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Pastures and fields of corn cover much of the heart of the Heartland, but there's much more to Iowa than its famously green fields: dramatic bluffs along the Mississippi River, quintessential small towns, and vibrant midsize cities like Des Moines. History flows through the state's oldest city, Dubuquewhich has reinvented its Mississippi River waterfront as a lively destination.
Excursion vessels cruise the water, but the cornerstone of the waterfront is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, where you can experience touch tanks, tour a steamer and view six big aquariums full of river creatures. Watch for special events ice sculpture, log rolling throughout the year. of Midwest Living's top picks for things to do in Dubuque.
Some people might be surprised by this classic vacation spot miles northwest of Des Moines. A string of glacial lakes covers about 15, acres, forming the " Iowa Great Lakes. Okoboji Boat Works, a popular stop between the west and east lakes, offers a swimming beach, a playground and glass-bottom boat tours. of Midwest Living's picks for top things to do in Okoboji. The Des Moines Art Center curates the collection at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Parkwhich looks especially fabulous at night, when lights illuminate the oversize sculptures.
Enjoy walking through the sculptures, but don't miss the Art Center either about 5 miles west. It houses an outstanding contemporary collection. of Midwest Living's picks for top things to do in Des Moines. Tucked among the bluffs of northeast Iowa, charming small-town Decorah shares its Scandinavian heritage everyday in quaint downtown shops and at history-rich spots such as the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.
With more than 24, artifacts and 16 historical buildings, the Vesterheim is the most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group. Decorah also celebrates its Scandinavian heritage each summer during Nordic Fest, with a parade, music, dancing, tours and more.
of Midwest Living's top picks for things to do in Decorah. A web of steep trails loops over the sandstone cliffs along Pease Creek as it winds through Ledges State Park.
The campground is pleasant and a few walk-in sites are very coolbut most visitors are day-trippers from Des Moines 40 miles southeast who come to picnic, hike and wade along the Canyon Road. Parents: Pack extra clothes. The splashy spots where the road goes through the creek are kid magnets. This end-of-summer pilgrimage celebrates Iowa's farm heritage within an increasingly cosmopolitan Des Moines. The fair's acres can be overwhelming; navigate the sprawl by using free downloadable walking tours from the fair website.
For a view above the crowds, relax for a few minutes on the Sky Glider ride. The rolling hills on Iowa's western edge host a surprising variety of plants and animals. Enjoy the area from the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, a mile route that links prairies, parks, forests and overlooks stretching to the Missouri. Founded by refugees from Holland inthe pretty town of Pella about 40 miles southeast of Des Moines proudly displays its tidy Dutch heritage.
The town is home to the tallest working windmill in the nation and the annual Tulip Time festival in May, with a variety of Dutch-inspired events.
Tour more than 20 historical buildings and a windmill at Pella Historical Village and Vermeer Windmill. And don't miss the almond-paste-filled Dutch letters at Jaarsma Bakery. Des Moines has undergone a dining transformation, the kind that happens one kitchen at a time, until residents look up and say, "Wow! Things have changed. Popular spots include Centro for contemporary Italian cuisine; Cheese Bar of Des Moines for luscious fondue and elaborate boards; Harbinger for vegetable-focused, small-plate creations; and, in downtown's hip East Village, Miyabi 9, with some of the city's best sushi.
The massive river eases around a parade of communities—from tiny towns to busy midsize cities—and spectacular vistas fill the spaces in between. In southern Iowa, eagles soar above the lock at Keokukwhere wealth made from the river created fine homes and public buildings.
Heading north, the river weaves through communities such as Bellevuewhere watercraft negotiate the lock near galleries and antiques shops; the river port of Dubuque with its thriving waterfront activities; and Guttenbergwhere street names such as Goethe and Schiller reflect the German roots.
Six of Madison County's original 19 covered bridges remain—enough to have inspired a best-selling novel and movie. A covered bridge festival in October features music, a quilt show, local artists, a parade and guided bus tours of the covered bridges.
