12 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Iowa

by Emil Backup
This post may have affiliate links, where I receive a commission if you purchase through them. Here's our Disclosure and Privacy Policy for more info.

Are you thinking about visiting Iowa this year? Here are some of the most beautiful places to visit in Iowa. These pretty sights and destinations will blow your mind.

When you think of jaw-dropping landscapes and travel-worthy destinations, Iowa might not be the first place that comes to mind. But let me tell you, this Midwestern gem is a treasure trove of natural beauty, cultural richness, and unexpected adventures. From the rolling hills of the Loess to the bustling art scenes in Des Moines, Iowa is a state that begs to be explored.

Now, if you’re a fan of the great outdoors, you’re in for a treat. Imagine kayaking through serene lakes at sunrise, hiking through lush forests, or capturing the perfect sunset over sprawling cornfields. Iowa offers a tranquil escape for nature lovers and a playground for adventurers.

But it’s not just about the landscapes; it’s about the experiences that come with them. Whether you’re into history, art, or food, you’ll find something that tickles your fancy. Picture yourself strolling through charming small towns, each with its own unique character, or indulging in some of the best farm-to-table cuisine you’ve ever had.

So, are you ready to discover the most beautiful places in Iowa? Buckle up, because we’re about to take you on a journey through the Hawkeye State that will leave you yearning for more. From hidden gems to popular hotspots, this list has got it all. Let the adventure begin!

The top things to do in Iowa right now.

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Iowa

Eager to explore Iowa’s most stunning spots? Situated in the heartland of the United States, Iowa offers a diverse range of experiences for every traveler. From vibrant urban landscapes to tranquil natural retreats, this state has it all. Keep scrolling to uncover the beauty that Iowa holds. 

Whether you’re drawn to cultural cityscapes or yearn for a peaceful escape in the great outdoors, Iowa has something to suit your taste. Here are the must-visit locations in Iowa you won’t want to miss:

1. Beulah Falls

Imagine walking through a forest, the air filled with the scent of pine and damp earth, only to stumble upon a waterfall that looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. Welcome to Beulah Falls, a hidden gem that easily ranks among the most beautiful places in Iowa. The waterfall cascades gracefully, creating a misty aura that’s perfect for those Instagram-worthy shots.

The trail leading to the falls is an adventure in itself. You’ll traverse wooden bridges and moss-covered stones, feeling like an explorer charting unknown territory. It’s a moderate hike, making it accessible for adventurers of all ages. And let’s not forget the surrounding flora and fauna; you might even spot a deer or two!

What sets Beulah Falls apart is its secluded charm. Unlike other Iowa destinations, this waterfall offers a sense of solitude that’s hard to find these days. It’s the kind of place where you can sit back, listen to the water, and truly disconnect.

Don’t just take my word for it; seeing is believing. So pack your hiking boots and camera, and make your way to this Iowa beauty. 

Nature's symphony, where cascading waters paint serenity amid lush, verdant landscapes.
Nature’s symphony, where cascading waters paint serenity amid lush, verdant landscapes. | Image credits: Iowa Road Trip

2. Dubuque

Perched along the Mississippi River, Dubuque serves as a gateway to some of the most scenic places in Iowa. With its historic architecture and riverfront charm, the city offers a blend of natural beauty and cultural richness that’s hard to beat. Picture yourself cruising down the river on a paddle steamer, the cityscape unfolding before your eyes.

Dubuque is more than just a pretty face; it’s a hub for art and history. The city is home to the Dubuque Museum of Art and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, both must-visit spots for culture enthusiasts. And let’s not forget the Fenelon Place Elevator, a quirky yet fascinating piece of local history.

What truly elevates Dubuque to a must-visit status is its vibrant culinary scene. From gourmet farm-to-table restaurants to cozy cafes, the city offers a gastronomic journey that complements its visual appeal. It’s a destination that caters to both your eyes and your palate.

When it comes to beautiful places in Iowa, Dubuque is a city that deserves your attention. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a culture vulture, this place has something for everyone.

