Iowa has much to offer for staycations this summer

Summer vacations are nearly here, and many students and their families have vacation destinations on their minds, such as fancy resorts and tropical beaches, but maybe when you just feel like playing it safe and visit Iowa! Locally you can find memorable and beautiful destinations in Iowa; they may not be the flashiest or world renown places, but they offer a hometown feel and friendly locals. Often when you live in a state, you may not visit as much of it as you should, but staycations are all the rage nowadays, as traveling becomes more costly, and Covid is still around, or perhaps your family has relocated here, and are ready to explore. Visiting your Iowa and really learning about its history and what wonderful things it offers is kind of cool. Although many people might think that Iowa is just flat with nothing to see, of course, this is a misconception; there are various geological areas with bluffs, hills and valleys, the greenest green fields, stunning waterways and great biking/hiking trails to see it all. For vacationers that want excitement, there are endless attractions, beautiful museums, a great variety of accommodations and world class food. 

According to there are five distinctive travel destination areas in Iowa. Let’s look at these five areas and see what fun can be found in each region.

Lakes and land

The region of Iowa that has the most lakes in the northwest area of the state. There are four large lakes in that region called Okoboji, Clear Lake, Storm Lake and Lake View. All the lakes have something special of their own. In the town of Okoboji, hotels offer all kinds of experiences, including ziplining, sailing and speed boat excursions. If your family is into music, in the town of Clear Lake you will find the Surf Ballroom and museum, where musical icons Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens played their last performance, before a tragic airplane crash in the area. In Mason City, you can see beautiful architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright and even stay at a hotel designed by the famous architect. Definitely lots to see and do in the Lakes region of Iowa.

Driftless Area

The most stony and rocky part of the state! The area where there’s some actual hills and depth to it! This area has scenic rivers and patches, and trout fishing is a popular activity in various locations in this area. Decorah with its limestone bluffs and Norwegian settled town is a whole day of exploration. There is also historic Dubuque with its famous Fenelon elevator, known as the steepest shortest scenic railway in the world; it’s a fun ride up a steep hill perched with magnificent Victorian homes. Exploring Dubuque also requires the mandatory visit to  the Smithsonian funded Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, where you can explore and be amazed by the creatures living in Iowa and the Mississippi River. Truly a historic city with roots in French-Canadian fur trading.

Loess Hills and Beyond

In Council Bluffs along the Omaha border you will find the Loess Hills, beautifully hilly and green.The Loess Hills are really something to see in Iowa, as they are rare landforms developed by deposits of silt 200 feet in depth, making some of the most fertile soil in the world. Only in China along the Yellow River will you see such a silt landform comparable in a much more expensive trip to see this type of landform. Besides beautiful land, you will find great railroad museums in this area, including the free admission Union Pacific Railroad Museum, showcasing 150 years of railroad history of railroad in Iowa. For fun shopping and some German culture, you can set off to Manning to find European influenced farms and hearty German food.

Capital Country

If your family enjoys a more urban adventure, Capital Country vacation is what  you need! Not only is there plenty of beautiful landscape, but so many fun places to visit in the region that boasts the largest urban center of Iowa. The city of Des Moines offers museums, restaurants and shopping, but also the famous Iowa State Fair, where you can witness talent contests, beautiful animals, agricultural displays, the larger than life butter cow and everything that can be fried will be fried, like Oreos, cheese and even bars of butter! Then hit the multiple bike trails all over the area. Discover the high trestle multi-use bridge in Madrid. A full day of fun awaits!

Storied and Scenic

This region has a little bit of everything that makes Iowa so interesting. Iowa City is a Unesco recognized City of Literature and has multiple museums to visit, including the University of Iowa Natural Museum. The museum states on its website that its mission is to “inspire in visitors of all ages understanding and a sense of wonder, discovery, respect and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds through exhibits, educational programs and collections, as well as through linkages with UI research and activities.” You will see exhibits that give you a real understanding of the evolving nature of Iowa through the ages. If you and your family are looking for a beautiful stroll with fun stores to visit, Amana Colonies is for you. This village founded by German immigrants in 1855 is a National Historic Landmark. You find a historical museum explaining its founding, many artisan stores, a general store with the best taffy and restaurants serving family style authentic German cuisine. There is so much to do and see in this region!

When asking recent tourists what they thought of their Iowa vacation, Lynne and Gordon Waigel of Ottawa,Ontario, summed it up, We had a wonderful experience visiting some sights in Iowa, all very impressive, but my favorite was our day visiting the Iowa Aquarium and paddle boat ride on the Mississippi. Visiting Dubuque and taking the Fenelon elevator and learning the history of the area. Iowa is a special rare place where you can relax and take in the sights at a less manic pace than other vacation destinations.”

Planning a successful “staycation” requires taking into account what everyone in the family would like to see and balancing out your day so everyone is happy. For more information on places to visit in Iowa, check out to learn about the incredible state parks in Iowa, and check out Very close to you are beautiful and fun places to visit this summer in Iowa. Have a great time!

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