The Top 34 Bucket List Destinations in Iowa

Published on July 12th, 2021

Iowa is an absolutely gorgeous state that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s also chock-full of amazing things to see and do. This leaves many to wonder which things they should make sure to check out while spending time in the Hawkeye State. 

Does this sound like you? If so, it might be time to start making an Iowa bucket list. Creating such a list will help you narrow down your options and keep track of the things you think sound the most fun. 

To get you started, we’ve included our bucket list below. Pick and choose from these gems and add some finds of your own to make the perfect travel bucket list for your trip to Iowa.

Iowa bucket list

— What is a Bucket List? —

Before we go further, we should probably address the term “bucket list” for those who have never heard it. Essentially, a bucket list is a collection of all the things you want to do most before you “kick the bucket.” 

The list might include things like places to go, people to meet, and foods to try. It might include things in your hometown or things from various places. Some even go so far as to make a travel list for every place they plan to visit.

The latter option is what we recommend doing, and today we’re here to help you gather bucket list ideas for the state of Iowa.

Effigy Mounds
Image source: Matthew Dillon

— Bucket List Vacations: Iowa’s National Parks —

Our first suggestion is to check out the national parks in Iowa and add those to your Iowa bucket list straight away. NPS sites are always fantastic and well worth seeing, so you won’t be disappointed with these additions. 

#1. Effigy Mounds National Monument

Located in a beautiful and scenic part of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, Effigy Mounds National Monument is home to over 200 mounds created by Native Americans. The mounds are considered sacred by many, and viewing them while contemplating their significance is an experience to remember. 

#2. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Learn about President Herbert Hoover, who was born in the state of Iowa in the small cottage that is now preserved at this site. He spent many of his childhood years in the area and returned later in life to celebrate his long career in public service. 

#3. National Historic Trails

Two National Historic Trails pass through the state of Iowa. These include the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. Both are interesting places to visit that offer excellent American history lessons.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Image source: Jason Mrachina

— More Iowa Bucket List Experiences —

Once the NPS sites are added, it’s time to start seeking out more bucket list ideas. Below we’ve compiled a list of our very favorite things to see and do in Iowa. Choose from this collection and you can’t go wrong. 

#4. See the Field Of Dreams Field and House

If you’re a fan of the movie Field of Dreams, you definitely want to add this stop to your must-do list. This house and field are where it was filmed, and seeing them in person is an awesome experience for fans of the movie. 

#5. Find Madison County Covered Bridges

These days, finding a single covered bridge is novel to say the least, and finding several in one area is almost unheard of. Madison County breaks this norm by playing host to six of the original 19 covered bridges that were built here, five of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

These bridges were made famous by the book The Bridges of Madison County (as well as the film of the same name). There is even an annual festival in the county that celebrates these historic bridges. 

#6. Visit the Hoover House and Presidential Library

As mentioned before, President Herbert Hoover was born and spent much of his early life in Iowa. Visit his house and browse his presidential library at this amazing attraction that lovers of history will adore. 

#7. Learn at the John Deere Museum

What better place for a John Deere museum than in the farmlands of Iowa? This fun, niche museum covers everything you need to know about the John Deere company. It’s on the site of the original John Deere factory, features all kinds of hands-on fun, and even offers free guided tours. 

#8. Ride the Boone and Scenic Valley Railway

Whether you choose a dinner train ride, a weekend getaway, or a “Day Out With Thomas” experience, a ride on the Boone and Scenic Valley Railway is always a good time. This is the perfect option for train lovers of all ages!

#9. Try Zombie Burger and Drink Lab

A favorite in Des Moines, the Zombie Burger and Drink Lab offers a collection of yummy burger options as well as some incredible shake options. Be sure to visit the downtown Des Moines location in order to try their alcoholic shakes, as this is the only location that serves them. 

#10. Explore Maquoketa Caves State Park

A unique and beautiful state park, Maquoketa Caves State Park offers the perfect opportunity to get outdoors. Take in the beautiful limestone formations and rugged bluffs and spend some time exploring the caves. 

#11. Hike at Pikes Peak State Park

Another beloved Iowa state park, Pikes Peak State Park features amazing hiking trails, amazing views of the Mississippi River, and a great way to check out some prehistoric Native American mounds. This park is also an excellent place to camp as you explore the area.

#12. Take a Photo with the American Gothic House

Everyone knows the American Gothic painting by Grant Wood, but did you know the house in the painting still exists? It does, and it’s in Iowa. Be sure to stop by and snap a photo with this iconic house. 

#13. Attend a Hawkeyes Sports Event

Your visit to Iowa isn’t complete if you don’t attend a Hawkeyes sports event. The sports teams that come out of the University of Iowa are adored by residents of the state, and attending one of their games makes that very clear. 

#14. Step Back in Time at Living History Farms

Visiting living history museums is one of the very best ways to really get a feel for how people lived in the past. Living History Farms is one of the best living history museums out there, allowing you to step back in time and experience farm life during several different parts of history. 

#15. Float Through Spook Cave

One of the coolest cave tours out there, Spook Cave is the perfect place to learn all about cave formation. Because the cave is flooded, guests ride through the cave in a boat! During the ride, a guide explains the development and discovery of the cave. 

In addition to being a fun place to visit, this is also a great place to camp during your time in Iowa.

#16. Have Cheese Curds at WW Homestead Dairy

Considered by many to be “The Cheese Curd Capital of Iowa”, WW Homestead Dairy is an excellent place to go for some fresh Iowa dairy products. Pick up some of their famous cheese curds and be sure to get some fresh butter and cottage cheese while you’re at it. 

