The Getaway
Weird and Wonderful Things to Do in Iowa

Picturesque and Iowa go hand-in-hand; from luscious, rolling cornfields to stunning, fog-lifting state parks. However, Iowa has a lot more to offer than just its beauty. The Hawkeye State is awash with unique and unusual attractions, memories to be made, and experiences to be had. A trip to Iowa can be the trip of a lifetime, whether you're getting some much-earned TLC at a renowned wellness spa or experiencing its stunning wilderness, there's plenty of unique and amazing things to do in Iowa for all ages.


01 Yee-Haw at the Buffalo Bill Museum

One rural barn in the middle of field landscape on the sunset and the stormy sky background.

Established in 1957 in the former LeClaire Women's Club is the Buffalo Bill Museum. Named after the Wild West legend who is native to the small town of LeClaire. Everyone, no matter whether they know of Bill's ties to Iowa or not, knows who the man is, continually fascinating generation after generation. And it all started right here. As well as Buffalo Bill memorabilia, the museum has impassioned regional exhibits and tales of local history of life along the banks of the Mississippi.  


02 Cross the Astounding High Trestle Trail Bridge

Keen walkers and cyclists have their pick of the bunch when it comes to trails in Iowa. One of the best, however, has to be the High Trestle Trail. This 25-mile trail runs from Ankeny to Woodward, using what used to be a freight line on the Union Pacific Railroad. As well as taking you through five rural towns and stunning Iowan landscape, its landmark bridge is easily the creme de la creme. At half-a-mile in length, Trestle Bridge is the fifth-longest pedestrian bridge in the country. Spanning the Des Moines River Valley, the bridge also has unique architecture. Winding squares, lit up at night, were built to represent a mine shaft as a tribute to the region's strong mining history.

high trestle trail bridge Allison Cherry / Getty Images

03 Experience the Infamous Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair is internationally-acclaimed and nationally-renowned. People of all ages are pulled to Des Moines like magnets each and every August. It makes sense: No state fair in the country can compare to Iowa's, attracting millions of people from around the world each summer. The fair itself began in 1854 and has been held in its current location since 1886. Just think of all the millions upon millions of Americans who have made the journey to experience fun, entertainment, wild rides, and delicious food. The true American experience.  

Iowa State Fair Photo credit: Phil Roeder on

04 Cruise Through the World's Biggest Truck Stop

Famous Iowa 80 Truckstop on Interstate 80

Truck stops seem to be the same throughout the country. That is with one exception: Iowa 80. Iowa 80 is the biggest truck stop in the world. Found along Interstate 80 - hence its name - there doesn't seem to be many things you can't do there. There are countless choices on where to eat, plenty of places to shop for all things road-related, and a trucker museum. In fact, there's even a barbershop, chiropractor, convenience store, library, dentist, and private showers. Iowa 80 is more than a home away from home, it's a home on the road away from home, welcoming anyone and everyone who wants to stop by. Furthermore, even your furry family members are covered: there's a dog groomer on-site, too.


05 Explore the Midwest's Oldest Museum

Specimens of orangutans are in the Museum

It's the oldest museum west of the Mississippi and is still inspiring Iowa City residents and curious tourists to this day. The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History is filled with comprehensive displays of prehistoric and ancient species. Fossils, taxidermy, skeletons and more are arranged to educate and inspire. The museum itself covers several floors, with one of its most beloved exhibits, the Hall of Birds, located on the top floor alongside the mammal hall. And the best part? It's free to visit, but also welcomes donations of any size.


06 Take a Ride on the Shortest Railway in the World

Narrow gauge funicular railway, Dubuque, Iowa. This railway has been called the shortest, steepest scenic railway.

Known as both the Fenelon Place Elevator and the Fourth Street Elevator, Iowa's Dubuque has the shortest and steepest railroad in the world. The funicular will take you from the bottom of Fourth Street to the top of Fenelon Place. What lies in wait for you at the top is something of a marvel. As well as being able to see the entirety of the historic Dubuque and the Mississippi River, you can see Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin all from its observation decks. The view alone is more than worth the trip.


07 Marvel At the 8th Wonder of the World

Grotto of the Redemption

Described by The Iowan as being a "Miracle in Stone", the West Bend Grotto is the largest man-made shrine in the world. Not only that, the stones and gems it was built from make up the largest collection of precious minerals in the world. The grotto goes back more than a century and is as magnificent to visit now as it was then. On the inside, the separate grottos that make up the shrine each portray a different scene from Jesus' life, and guests can choose to meditate on this or simply admire to their heart's content. In addition to the grotto itself, there's also a museum there in which you'll find displays of precious stones, tools that were used to build the grotto, and every documented year of its history.


