Moines River. The park is home to many beautiful canyons and bluffs.

The Iowa Great Lakes

Great Lakes in Iowa? Iowa is home to Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake, and a few other smaller lakes, make up Iowa’s Great Lakes. They have beautiful clear water, and great towns around the lakes offer fun places to visit.

RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI is the annual bike ride across Iowa. It gives you a chance to see the state in a whole new way. It’s also fun to be a spectator and cheer on the riders as they go by. Every year the course changes a little bit but the goal is to ride from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River.

iowa bucket list

American Gothic House

The American Gothic painting is a very well-known painting, and the artist just happens to be an Iowan. The museum is located in Eldon, IA. You can visit the house that inspired Grant Wood’s famous painting. You can also dress up and take a photo to make it look like you are the American Gothic painting.

iowa bucket list

Hawkeye Sports

Attending a sporting event at the University of Iowa is a rite of passage. Football games include a full day of tailgating and then cheering on the Hawks. Wrestling is also a big draw. The new jumbo screen in the arena makes it extra fun.

iowa bucket list

Art Festivals

Iowa City and its surrounding areas have lots of fun family events. We love Chalk the Walk in Mt. Vernon every year, and the art festival in Iowa City fills the ped mall with so many vendors and entertainers.

Coralville 4th of July Parade and Fireworks

The Coralville Parade is a lot of fun and gives you enough candy to last through Halloween. Go early to set up for the parade. We tend to put down blankets either late the night before or before the sun comes up the morning of. Once the parade is over, head over to the Coralville Rec Center to set up your blanket for fireworks that night. They launch them from the baseball field. I recommend the hill behind the 3rd baseline.

Herky Hunting/ Herky on Parade

All around Johnson County there are Herky statutes. If you’re not from around here or weren’t here the last time we had Herky on Parade, you probably have no clue why or just assume everyone is really proud to be a Hawkeye (which we are!). Every 10 years Herky goes on parade around town and different statues are made and designed to support local business and life in Iowa. Our most recent Herky on Parade was in 2014 where 84 Herky statutes were hidden around Johnson County, and since then there have been a few special edition Herkys released at FryFest. Now the Herkys have been relocated to their permanent homes, some of which are people’s homes, and you can still go hunting for Herky around town. 

iowa bucket list

Fry Fest

Fry Fest is the kick off to the Iowa Football season. It happens every September, and it is a lot of fun. The day is full of vendors and memorable Hawkeye speakers, and then everyone gets to party the night away with live entertainment. The event happens at Iowa River Landing in Coralville. 

 

There is so much to love about this great state of Iowa, so get out there and explore it! 

What items are still on your Iowa Bucket List? 

 

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3 Responses to The Ultimate Iowa Bucket List : 27 Places You HAVE to Go!

  1. Cheryl February 21, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

    I would definitely add the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois (right across the Mississippi from Bettendorf). Free to all with lots of big John Deere equipment located inside a beautiful building. Kids and adults are free to climb up into the cabs of all this equipment and get up close and personal. Also has interactive play area for the kids, historical movie, video simulation games of the machines. Great place for young and old. And the best part is that it’s FREE

  2. Juanita Gray February 21, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    We have been to almost all of these places. The best vacation we ever took we never left Iowa. I would also add the many great flea markets in Iowa–especially Walnut on Father’s Day weekend.

  3. Barb February 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

    All great places I have had the opportunity to visit. I would add The Basilica in Dyersville and the lock and damn in Gutenberg.

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