Dubuque in Iowa unfolds with historic architecture, Mississippi River views, and a vibrant cultural tapestry.
Dubuque in Iowa unfolds with historic architecture, Mississippi River views, and a vibrant cultural tapestry.

3. Dunning’s Spring Park

Step into a world where nature takes center stage. Dunning’s Spring Park is a sanctuary of greenery and cascading water, making it one of the prettiest places in Iowa. The main attraction? A waterfall that plunges dramatically into a crystal-clear pool below, surrounded by lush foliage that turns vibrant hues in the fall.

Getting to the waterfall is half the fun. The park offers a variety of trails, each promising its own unique adventure. Wander through a canopy of trees, cross charming wooden bridges, and navigate stone steps carved into the hillside. Every turn reveals a new, picturesque scene that begs to be photographed.

Here, you can indulge in a variety of activities. Fancy a picnic? There are plenty of spots to lay down a blanket and enjoy some alfresco dining. Into bird-watching? Keep your eyes peeled; you might spot some local avian residents.

Dunning’s Spring Park isn’t just a feast for the eyes; it’s a haven for the soul. This is the kind of place where you can disconnect from the hustle and bustle and reconnect with nature. It’s a must-see in Iowa, especially for those looking to capture the state’s natural beauty in every frame.

Dunning's Spring Park: Tranquil oasis, where vibrant blooms and bubbling springs weave a serene haven in nature.
Dunning’s Spring Park: Tranquil oasis, where vibrant blooms and bubbling springs weave a serene haven in nature.

4. Effigy Mounds National Monument

Unlock the mysteries of the past at Effigy Mounds National Monument, a site that combines natural splendor with historical significance. This sacred place is home to over 200 prehistoric mounds built by Native Americans, making it a standout among Iowa’s beautiful places. The mounds, shaped like animals and symbols, are scattered across a landscape of forests and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.

Start your visit at the visitor center, where you can get a deeper understanding of the cultural and historical context. Then, hit the trails that wind through the monument. Each path offers a different perspective, both visually and spiritually. You’ll find yourself immersed in an atmosphere that’s both tranquil and thought-provoking.

Photographers, bring your cameras. The viewpoints offer panoramic shots of the river and surrounding hills, especially during sunrise and sunset. It’s a dream location for capturing the essence of Iowa scenery.

Effigy Mounds National Monument isn’t just a place to visit; it’s an experience that educates and inspires. It offers a unique blend of history and natural beauty that you won’t find anywhere else. Consider it a must-see in Iowa, especially if you’re keen on diving into the state’s rich cultural tapestry.

Ancient echoes linger in sacred mounds in Iowa, whispering tales of Native American heritage and spirituality.
Ancient echoes linger in sacred mounds in Iowa, whispering tales of Native American heritage and spirituality.

5. Lake Macbride Waterfall

Picture a serene lake surrounded by dense woodlands, where the only sound you hear is the gentle cascade of a waterfall. Welcome to Lake Macbride Waterfall, a slice of paradise that ranks high among the most beautiful places to visit in Iowa. The waterfall itself is a spectacle, its waters flowing over rocks into the tranquil lake below.

Adventure calls at Lake Macbride. Kayaking, fishing, and hiking are just a few of the activities you can indulge in. The lake is a haven for water sports enthusiasts, while the surrounding trails offer a peaceful retreat for hikers and nature lovers. And for the anglers out there, the lake is teeming with fish.

What sets this destination apart is its versatility. It’s a year-round attraction, each season offering a unique experience. Come winter, the frozen waterfall turns into a natural sculpture, while spring brings a burst of color as wildflowers bloom around the lake.

Lake Macbride Waterfall is more than just a pretty backdrop; it’s an outdoor playground that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or someone who just wants to relax by the water, this is one of those destinations you won’t want to miss.

Lake Macbride Waterfall: Nature's dance, a cascade of beauty amidst the tranquil embrace of scenic surroundings.
Lake Macbride Waterfall: Nature’s dance, a cascade of beauty amidst the tranquil embrace of scenic surroundings.

