If you think Iowa is a state to pass through without stopping on your way to other exotic and exciting destinations, you’re mistaken. The state has wonderful monuments, landmarks and other hidden gems to discover. Flanked by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River to the west, this bountiful state formed part of the backbone of the United States’ agricultural economy alongside Nebraska, feeding an ever-growing country along the way.
It has an eclectic mix of cities, rural towns and farming communities, including the urban hubs of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Traversing the state is a journey through time, ecosystems and terrain ranging from almost inhospitable to thriving with life. It’s a state that beckons travellers from far and wide to enjoy its down-to-earth culture and relax among rolling hills and cornfields. Visit the Hawkeye State to see just why the locals treasure Iowa and be prepared to leave with a smile on your face while asking yourself, ‘when can I go back?’.
- 21 Iowa Landmarks
- Historic Landmarks in Iowa
- 1- Field Of Dreams
- 2- Grotto Of The Redemption
- 3- Madison County Bridges
- 4- Iowa State Capitol
- 5- Amana Colonies
- 6- Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
- 7- Iowa State Fair
- 8- Effigy Mounds National Monument
- 9- Sergeant Floyd Monument
- 10- John Wayne Birthplace Museum
- 11- Danish Windmill
- 12- Women’s Achievement Bridge
- 13- Columbus Junction Swinging Bridge
- 14- High Trestle Trail
- 15- Site of First Train Robbery In The West
- Natural Landmarks in Iowa
- Historic Landmarks in Iowa
21 Iowa Landmarks
Historic Landmarks in Iowa
1- Field Of Dreams
What may look like a simple cornfield, at first glance, is one of the United States’ most-iconic baseball venues.
The set of the famous 1989 film Field Of Dreams, which starred Kevin Costner, became immortalised when the New York Yankees played the Chicago White Sox here on 12 August 2021.
The match was so successful that more games at the venue were scheduled, making the Field of Dreams an even more legendary location.
It’s a must-visit landmark for baseball fans and movie buffs where you can catch the occasional professional baseball game or the Ghost Sunday Show, a re-enactment of the original film’s baseball match, hosted on select Sundays throughout the year.
Field of Dreams is at 28995 Lansing Rd, Dyersville, IA 52040.
2- Grotto Of The Redemption
Located in West Bend, this bizarrely unique landmark of Iowa is famous throughout the state for its striking appearance.
Also called the West Bend Grotto, this Catholic shrine hand-built by a local pastor consists of nine separate grottos covered in beautiful stones and gems.
The site is such an important historic landmark in Iowa that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, attracting pilgrims and intrigued travellers of all faiths ever since.
Grotto Of the Redemption is at 208 1st Ave NW, West Bend, IA 50597.
3- Madison County Bridges
Venture roughly 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Des Moines and be prepared to be treated to the picturesque bridges dotted throughout Madison County.
Both culturally significant and pleasing to the eye, the Madison County Bridges have inspired many travellers, photographers and even the best-selling novel-turned-film, The Bridges Of Madison County.
With five out of the six bridges still standing listed on the National Register of Historic Places, these bridges are an Iowa treasure and well worth a visit.
One of the best ways to see them is along the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway, an 82-mile (132 km) long stretch of road which takes visitors past the bridges and through the gorgeous Madison County area.
Madison County Bridges Welcome Center is at 73 Jefferson Street, Winterset, IA 50273.
4- Iowa State Capitol
The State Capitol building is a majestic landmark in Des Moines.
This golden-domed structure is impressive and is one of the USA’s grandest capitol buildings.
Walking up the building’s stairs offers commanding views of downtown Des Moines, providing visitors to the capitol building with a great day out even if they don’t venture within.
The State Capitol is the seat of Iowa’s government and one of Des Moines’ must-visit landmarks.
It is a stunning example of architecture and design, with numerous historical items and intriguing Iowa exhibits on display to the public during a tour of the building.
Iowa State Capitol is at 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319.
5- Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies are in eastern Iowa and consist of seven individual communities.
You’ll be whisked back in time to a unique period when European immigrants settled in Iowa.
The Amana Colonies have a history dating back to the mid-1800s when pious German families first settled in this remote region of Iowa.
For many years, no outside forces disrupted their communal way of life.
Today these communities are listed as a National Historic Landmark, with a slow-paced life and interesting dining and shopping scene.
With beautiful rural paths and bikeways to explore all around the area, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained.
Amana Colonies is at 622 46th Ave, Amana, IA 52203.
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6- Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
Being an influential former railroad state with many crucial lines crisscrossing all over Iowa, it’s no surprise that Iowa’s got some impressive railway lines cutting through beautiful valleys and gorges.