Wintersetthe county seat, is about 40 miles southwest of Des Moines. Cornfields and combines feel eons away from the lush and strangely exotic landscape at Maquoketa Caves State Park 30 miles south of Dubuquewhere a long wood staircase descends from a concrete picnic area into an almost prehistoric world.
Towering stone walls, moss-covered rocks and an emerald canopy unfold around the Maquoketa Caves' 16 caves and crawl spaces. Ducking under low-hanging rocks and clambering along a roller coaster of steps, visitors feel like real explorers. Bring a flashlight-and a towel to wipe mud off your shoes. Check the park website before you go for cave accessibility; Iowa's Department of Natural Resources monitors the bats in the park's caves to help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome by humans.
A burgeoning museum campus is turning this former manufacturing town into an overnight destination for history buffs. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium makes science fun for kids with optical illusions, plasma gloves and more. Rensselaer Russell House Museumbuilt inFeel my sexy touch 20 you host ia city area 20 been restored to s Victorian splendor. All are part of Grout Museum District. of Midwest Living's top picks for things to do in Waterloo. Ten miles apart, Mason City and Clear Lake have distinct personalities. Mason City appeals to architecture buffs and fans of The Music Man.
In the green east-central Iowa River Valley along Interstate miles east of Des Moinesthe seven Amana Colonies have clung to their roots with German steadfastness since Almost half the residents are descendants of the original German colonists; inns, restaurants and shops draw heavily on traditional foods and handicrafts. At the Amana Heritage Societyask about custom tours in addition to the five museum sites. Shop for beautiful, classic quilts at Heritage Desor find local ham, bacon, sausage and cheese at Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse.
The Iowa City Pedestrian Mall pictured is an approximately block area downtown that houses many of the city's best shops, college clubs and restaurants. Prairie Lights Books, a downtown icon, features three-and-a-half stories of books plus a coffee house where writers Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and Langston Hughes visited.
Twenty miles south of Des Moines, Indianola population 14, hosts the annual National Balloon Classica week-long festival that has graced the summer skies of central Iowa for more than 40 years. Balloon flights, music performances, a 5K road race, fireworks, a parade and an arts and crafts show are all part of the fun. National Balloon Classic. Regionalist artist Grant Wood lived in Cedar Rapids most of his life, so it's fitting that the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art owns the largest collection of his works as well as the Grant Wood Studio where he worked from to Czech heritage also permeates Cedar Rapids 30 miles northwest of Iowa City ; in Czech Villagethe business hub of the Czech community, try a kolache filled pastry at Sykora Bakeryand admire elaborate folk costumes at National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library.
The railroad town of Boone 50 miles northwest of Des Moines is home of one of the state's favorite attractions: Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, which offers one-hour-andminute excursions, mile dinner and dessert rides, two old-time trestles and a mph maximum speed.
Trips start at a reconstructed depot near downtown. Guests can also visit the Iowa Railway Museum to learn about the state's railroading history. Tiny and quaint, s ports line the Des Moines River in southeast Iowa. Most weekends find the county fairly quiet, but the annual Scenic Drive Festival in October swells towns such as Bentonsport, Keosauqua and Bonaparte each with populations of 1, or fewer with crafters, pancake feeds, pedal tractor races and old-time medicine shows. By The editors of MidwestLiving. Pin More. Lacey-Keosauqua State Park. Start Slideshow.
Top attractions in Iowa. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Courtesy of the Dubuque Convention and Visitors Bureau. The "Iowa Great Lakes". John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Decorah's Scandinavian heritage. Ledges State Park. Iowa State Fair. Loess Hills.
Pella's Dutch history. Suchi from Miyabi 9. Roseman Bridge. Iowa: Maquoketa Caves State Park. Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum. Stockman House, Iowa. Amana Colonies. The Iowa City Pedestrian Mall. Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
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