6. Ledges State Park

Elevate your Iowa adventure with a trip to Ledges State Park, a sanctuary of sandstone cliffs and deep wooded valleys. This park is a standout, even among the most beautiful places of Iowa. The sandstone ledges rise dramatically from Pea’s Creek, creating a rugged landscape that’s a photographer’s dream.

Here, you can take your pick from a variety of trails, each offering its own set of thrills. Some lead you to panoramic overlooks, while others take you down to the creek where you can dip your toes in the water. And for the more adventurous, there’s even a trail that requires a bit of rock scrambling.

What makes Ledges State Park truly special is its accessibility. The park features a four-mile scenic drive, allowing even those who prefer not to hike the chance to take in the stunning views. Pull over at one of the overlooks, breathe in the fresh air, and let the beauty of nature wash over you.

Ledges State Park is a versatile destination that caters to all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking and picnicking to bird-watching and photography, this park is a must-see in Iowa for anyone looking to experience the state’s natural grandeur.

Ledges State Park, Iowa's gem: Rugged cliffs, winding trails, and breathtaking vistas, a haven for nature enthusiasts.
Ledges State Park, Iowa’s gem: Rugged cliffs, winding trails, and breathtaking vistas, a haven for nature enthusiasts.

7. Maquoketa Caves State Park

Unearth the secrets of Iowa’s underground wonders at Maquoketa Caves State Park. This eastern Iowa gem is a playground for explorers and nature lovers alike. Navigate through a maze of over a dozen caves, each with its own set of challenges and rewards. The park’s limestone formations create a surreal backdrop, making it one of the most beautiful places in Iowa to capture that Instagram-worthy shot.

Above ground, the adventure continues. Meander along scenic trails that offer panoramic views of the Raccoon Creek valleys. Every step you take is a brush with Iowa’s geological history, etched into the rocks and foliage that surround you. It’s not just about the caves; the park’s above-ground beauty is equally captivating, making it a must-see in Iowa for hikers and photographers.

Whether you’re spelunking in the depths or hiking through the forest, Maquoketa Caves State Park offers a diverse range of experiences that cater to all levels of adventure. Don’t miss the chance to explore this unique destination, where every path leads to a new discovery. It’s the perfect spot to experience the Iowa beauty that often goes unnoticed but is unforgettable once seen.

Maquoketa Caves State Park: Iowa's underground wonder, limestone caverns invite exploration into a subterranean realm of beauty.
Maquoketa Caves State Park: Iowa’s underground wonder, limestone caverns invite exploration into a subterranean realm of beauty.

8. Okoboji Lake

Crystal-clear waters, vibrant sunsets, and a plethora of activities await you at Okoboji Lake, a gem that shines brightly among Iowa’s beautiful places. This freshwater lake is a haven for water sports, offering everything from paddleboarding to jet skiing. Feel the wind in your hair as you zip across the water, or take it slow with a leisurely kayak ride.

The lake is surrounded by charming towns, each boasting its own unique attractions. From boutique shops to cozy cafes, you’ll find plenty of spots to unwind and soak in the local culture. And when hunger strikes, the area offers a range of dining options that promise to satisfy any palate.

What sets Okoboji Lake apart is its year-round appeal. While summer brings boating and beach lounging, winter transforms the area into a snowy playground perfect for ice fishing and snowmobiling. It’s a destination that keeps you coming back, no matter the season.

Okoboji Lake isn’t just a body of water; it’s a community, a lifestyle, and one of the best places to visit in Iowa. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a peace seeker, this lake has something to offer.

Okoboji Lake: Tranquil waters mirror vibrant skies, creating a serene haven in Iowa's picturesque landscape.
Okoboji Lake: Tranquil waters mirror vibrant skies, creating a serene haven in Iowa’s picturesque landscape.

9. Pikes Peak State Park

Elevate your senses at Pikes Peak State Park, where panoramic vistas meet outdoor adventure. This park is a crown jewel in the realm of beautiful places in Iowa. Perched high above the Mississippi River, the park’s overlook provides sweeping views that will leave you speechless. It’s the kind of place where each snapshot is a postcard in the making.