One of which is the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, a historic railway line dating back to the 1890s which takes guests on steam locomotive tours through rural Iowa.
This popular attraction offers a vast array of excursions on various types of carriages and locomotives geared towards comfort and entertainment.
With over 30 000 passengers who complete the 11-mile (18 km) long journey every year, the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is a landmark in Iowa to add to your itinerary list.
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is at 225 10th St, Boone, IA 50036.
7- Iowa State Fair
The Iowa State Fair is the state’s biggest event and one of the country’s oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions.
The Iowa State Fair is hosted annually in Des Moines and attracts over a million visitors from all over the world each year.
It’s Iowa’s major festival and serves as a monument to the state’s best in agriculture, industry, entertainment, and success.
With flea markets, live music, incredible food and all sorts of displays and shows on offer, the Iowa State Fair is a fun place to visit.
Check the fair’s website to avoid missing out on the fun at Iowa’s liveliest landmark the next time you’re in the region.
Iowa State Fair is at 3000 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50317.
8- Effigy Mounds National Monument
A sacred area for Native Americans for centuries, the Effigy Mounds National Monument is one of the major historic landmarks in Iowa and a must-visit site for history buffs.
Within the park’s boundaries, there are 210 known prehistoric American Indian mounds, of which 31 are formed in the likeness of bears and birds.
Effigy Mounds National Monument offers more than just a glimpse into an ancient and enigmatic society.
The park, located in the northeast corner of Iowa, also provides stunning vistas from cliffs that rise over the Mississippi River and is a favourite hiking destination for nature lovers.
Effigy Mounds National Monument is at 151 IA-76, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146.
9- Sergeant Floyd Monument
Sioux City’s Sergeant Floyd Monument pays tribute to Charles Floyd, who was the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s only member to lose his life on the journey westward in 1804.
The soaring 100-foot (30 m) tall monument marks the place he’s buried and was the first National Historic Landmark registered in the country.
The site is worth a visit to honour Floyd’s role in making the expedition a success and to gaze at the massive obelisk.
Sergeant Floyd Monument is at 2601 S Lewis Blvd, Sioux City, IA 51103.
10- John Wayne Birthplace Museum
This small, unimposing house in Winterset is the birthplace of Marion Robert Morrison, also known as John Wayne.
The darling of Hollywood for decades and still extremely popular today, John Wayne is no doubt one of Iowa’s most-famous former residents.
Today, the house is a museum depicting the actor’s life and displays items and knickknacks from his childhood.
Located roughly 40 minutes outside Des Moines, travelling to the museum is an easy day trip to learn more about one of the world’s most famous actors.
John Wayne Birthplace Museum is at 205 S John Wayne Dr, Winterset, IA 50273.
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11- Danish Windmill
Located in Elk Horn, the Danish Windmill is an original 1848 windmill from Norre Snede in Denmark.
It was transported to Elk Horn and reconstructed in 1976 by over 300 volunteers.
With over 43% of Elk Horn’s population claiming Danish ancestry, it’s no surprise that the Danish Windmill is located here.
You can tour the windmill and browse the mill’s authentic Danish gift shop filled with all sorts of imported Danish products.
The Danish Windmill is a well-preserved Iowa landmark, and Elk Horn is the spot to explore Scandinavian roots.
Danish Windmill is at 4038 Main St, Elk Horn, IA 51531.
12- Women’s Achievement Bridge
Not only is the Women’s Achievement Bridge a vital connection between east and west Des Moines, but it’s also a place to commemorate and celebrate the achievements made by women throughout Iowa.
The bridge opened in 2010 and has two pathways crossing the Des Moines River, one for cyclists and one for pedestrians.
The bridge honours prominent women from Iowa.
Residents are encouraged to nominate women who have made a positive effect on the lives of others, accomplished exceptional feats, inspired future generations and became agents of change for the state of Iowa, the United States, or the world.
It’s an inspiring landmark and a lovely place to stroll while recognising the extraordinary achievements of Iowa’s pioneering women.
Women’s Achievement Bridge is at Principal Riv Walk, Des Moines, IA 50309.
13- Columbus Junction Swinging Bridge
This eight-storey tall, swaying wooden bridge is steeped in mystery and lore, definitely not for the faint of heart.
Surrounded by lush trees, the Columbus Junction Bridge was constructed in 1886 and rebuilt in 1904 before it collapsed in 1920 with two people on top.
Luckily no one was injured, but the incident no doubt led to the bridge becoming a favourite of spooky tales all around the state.
Legends aside, the bridge crosses a pretty ravine and is a favourite for nature lovers looking to enjoy some of the great outdoors Iowa’s known for, and is well worth a visit for those brave enough to walk across.