08 Explore Iowa's Golden Landscape

 Rural landscape with corn fields, rolling hills, and a gravel road

While it's true that Iowa's landscape is awash with green, rolling hills and stunning plains, there's more to its magic than first meets the eye. You can get lost driving around the state's roads with a bright green harvest in spring, fading into stunning golden yellows as the year goes on. Iowa's roads are seemingly endless, open to every possibility for photographs or videos that will make people want to know where this place is. Indeed, the Iowan landscape is as magnificent as any other attraction and warrants at least one spot on your bucket list.  


09 Jump Aboard the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad

Boone Scenic Valley Railroad

Be witness to the true beauty of what Iowa has to offer by hopping aboard the Boone and Scenic Valley railroad. Once you see Iowa from above, you'll understand why so many settlers were moved to plant their roots here for generations. There are daily train rides at 1:30 pm as well as dinner and lunch trains that mix up stunning scenery with satisfied, full tummies. Menus include everything from ribeye steaks to vegetarian and vegan meals. While you're in town, don't forget to check out the museum; it's jam-packed with memorabilia from all eras of Iowan railroading.


10 Visit the Butterflies at Reiman Gardens

The Reiman Gardens is a botanic garden on the campus of Iowa State University

In Ames, the Reiman Gardens alone are one of Iowa's most stunning and tranquil places to go. Home to Elwood the Gnome, the largest garden gnome in the world, they also have an astounding butterfly garden. Home to more than 800 butterflies stretching out across 80 different species, the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing is a unique, one-of-a-kind thing to see. Something of a tropical paradise, visitors get to spend time in the company and take countless photographs of these beautiful and ethereal animals up-close.


11 Reflect on rock 'n' roll history at the Buddy Holly Crash Site

Just north of Clear Lake lies a solemn reminder of the day the music died. The Buddy Holly Crash Site marks the spot where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper tragically ended their final tour. This sacred ground offers visitors a poignant look back at a defining moment in rock 'n' roll history. A simple yet powerful memorial invites fans from around the world to pay their respects and reflect on the legacy of these music icons. It's a must-visit for anyone looking to connect with a pivotal moment in American music.

12 Discover the charm of Reed/Niland Corner

Step back in time at Reed/Niland Corner, where the spirit of early highway travel lives on. Located at the crossroads of the historic Lincoln and Jefferson highways near Colo, this quaint stop offers travelers a glimpse into the past. With Niland’s Café serving up hot meals and the Colo Motel providing a cozy bed, it’s the perfect spot to experience the nostalgia of road-tripping. The Reed/Niland Corner encapsulates the essence of Americana, making it a delightful detour for those exploring Iowa's scenic byways.

13 Walk the historic Squirrel Cage Jail

In Council Bluffs, the historic Squirrel Cage Jail offers a fascinating glimpse into a unique piece of penal history. One of the last remaining rotary jails, this circular prison, was once rotated to allow jailers access to prisoners without the need for direct interaction. Touring this architectural anomaly, visitors can explore the inner workings of the jail and hear tales of the inmates who once resided within its revolving cells. It’s a curious exploration into a bygone era of law enforcement, providing a captivating experience for history buffs and the curious alike.

14 Marvel at the ingenuity of Matchstick Marvels

In the small town of Gladbrook, Matchstick Marvels Museum showcases the extraordinary talent of Patrick Acton, a local artist who transforms ordinary wooden matchsticks into breathtaking sculptures. From intricate models of the Challenger spacecraft to the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, each creation is a testament to Acton's patience and precision. Visitors to the museum can marvel at the detailed models, each telling its own story through the painstaking arrangement of millions of matchsticks. It's a tribute to the power of imagination and the endless possibilities of simple materials.

15 Celebrate Star Trek at the future birthplace of James T. Kirk

For Trekkies and casual fans alike, the small town of Riverside offers a unique pilgrimage site: the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, a legendary figure in the Star Trek universe. Marked by a monument and celebrated annually during Trek Fest, Riverside embraces its role in the interstellar saga with open arms. Visitors can explore memorabilia, engage with fellow fans, and even participate in themed activities that honor the spirit of exploration and adventure that defines Star Trek. It's a fun and quirky stop for anyone traveling through Iowa, offering a glimpse into the future in the heart of the Midwest.


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