The park is a labyrinth of trails, each one a journey through diverse landscapes. Wander through dense forests, open meadows, and along cliff edges. Every step is a new discovery, from hidden caves to ancient fossils embedded in the rocks. And for the birdwatchers among you, the park is a sanctuary for a variety of species.

What makes this park truly special is its rich history. It’s named after Zebulon Pike, the explorer who purchased the land from the Native Americans. The visitor center offers intriguing exhibits that delve into the area’s past, adding a layer of depth to your visit.

Pikes Peak State Park is more than a scenic overlook; it’s a destination that engages all your senses. From the visual feast to the whispers of history, this is one of those places to see in Iowa that offers a full-bodied experience.

Pikes Peak State Park: Majestic bluffs, where the mighty Mississippi River unveils panoramic vistas of natural splendor.
Pikes Peak State Park: Majestic bluffs, where the mighty Mississippi River unveils panoramic vistas of natural splendor.

10. River Bluffs Scenic Byway

Imagine cruising along a winding road, flanked by towering bluffs and the mighty Mississippi River. Welcome to River Bluffs Scenic Byway, a drive that offers some of the most beautiful places in Iowa along its route. This isn’t just a road; it’s a journey through Iowa’s diverse landscapes, from rolling farmlands to historic river towns.

The byway is a feast for the senses. Each twist and turn reveals a new vista, whether it’s a charming barn set against a backdrop of colorful foliage or a bald eagle soaring over the river. Pull over at one of the many overlooks and take a moment to breathe it all in.

What sets this drive apart is its versatility. It’s perfect for a leisurely day trip but also offers plenty of opportunities for extended adventures. Explore the quaint towns along the way, each with its own unique attractions and local flavors. From antique shops to artisanal bakeries, you’ll find hidden gems at every stop.

River Bluffs Scenic Byway is more than a route; it’s a curated experience that showcases the Iowa beauty you might otherwise miss. Whether you’re behind the wheel or riding shotgun, this byway is a journey you’ll want to take more than once.

Pikes Peak State Park: Majestic bluffs, where the mighty Mississippi River unveils panoramic vistas of natural splendor.
Pikes Peak State Park: Majestic bluffs, where the mighty Mississippi River unveils panoramic vistas of natural splendor. | Image credits: traveliowa

11. State Capitol Building

Step into a realm where history and architecture collide. The State Capitol Building in Des Moines is a marvel, easily one of the most scenic places in Iowa. With its golden dome shining like a beacon, this landmark is impossible to miss and offers a different kind of beauty compared to Iowa’s natural landscapes.

Inside, the Capitol is a labyrinth of ornate chambers, grand staircases, and intricate mosaics. Take a guided tour to discover the stories behind each room, or wander freely and let the building reveal its secrets at your own pace. Either way, you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for Iowa’s rich political history.

But don’t just stay indoors. The Capitol grounds are equally impressive, featuring manicured gardens and monuments that pay tribute to important figures and events. It’s an ideal setting for a leisurely stroll or even a picnic with a view.

The State Capitol Building is more than just a seat of government; it’s a testament to Iowa’s commitment to preserving its history and culture. Whether you’re a history buff or an architecture enthusiast, this is one of those places to visit in Iowa that offers a rich, multi-layered experience.

State Capitol Building: Architectural grandeur meets political history, an iconic centerpiece in Iowa's capital city landscape.
State Capitol Building: Architectural grandeur meets political history, an iconic centerpiece in Iowa’s capital city landscape.

12. The Loess Hills Trail Road

Embark on a journey through one of Iowa’s geological wonders. The Loess Hills Trail Road is a scenic drive that showcases the state’s unique loess formations, making it one of the prettiest places in Iowa. These wind-deposited hills stretch for miles, offering a landscape that’s unlike anything else in the Midwest.

The road itself is a winding path that takes you through a series of overlooks, each providing a different perspective of the hills. Pull over, step out, and let the panoramic views take your breath away. The hills come alive in different colors as the seasons change, offering a visual treat year-round.

