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8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Iowa (2024)

Known for its Midwestern Charm and Beauty, Iowa has a lot to be proud of. While its west border has the Missouri River, its east border has the Mississippi River proudly flowing through. And since the state of Iowa is known for its booming agriculture, you will find farmlands and fertile fields all over the place. Its charming countryside has sublime natural tourist attractions that are known for their unique touch, unlike the ones in the other American States. And even better, Iowa has a rich and deep history that both locals and tourists love learning about.

While exploring Iowa, you will find tourist attractions both indoors and outdoors. This Midwestern state has some charming museums and other four-walled attractions that work towards enriching ones’ knowledge. And with that, Iowa’s outdoor fun and adventure aid in refreshing souls who are already drained by life’s daily hustle and bustle.

Individuals who call Iowa home or either come here as visitors agree to the fact that it will keep calling you time and again. Despite how far the position Iowa is in when it comes to United States tourism, one should never miss an opportunity to be here. And with that, join us and discover the popular places to visit in Iowa. The recommendations below with surely make your trip a memorable one.

8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions In Iowa

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1. Iowa State Capitol

The Iowa State Capitol, also known as Iowa Statehouse, is located in Des Moines. It is a working capital building sitting atop a hill at East 9th Street and Grand Avenue.

Besides being the gold-domed symbol, the capital building is also famous for housing tons of historical facts and treasure. Enthusiasts can book in advance and tour the open areas within the structure for free. A visit here will unveil some interesting facts and a lot of information about the beguiling history of Iowa. Along with its history, the capital building’s architecture also is to admire. The beauty, dignity, and treasures of both its interior and exterior make visitors stand and observe the details for long.

Apart from all of these, the most undisputed and unavoidable popularity of Iowa comes from the views it offers. Since the building is at some elevation, standing on its outer grounds will introduce you to a beautiful vista of downtown Des Moines. Individuals interested in architecture, history, views, and museum stuff must pay a visit here at least once.

2. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is a top-rated tourist attraction in Iowa. Operating since 2003, this facility is part museum, part aquarium, and part science center. The museum deals in collecting and presenting wildlife that is found in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico and reflects the geological importance of the same. You can observe numerous animals, amphibians, and other living beings that are crucial to the river ecosystem. The most impressive exhibit here is the 4D theatre, the Mississippi River discovery center, and the National Rivers Hall of Fame. But, over and above, what captivates the visitors most are the live animals. From little kids to grown-ups and senior adults, everyone visiting here loves observing the life thriving here.

Besides the museum facility, there is an expansive outdoor plaza to explore. The museum operates from 10 am to 5 pm, with 11 am to 2 pm operating as lunch hours.

Though for entire operating hours, one can come and walk through the attractions. The admission tickets range from $16 to $28.

3. Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies are seven villages in Amana dating originally from 1855. When these colonies were first made, it was by German Pietists who put the first foot here and lived for many years without any external influence. These villages are spread over 26,000 acres and today are famous for heritage tourism and important economic ground in the region. Anyone who is interested in history and heritage can pay a visit here and enjoy their time. The Amana Colonies are popular for several things: tourist attractions, food, drinks, etc. While exploring one of these villages, start your day trip with Amana Colonies National Historic Landmark. Then, do explore the seven homesteads, including West Amana, South Amana, Middle Amana, High Amana, East Amana, and Amana.

Besides that, the other popular and must-visit places here include the Old Creamery Theatre, Ackerman Winery, White Cross Cellars, and the Millstream Brewing Company. Also, consider the nearby Kinze Innovation Center and learn about the breakthrough agricultural technologies.

4. Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center is a popular tourist attraction in Iowa for all hard-core art lovers. Operating since 1948, this modern and contemporary art museum preserves and presents its extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, modern art, photography, artifacts, and mixed media. This collection has artwork from Edward Hopper to that, Georgia O’Keefe, Paul Gauguin, Eva Hesse, Ronnie Landfield, Roy Lichtenstein, and more. The most appealing and eye-catching are the sculptures on the ground. Besides the ones in the museum, the ones the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park engages visitors the most. And since the part features rotating artwork, you will observe something new, better, and brighter here on every subsequent visit.