Columbus Junction Swinging Bridge is at 303 Oak St, Columbus Junction, IA 52738.
14- High Trestle Trail
The High Trestle Trail is a 25-mile (40 km) long decommissioned railway line turned recreational pathway and bikeway.
Running through four counties, the High Trestle Trail is easily accessible and even easier to navigate due to its flat terrain.
Perfect to enjoy sweeping views of central Iowa, the High Trestle Trail is a good way to enjoy Iowa’s countryside and a less-travelled region.
High Trestle Trail is at 2335 QF Lane, Madrid, IA 50156.
15- Site of First Train Robbery In The West
The Old US Highway 6 near Adair is where a train car wheel marks the spot of the first train robbery from aboard a moving train.
On 21 July 1873, Jesse James and his band of robbers tried to rob a Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad train but the shipment of gold they were expecting to find wasn’t onboard.
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Natural Landmarks in Iowa
16- Maquoketa Caves
You’ll find this famous natural landmark of Iowa, Maquoketa Caves, in the 111-acre (45 ha) Maquoketa Caves State Park formed with 430-million-year-old rock.
This collection of limestone caves has been a gathering spot for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the artefacts found in and around the caves.
Today, the park attracts hikers, explorers and nature enthusiasts.
Whether it’s traversing the park’s 6-mile (10 km) long hiking trails, exploring the insides of the park’s numerous accessible caves or camping overnight at the park’s camping ground, Maquoketa Caves is well worth the visit.
Maquoketa Caves are at 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060.
17- Okoboji Lakes
The lakes surrounding the Okoboji area near the Iowa-Minnesota border are glacier-carved lakes covering an area of more than 15000 acres (6,070 ha).
These natural landmarks of Iowa attract Iowans looking to cool down during the warm summer months.
Water sports are the major attraction of Okoboji, and you can do anything from boating and fishing to parasailing and kayaking.
There are also many golf courses, an amusement park, more than 20 miles (32 km) of hiking and biking trails, picnic facilities, camping grounds, museums, live music, antique shops, and many other great activities for guests to enjoy.
Okoboji Lakes are at Okoboji, Iowa 51355.
18- Pikes Peak State Park
Not to be confused with Pike’s Peak in Colorado, Iowa’s Pikes Peak State Park welcomes visitors with gorgeous vistas overlooking the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers from atop the park’s 500-foot (152 m) bluff.
Of the park’s 11.5-mile (18.5 km) long hiking trails, the park’s half a mile-long boardwalk, which passes Pikes Peak’s Bridal Veil Falls, is without a doubt the highlight.
Apart from hiking, there are also excellent spots to camp under the stars, promising an exciting outdoor excursion to visitors of Pikes Peak State Park.
Pikes Peak State Park is at 32264 Pikes Peak Rd, McGregor, IA 52157.
19- Crystal Lake Cave
First discovered in 1868 by James Rice, a prospective miner looking for ore, the Crystal Lake Cave got its name from the large arrays of crystals found within the cave.
Located near Dubuque, the Crystal Lake Cave is continually evolving and changing as water streams erode the soft limestone formations within the cave.
Regular cave tours take off every 15 to 30 minutes and last about 45 minutes, taking visitors past the cave’s many stalagmites and stalactites.
Join the Wild Cave Tour for an adventure further into the cave and through sections rarely seen by most visitors.
Crystal Lake Cave is at 6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003.
20- Loess Hills
The Loess Hills landscape stretches over 1,080 square miles (2797 sq. km) along the Missouri River’s eastern edge, an Iowa gem.
This geological formation spans over 220 miles (354 km) long and 15 miles (24 km) wide, with hills seemingly connecting rural and urban regions.
Spectacularly lush fields and small rural towns dot the Loess Hills, and the hills even incorporate Iowa’s wine route, making the area a haven for travellers visiting Iowa.
Loess Hills is in western Iowa.
21- Ledges State Park
The striking bluffs and canyons of Ledges State Park have been attracting visitors ever since it first opened back in 1924.
Shaped by natural floods and the attempted construction of a dam, Ledges State Park amazes outdoor enthusiasts with impeccable natural landscapes and beautiful stone bridges and houses.
Hiking, canoeing, camping, and spotting animals such as deer, beavers and woodpeckers are among the most popular activities to do in the park.
Multiple hiking trails run through the park’s woods, leading to spectacular overlooks of the Des Moines River Valley.
It’s a relaxing place to stroll among the lush trees and shrubbery for an escape from urban life.
Ledges State Park is at 1515 P Ave, Madrid, IA 50156.
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