Iowa, the 29th state, is a midwest mélange of farms, wildlife, riverside towns and historical landmarks. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Iowa’s small-town lifestyle and history is to drive along one of nine state-designated and two nationally designated scenic byways. If you do so, you might spot a bald eagle soaring above the Mississippi River, rare plants and animals in the Loess Hills, or barns, churches and other buildings. The state offers an Iowa Scenic Byways brochure that maps out the routes and approximate mileage.
In June 2000, two Iowa roadways were designated as National Scenic Byways by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Loess Hills Scenic Byway and the Iowa Great River Road received the national designation because of their scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological and recreational qualities. The Iowa Great River Road parallels the Mississippi River on the state’s eastern border from Missouri to Minnesota, and is part of a 10-state route stretching from Louisiana to Minnesota. This 326-mile corridor traverses 10 Iowa counties from Keokuk at the southeastern tip of Iowa to New Albin in the far northeast corner.
The Loess Hills Scenic Byway is a 220-mile route in western Iowa from the Missouri state border south of Hamburg, Iowa, north to Akron, north of Sioux City. The route weaves through a landform of windblown glacial silt deposits known as the Loess (pronounced “luss”) Hills. This natural geological wonder is found in only two places in the world—Iowa and China. Not only does the Loess Hills region offer a unique natural heritage, it supports many culturally and historically important sites, public parks and recreation areas.
The state capital is Des Moines. The Iowa State Capitol building was built between 1871 and 1886. One of the most commanding features is the dome. Constructed of steel and brick, the dome is externally gilded with 23-karat gold leaf. The State Historical Museum is housed in a modern granite-and-glass structure at the foot of the State Capitol. Permanent and temporary exhibits explore the people, places, events, and issues of Iowa’s past. The museum features a genealogy and Iowa history library, museum store and an open atrium area.
Iowa boasts 24 National Historic Landmarks. Among Iowa’s most famous travel destinations are the Amana Colonies, which are seven authentic German villages that preserve their crafts and culture while offering a variety of experiences.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum teaches about the life and leadership of America’s 31st president. Located in West Branch, the site includes Hoover’s birthplace cottage and final resting place. The site features a blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse, Friends meeting house, replica of the Oval Office and changing American history exhibits.
Effigy Mounds National Monument is a group of prehistoric Native America burial and ceremonial mounds located near Marquette in northeast Iowa. The mounds—shaped like birds and animals between 500 B.C. and 1300 A.D.—form the sacred centerpiece of a 2,526-acre forest along the Mississippi River bluffs. Natural resources include 11 miles of hiking trails, tallgrass prairie and wetlands.
Held every August, the Iowa State Fair features the largest foods department of any state fair and one of the largest livestock shows in the world. The Iowa State Fairgrounds are just 10 minutes east of downtown Des Moines.