What’s fascinating about this trail is its educational aspect. Interpretive signs along the route provide insights into the geological history of the area. You’ll learn how these unique formations came to be and the diverse ecosystem they support.

The Loess Hills Trail Road isn’t just a drive; it’s an educational adventure that offers a deeper understanding of Iowa’s beautiful places. Whether you’re a nature lover or a curious traveler, this trail provides an enriching experience that goes beyond mere sightseeing.    

The Loess Hills Trail Road: A scenic journey through rolling landscapes, where golden hills whisper tales of time.
The Loess Hills Trail Road: A scenic journey through rolling landscapes, where golden hills whisper tales of time. | Image credit: Iowa Road Trip

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Visiting the Beautiful Places in Iowa

Looking to expand your knowledge about the most scenic spots in Iowa? Here are some common questions I get a lot about the best Iowa attractions.

Where is the prettiest part of Iowa?

Determining the “prettiest” part of Iowa can be subjective as the state offers a diverse range of scenic beauty. However, many travelers and locals alike often point to the northeastern region, particularly the area around the Mississippi River, as one of the most visually stunning. Places like Pikes Peak State Park offer breathtaking views of the river and its surrounding bluffs. 

The Loess Hills in western Iowa also provide a unique and beautiful landscape, especially during sunset when the hills take on a golden hue. Okoboji Lake is another contender, known for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant sunsets. Ultimately, the prettiest part of Iowa may vary depending on individual preferences for natural landscapes, outdoor activities, and photographic opportunities.

What is Iowa best known for?

  • Corn Production: Iowa is the leading state in corn production in the U.S.
  • First-in-the-Nation Caucuses: Iowa holds the first caucuses in the U.S. presidential election cycle.
  • Collegiate Sports: Home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones.
  • Agricultural Fairs: The Iowa State Fair is one of the largest and most famous in the country.
  • RAGBRAI: The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is a popular long-distance cycling event.
  • Literary Heritage: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a prestigious creative writing program.
  • Loess Hills: Unique geological formations found in western Iowa.
  • Mississippi River: Offers some of the state’s most scenic views and outdoor activities.
  • Covered Bridges: Popularized by the book and movie “The Bridges of Madison County.”
  • Famous Iowans: Birthplace of notable figures like John Wayne and Grant Wood, the artist behind “American Gothic.”

Is there anything special in Iowa?

Absolutely, Iowa is a state that may surprise you with its unique offerings:

  • Cultural Heritage: From the Amana Colonies to the Meskwaki Settlement, Iowa has a rich cultural tapestry.
  • Outdoor Adventures: Whether it’s kayaking in the Upper Iowa River or hiking in Ledges State Park, the state offers a variety of outdoor activities.
  • Historic Landmarks: The State Capitol Building in Des Moines is an architectural marvel with its golden dome.
  • Music and Festivals: Iowa is home to several music festivals like 80/35 and Hinterland, attracting artists from various genres.
  • Craft Beer Scene: With breweries like Toppling Goliath, Iowa has made a name for itself in the craft beer community.
  • Field of Dreams: This iconic baseball field in Dyersville was the setting for the famous movie of the same name.
  • Grotto of the Redemption: Located in West Bend, this is considered the largest man-made grotto in the world.
  • Effigy Mounds: These Native American mounds in northeastern Iowa offer a glimpse into the state’s ancient history.
  • Farm-to-Table Cuisine: Iowa’s agricultural abundance makes it a hotspot for fresh, local cuisine.
  • Friendliness: Known for its Midwestern hospitality, the people are often cited as one of the state’s special features.
Visiting Iowa: Uncover natural wonders, historic charm, and vibrant landscapes, a tapestry of beauty and discovery awaits.
Visiting Iowa: Uncover natural wonders, historic charm, and vibrant landscapes, a tapestry of beauty and discovery awaits.

Why do people love Iowa?

