From unforgettable boat trips to gorgeous garden tours
Known for its rolling hills and farmland, Iowa features a variety of lakes, creeks, rivers and parks that make for excellent excursions in the Midwest. Don’t let the open prairie landscape fool you, as Iowa is full of hidden gems meant to be seen, so step outside and let the journey begin!
Parks and Nature
If your group is itching for a taste of history, check out Cedar Rock State Park in Independence. This park features the historic home of Lowell and Agnes Walter, designed by the famous American architect of the late 1800’s into the mid-1900’s, Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors can take in the beauty of the gardens and trails that surround the center of interest that is the Walter House. To learn more and get an inside look of Wright’s work, visitors are welcome to free seasonal tours from the park staff.
While offering extraordinary vistas of woodland hills, Maquoketa Caves State
Park is by far one of the most unique places in Iowa due to the number of caves just waiting to be explored. There are about 13 caves in the park, which is more than any other state park. Six miles of trails will lead you to cave entrances, some of which can be explored by walking. Don’t forget to take in the beauty at the scenic overlooks from atop the bluffs and look for the 17-ton “Balanced Rock” just along the trail.
Situated in Ames at Iowa State University, Reiman Gardens offers 17 acres with 26 distinct garden areas and several structures, along with an enchanting Butterfly Wing, the Conservatory and Gift Shop. Something is always new with ever-changing landscapes, unique displays, and annual themes.
In the heart of downtown Des Moines is the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden that is unlike anything else. Wander through one of the many gardens and see more than the beautiful flowering plants, with magnificent art and sculptures that bring the beauty of the Midwest to life. The water garden is for certain a site to be seen with over 100 waterlilies, three islands of tropical plants and an extraordinary backdrop of the Des Moines skyline. From May through October, catch the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market. Enjoy home-grown, home-made, and hand-made products in an entertaining and lively atmosphere.
From the Water
For a different view of Iowa, take to the water. Rivers and lakes make up a large part of Iowa’s natural beauty, offering numerous opportunities for visitors to explore. From the Missouri River on the west coast, to the Mississippi River on the east coast, the state is abundant with nautical options.
The Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge in Council Bluffs spans 3,000 feet over the Missouri River. A popular site for tourists, the bridge named ‘Bob’ is a favorite stop. Newly opened over the Mississippi River is the I-74 River Bridge, connecting Iowa to Illinois. Be sure to look at the river through the Glass Oculus.
One of the best ways to take in Iowa’s scenery is from the deck of a riverboat. The Queen II in Okoboji and the Lady of the Lake in Clear Lake both offer relaxing lake cruises. If an unforgettable Mississippi River tour is more what your group is looking for, then don’t miss the Celebration Belle and the Riverboat Twilight. The river cruises offer a variety of delicious lunch or dinner experiences as well as overnight options. From the deck of a cruise ship is a great way to take in the magnificent birds of The Great River Birding Trail.
The stunning waterfall at Dunnings Spring Park in Decorah is a favorite stop. While there, visitors can explore the Decorah Fish Hatchery and Trout Run Trail for more outdoor experiences. Those wanting even more can hop into a canoe or kayak to paddle among the bluffs of the Upper Iowa River.
For the more adventurous group, a trip to Charles City’s Whitewater Park might be on the itinerary. The park offers kayak and tubing opportunities on the Cedar River for visitors of all ages and abilities. Adjacent Riverside Park has covered picnic shelters, a labyrinth, public art sculptures, and a walking trail.