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Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

11 Most Popular Things To Do In Iowa (2023)

The Midwestern beauty, Iowa is a picturesque place to visit. It might not appear from afar, but Iowa has no shortage of fun and exciting things to do. Regardless of the season, you are here; there is so much to do in different parts of the state. Take eerie tours to gothic buildings or walk across the threatening swinging museum. Iowa has so many cool and unusual places that you will barely go out of options. Be it in the large metropolitans or small countryside, activities you can try in Iowa are exciting.

The best time to visit Iowa is from Early September through late November. It is when the weather is extremely pleasant, accommodations are economically priced, and the crowd is relatively less. So, what are you thinking about?

11 Most Popular Things To Do In Iowa

Plan your trip and try these exciting things to do in Iowa. Be assured you are going to love them.

1. Experience the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad Ride

The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is a heritage railroad built back in 1983. It is a part of the larger heritage railroad system that belongs to the 1890s. What makes this railroad popular today is the scenic ride that goes through the Des Moines River Valley. This 11-mile journey in the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad valley lasts for over an hour. The ride takes participants over cornfields, lush woodlands, the Fraser mining town, and the popular Bass Point Creek High Bridge. Participants get the chance to enjoy the views around and underneath while experiencing the train journey. Or, for an extended experience, there is an optional dining cart in case someone wants to dine at the end.

Visitors can also explore the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum/ Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. This open-air museum owns numerous locomotives and dozens of cars.

2. Explore the Matchstick Marvels Museum

Matchstick Marvels Museum is truly a marvel, a little world entirely of wooden matchsticks. The museum is located at 319 2nd St, Gladbrook, and is home to large-scale matchstick models and crafts. The collection here has over 70 artworks (big and small), all constructed with small wooden matchsticks by local artist Pat Acton. One of the most complex designs here includes the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is made with over 3 lakh matchsticks. Other notables include the World Trade Centre, and the United State Capitol made with over 5 lakh matchsticks. Earlier, Acton used to cut the brown tip of matchsticks though now he buys them without the tip directly from the supplier. His process of craft is still the same though today, he uses different techniques.

The Matchstick Marvels Museum operates from April through November and has a rotating display every month. The operating hours goes 1 pm to 5 pm, with admission free-ranging from $3 to $5.

3. Explore the High Trestle Trail

One of the most popular things to do in Iowa definitely is exploring the High Trestle Trail. This multi-purpose trail runs 25 miles through five towns and four counties of Iowa. The trail welcomes hikers, walking, joggers, cyclists, bikers, and horseback riders all throughout the year. And since there are several entry points, individuals don’t need to complete the entire route to explore the trail. Depending upon how much area one wants to cover, there are options for entry and exit. Though through its entire 25 miles, the most appealing section is the High Trestle Bridge. The Bridge provides a scenic overview of Des Moines River Valley. It has six observation points that allow individuals to observe the views around. The Bridge itself is made up of 41 steel “frames” that in themselves represent support cribs within a historic coal mine.

Not just around, but the Bridge on its own has quite an appealing observation. After the sun starts setting, the High Trestle Bridge comes alive as blue lights illuminate a section of the steel cribbing. These illuminating blue lights are gorgeous sights to be seen and the major attraction why individuals often choose this trail.

4. Dare Cross Through the Columbus Junction Bridge

The Columbus Junction Bridge is a swinging bridge that leaps 262 feet over Lover’s Leap Ravine. Halfway across the bridge towers over treetops which is a unique sight to observe. It was originally built in 1886 and was reconstructed quite a few times thereafter. It has even seen a few deaths and is also claimed as haunted. Several individuals and authorities condemn its usage considering its height and safety reasons. However, one can still access the Bridge and experience the most frightening walk of their life. The Bridge is also known as Lovers leap and isn’t for faint hearts, kids, and senior adults. Neither is it meant to cross alone since walking upon it comes with a lot of risks (obvious).

For getting to the Bridge, drive at the intersection of Hwy 1 and Hwy 218 in Southeast Iowa City. Then, drive south on Hwy 218, reach Hwy 92 at Ainsworth, East on Hwy 92 and reach Columbus Jct. Now take a right onto 3rd St. From here, you will be able to see the Bridge at the top of the hill on your left.

5. Attend the Des Moines Farmers Market

Des Moines Farmers Market is a local market in Des Moines that attract residents and tourists alike. The market organizes in downtown Des Moines every Saturday from May through September. The market calls 300 entrepreneurs and vendors, including farmers, artists, bakers, crafters, and more. It is a great place to buy fresh local produce, warm baked goods, home decors, artisan objects, etc. Since the market hosts several local food vendors, it also is a great place to meet with friends and family. And the best part is, hanging out and shopping here isn’t expensive but a really cheap deal.

Since Des Moines Farmers Market doesn’t operate in winters, the drive-thru winter farmer’s market for the rest of the year.

6. Visit the Villisca Axe Murder House

The Villisca Axe Murder House is a house in Villisca. What makes visiting here a popular thing to do in Iowa is its unique history. Back in 1912, 8 individuals, including 6 children, were brutally killed here. Each of them has severe head wounds inflicted by an ax. Though today even after when a century has passed, those murders still remain a mystery. Even several high-level investigations couldn’t find what happened that day. Today the murder house is a part of the National Register of Historic Places and is known as a popular tourist attraction in Iowa. It is an ideal destination for individuals who are keen on knowing about spooky and unusual events. One can visit here for guided tours, though the real fun is in unfolding the facts by self.

Tours at Villisca Axe Murder House operate both day and night. An entry here costs $10 per individual, and the tour is worth it. The tour lasts about half an hour and is interesting enough to engage enthusiasts.

7. Visit National Farm Toy Museum

If you happen to visit Dyersville by any chance, then do not forget to step inside the National Farm Toy Museum. The museum is home to farm equipment in the form of scale models, replicas, and toys. There are over 30000 toys in their collection, including one of the largest collections of cast iron farm toys. Museum’s first floor shows a 10-minute short film where farm toy aficionados talk about their collection and about toy production in Dyersville. There is also a diorama of farm homesteads, small exhibits, and a play area on the same floor. Further on the second floor, there is a collection of cowboy and Native American dolls and farm toys, and replicas. There is also a gift shop dealing in souvenirs and small decorative.

The National Farm Toy Museum also features in the local toy shows in the months of June and November. This museum is a great place for both kids and adults.

Other Popular Things To Do In Iowa

8. Ride the Fenelon Place Elevator, a 3 ft narrow gauge funicular railway in Dubuque. It is the shortest and steepest railroad in the world.

9. Visit the unique Squirrel Cage Jail Museum in Council Bluffs. These three levels of pie-shaped jail cells are quite unique and also known for offering some spooky experiences.

10. Explore America’s one of most unusual towns, the Maharishi Vedic City. It is the right place to learn about the ancient Indian system of architecture and Vedic concepts.

11. Attend the National Balloon Classic, an annual hot air balloon festival. This nine-day event gets organized in Memorial Balloon Field, hosting nearly 100 hot air balloons. The festival paints Iowa skies with plenty of striking colors and is really fun to attend.

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