Here are some of the reasons why people love Iowa:

  • Quality of Life: Iowa consistently ranks high for its quality of life, including healthcare, education, and safety.
  • Natural Beauty: From the Loess Hills to the Mississippi River, the state offers diverse landscapes that attract nature lovers.
  • Affordability: Compared to other states, Iowa has a lower cost of living, making it attractive for families and young professionals.
  • Community Spirit: Small-town charm and a strong sense of community are often cited as reasons people love living in Iowa.
  • Outdoor Activities: With numerous state parks, lakes, and trails, Iowa is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Educational Opportunities: Home to top universities and excellent public schools, education is a big draw.
  • Seasonal Variety: The state experiences all four seasons, each offering its own set of recreational activities and natural beauty.
  • Cultural Events: From the Iowa State Fair to local music festivals, there’s always something happening.
  • Local Produce: The state’s rich agricultural heritage means access to fresh, local produce.
  • Midwestern Hospitality: The friendliness and welcoming nature of Iowans make visitors and new residents feel right at home.

Why vacation in Iowa?

Here are the reasons why Iowa is a good place for vacation:

  • Diverse Landscapes: From the rolling Loess Hills to the serene lakes, Iowa offers a variety of natural settings for outdoor activities.
  • Historic Sites: Explore landmarks like the State Capitol Building, Amana Colonies, and the Bridges of Madison County.
  • Family-Friendly: With numerous state parks, museums, and festivals, there’s something for every member of the family.
  • Culinary Delights: Enjoy farm-to-table dining experiences, craft breweries, and local wineries.
  • Scenic Drives: Routes like the Great River Road and the Loess Hills Scenic Byway offer breathtaking views.
  • Adventure Sports: Whether it’s kayaking, hiking, or cycling across the state in RAGBRAI, adventure awaits.
  • Cultural Festivals: Experience local culture through events like the Iowa State Fair, Tulip Time in Pella, and Oktoberfest in Amana.
  • Affordable Travel: Compared to other U.S. destinations, Iowa offers a more budget-friendly vacation experience.
  • Unique Attractions: From the world’s largest truck stop to the Field of Dreams movie site, Iowa has its share of unique attractions.
  • Relaxing Getaway: Less crowded tourist spots and tranquil natural settings make Iowa an ideal place for a relaxing retreat.

What is the most visited city in Iowa?

The most visited city in Iowa is Des Moines, the state’s capital and largest city. Des Moines serves as a hub for various activities, attracting tourists and business travelers alike. The city is known for its vibrant arts scene, with venues like the Des Moines Art Center and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park offering a cultural feast. The State Capitol Building, with its stunning golden dome, is another must-visit landmark. 

For families, the Blank Park Zoo and the Science Center of Iowa provide educational and fun experiences. The city also hosts several events throughout the year, including the renowned Iowa State Fair, which draws visitors from all over the country. With its mix of urban sophistication and Midwestern charm, Des Moines offers something for everyone, making it the most visited city in the state.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Beautiful Places in Iowa

Iowa is far more than just cornfields and caucuses; it’s a state brimming with hidden treasures that deserve to be on every traveler’s radar. From the awe-inspiring vistas at Pikes Peak State Park to the serene waters of Okoboji Lake, each corner of the state offers something extraordinary. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in outdoor adventures or soak up some local culture, Iowa provides a rich tapestry of experiences that cater to diverse interests.

What makes Iowa truly special is its ability to offer a balanced vacation experience. You can explore bustling cities like Des Moines, with its vibrant arts scene and culinary delights, and then retreat to the peaceful landscapes of The Loess Hills Trail Road for some solitude. The state’s festivals, like the iconic Iowa State Fair, offer a deep dive into its cultural fabric, while its numerous state parks and natural reserves are a testament to its breathtaking Iowa scenery.

So, if you’re planning your next vacation and looking for a destination that offers a mix of adventure, relaxation, and cultural enrichment, look no further. Iowa is not just a state; it’s a state of mind, a place where every journey becomes a story worth telling. Come discover the most beautiful places to visit in Iowa and create your own unforgettable memories.

Best things to do in Iowa for all types of travelers.
Enjoyed reading about the best things to do in Iowa? Pin it! 

You may also like

Leave a Comment