Besides the extensive and appealing art, the museum is also home to a restaurant and a gift shop. Also, to provide a more informative and productive experience to its visitors, the facility organizes film festivals and lectures for participants of all ages on a regular basis.

5. Grotto of the Redemption

Grotto of the Redemption is a religious shrine and one of the top-rated tourist attractions in Iowa. Often described as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the world,’ it is a series of nine grottos, all handcrafted with precious stones and gems by a local pastor. Each Grotto depicts a scene from the life of Jesus. It undoubtedly is the largest human-made Grotto in the world as well. The attraction is 40 feet high and fills a city block. The minerals and gems used here cost over $4,308,000. The attractions include a museum with a massive collection of precious and semiprecious stones brought from the world. Besides that, it has photos and artifacts that talk about the construction of the shrine. While walking through the Grotto, the idea of how much hard work would have gone behind making it sends chills to viewers. And the fact that only a local pastor and a few helping hands create such a huge marvel is absolutely mind-blowing.

Grotto of the Redemption operates every single day for 24 hours. In addition, from April through October, the administration operates guided and narrated tours daily from 10 am to 5 pm. The best part is that it is free for all regardless of being a prominent attraction. Even if you are a Christian or not or do not possess any spiritual belief, you are welcomed here with the same warmth.

6. Maquoketa Caves State Park

A famous State Park in Iowa, the Maquoketa Caves State Park is outdoor heaven. Justifying its name, the state park has more than 400 miles of underground caves, the most caves in any state park in the world. Or in other words, it is home to the most extensively explored cave system in the world. Individuals often visit here to look around the globe that is below their feet. However, these caves aren’t for claustrophobes as while you keep walking a few steps inside; things will become darker and more intense. There are a few caves with high ceilings and part-away walls. At the same time, other caves require a flashlight to explore and probably a change of clothes. Some spaces are tight enough that one has to squeeze and pass. However, all of them are explorable and are absolutely fun to know about.

Besides that, the State Park’s above-ground too has some interesting places to explore. There are hiking trails, bluffs, woodlands, and more. An attraction known as Balanced Rock is a fascinating natural wonder to see. For overnight visitors, there are campgrounds and RV parks as well.

7. Crystal Lake Cave

Crystal Lake Cave is another underground masterpiece in Iowa State. Found by James Rice in 1868, the cave contains an astounding collection of aragonite, travertine, satin stalagmite, stalactite, and many more precious crystals. The cave has been entertaining visitors since 1932; about lakhs of visitors come here every year. Inside the caves are a series of substations that generates less heat and thus prevent the growth of algae. The temperature inside the caves remains constant at 52 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Therefore, despite you being here during the summers, wearing a jacket and some warm clothes are a must. Without them, the atmosphere and temperature inside the cave might send chills down your spine.

The Crystal Lake Cave operates from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday and Thursday are available on reservation only. Whereas for the rest of the day, the caves are open from 9 am to 5 pm, and no reservation is required. Tickets range from $8 to $20 depending upon the visitor’s age. Kids visiting here can indulge in mining in the specialized gem mining area. There is a gift shop and a picnic area nearby for more extended fun.

8. Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is what covers Iowa from the eastern side. Though it flows through several U.S. states observing it from Iowa is another kind of fun. The best way for that is to get above the Keokuk-Hamilton Bridge. This 1985 bridge is the most beautiful crossing over the Mississippi River. Be it through the car or on foot; the bridge invites visitors by all means. Or another great place to adore Mississippi is the Black Hawk Bridge. This bridge has been operating since 1931 and connects the town of Lansing in Iowa to Crawford County in Wisconsin. Lansing is Iowa’s northernmost Mississippi River bridge.

Mississippi River is also famous for its water recreation, and fishing is among the most popular activity here. Individuals can also step down into the river or swim in places with less water. Also, in areas with rapids, Mississippi facilitates some excellent river rafting opportunities.

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