#17. Add Tulip Time to Your Calendar

The little Dutch town of Pella is always worth a visit. That said, their Tulip Time festival is even better and definitely deserves a place on your bucket list. This festival features Dutch attire, food, and more. Bright, colorful tulips are around every corner, and everyone is wearing a bright smile to match. 

#18. Wander the Amanda Colonies

Another adorable area with a strong cultural identity, the German towns referred to as the Amanda Colonies are also someplace you’ll want to see. Browse the shops, try some new foods, and have a blast exploring all that these cute towns have to offer. 

#19. See Fossils at Devonian Fossil Gorge

If fossils fascinate you, the Devonian Fossil Gorge is the place for you. Here, water has washed away the soil and trees, revealing an amazing 375-million-year-old fossilized ocean floor. Visitors are invited to wander this incredible place and check out the amazing fossils for themselves. 

#20. Take Fossils Home from Fossil and Prairie Center

Want even more fossil fun? The Fossil and Prairie Center is home to a huge quarry full of small fossils that guests are welcome to dig for and even take home. Additionally, the attraction features a visitor center that gives information on the prairie, local wildlife, and the fossils themselves. 

#21. Hop on the Fenelon Place Elevator

A bizarre invention for sure, the Fenelon Place elevator was originally built as a shortcut for J.K. Graves, who lived at the top of the bluffs and worked at the bottom. Taking this super short but steep train ride saved him half an hour both ways. Now, the cable car is a tourist attraction, and a fun one at that. 

#22. Drive Down Snake Alley

Another shortcut, Snake Alley was built to connect the neighborhood shopping area with the local business district. It is an incredibly steep road built with some intense twists and turns. Because of these turns, it has been recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! as “unbelievably crooked” and is the #1 Odd Spot in their “Odd Spots Across America” campaign.

#23. Enjoy a Steak at The Big Steer

In the mood for a good steak? If so, The Big Steer is the place to be. This awesome steakhouse serves up some of the best beef in Iowa and is often the first place a local will point you to if you ask where to have dinner. 

#24. Stroll Through the Grotto of Redemption

Built by Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein as a shrine to the Virgin Mary, the Grotto of Redemption tells the story of man’s fall and his redemption by Christ. It is the largest man-made grotto in the world and is home to one of the largest collections of precious stones and gems found anywhere. 

#25. Be Brave at Lover’s Leap Swinging Bridge

An eight-story-high swinging bridge, crossing Lover’s Leap Bridge is not for the faint of heart. This bridge has several stories behind it, including a ghost story of a girl who jumped into the ravine after her lover was killed in battle. It’s full of history and is absolutely thrilling to cross. 

#26. Cross the High Trestle Trail Bridge

Another bridge that is worth checking out, the High Trestle Trail Bridge is an out-of-commission railroad line that has been converted into a multi-use trail. It features scenic overlooks and interpretive panels, and comes to life with blue lighting after dark. 

#27. Discover National Hobo Museum

Have you ever seen a museum that revolves entirely around hobos and how they lived? The National Hobo Museum is just that. This museum’s mission is to preserve the history of the American hobo and share that history with others. We think they’re doing a pretty good job!

#28. Be Awed at the Matchstick Marvels Museum

Yet another unique and niche museum, the Matchstick Marvels Museum features a number of 3D art pieces made entirely of matchsticks. These are quite incredible to see, and the museum is sure to leave you in awe of the skill these artists possess. 

#29. Make a Pit Stop at Iowa 80 Truckstop

Officially dubbed “The World’s Largest Truckstop,” Iowa 80 Truckstop is a fun place to stretch your legs when on the road. It features the usual gas station amenities but also boasts several dining options, plenty of shopping, a barber shop, a dentist, a chiropractor, a dog wash, a library, a movie theatre, a workout room, and more. 

#30. Tour the Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail

Touring old jails is always a fun thing to do. That said, the Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail is especially interesting. Why? Because the jail was made in a very unique way, allowing the cells to rotate and making only one cell accessible at a time. 

#31. Gather Information at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Interested in learning about the Mississippi River? If so, we have just the museum for you. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium offers all the information you could possibly want on this incredible river. Additionally, it houses all kinds of river animals, allowing you an up-close peek at what’s living in those waters. 

#32. Grab an Ice Cream at Picket Fence Creamery

Ice cream is always a welcome treat, especially when you can get it at Picket Fence Creamery. This local creamery makes some of the freshest and most delicious ice cream out there, and we’d recommend it to anyone. We especially love their “Dutch Letter” and “Girl Scout Thin Mint” flavors. 

#33. Gain Knowledge at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library

An excellent place to learn a thing or two about Czech and Slovak culture, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is an interesting place to visit for sure. Here, you’ll dive into the history of the Czech and Slovak peoples, see traditional Czech and Slovak clothing, and learn about the arts and culture of these amazing nations.

#34. Spend Time Outside at Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Want something fun to do while in Des Moines? We highly recommend the unique and beautiful Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Wander through the well-maintained park and admire a number of amazing sculptures created by 25 of the world’s most celebrated artists. 

Obviously, there is no shortage of things to see and do in Iowa, and honestly, this is only scratching the surface. Now that you know what to put on your Iowa bucket list, the next step is figuring out where to stay. Our suggestion is to rent an RV and explore the state that way. Not only will this allow you to travel in comfort, it’ll also ensure you have a place to sleep wherever you roam in the Hawkeye State.

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