If you take the spotlight off of Iowa’s well-known attractions, you will find so many amazing, hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. From fossil gorges to scenic byways, to waterfalls and more, here are 14 of the best kept secrets in Iowa:
1. Devonian Fossil Gorge, Iowa City
The Devonian Fossil Gorge in Iowa City was created by the Flood of 1993 and expanded by the Flood of 2008 when water topped the emergency spillway. The overflow washed away tons of soil, huge trees, and part of the road. When the waters receded, the 375-million-year-old fossilized Devonian ocean floor was revealed. Visitors can now start their stroll back in time at the Entry Plaza, making their way down into the gorge to find thousands of fossils laid out at their feet.
2. Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry
Effigy Mounds National Monument is a collection of around 200 Native American-built mounds, and even effigys, which are shaped as different animals. No one is really sure what the mounds represent, but Native American legends and mythology have lead researchers to believe that the mounds were built as ceremonial and sacred sites, or as a way to mark choice hunting ground.
3. Wabash Trace Nature Trail, Council Bluffs
The Wabash Trace Nature Trail is a gorgeous, 63-mile trail that runs through Council Bluffs, Mineola, Silver City, Malvern, Imogene, Shenandoah, Coin and Blanchard. Trail-goers will get the chance to walk the trail through the Loess Hills, and enjoy some of the finest scenery in all of Iowa.
Even if they've lived here all of their life, many people still don't know that Iowa has its own island. The island of Sabula, located in Jackson County, sits on the Mississippi River and is home to over 500 people. The island is also a popular summer vacation spot for people from Illinois.
5. Dunnings Spring, Decorah
Located in Winneshiek County, Dunning's Spring Falls in Decorah is like something out of a fairy tale - so much so, that this spot is even a popular destination for weddings.
6. Arnold's Park, Dickinson County
Everyone knows about Adventureland, but many people don't know about Arnold's Park. Located in the city of Arnold's Park, in Northwest Iowa, this classic theme park offers thrill seekers a ride on one of the nation's oldest wooden roller coasters, The Legend, which was built way back in 1930.
7. Loess Hills Lavender Farm, Western Iowa
This lavender farm is located in the beautiful Loess Hills of western Iowa, and is a fun, unique place that not enough people know about. The farm is family owned, and they offer tours, hold events, and sell a variety of items in the gift shop. The experience is something you can't find anywhere else in Iowa!
8. The American Gothic House, Eldon
This gothic revival house in Eldon was immortalized in Grant Wood's epic "American Gothic" painting in 1930. Visitors can come and take their own American Gothic photo in front of the house.
9. Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend
Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend is the largest man-made Grotto in the world, and contains the largest collection of precious stones and gems found anywhere in one location. This religious shrine is often considered the "Eighth Wonder of the World."
10. Fenelon Place Elevator Car, Dubuque
The Fenelon Place Elevator Car in Dubuque claims to be the steepest and shortest railroad in the world. While this claim is up in the air, something that isn't disputed is the fact that you can get a pretty amazing view of the city when the train car reaches the top of the hill!
11. Grant Woods Scenic Byway
There's nothing like taking a nice back roads drive across the Iowa countryside, and what better place to do that than one of Iowa's many beautiful and underrated scenic byways?
12. The Iowa Great Lakes
Forget the other Great Lakes, we have our own in Iowa and they're just as nice! Located in Dickinson County, these lakes are a beautiful and underrated vacation destination for Iowans and tourists alike. There are three principal lakes of the group: Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, and East Okoboji Lake.
13. The Villages of Van Buren
The Villages of Van Buren are highly underrated and a real hidden gem in Iowa. There are 12 tiny villages, including Bonaparte, Keosauqua, and Farmington. On your visit, make sure to have some fudge, check out the local shops, and stay in the Mason House Inn, a famously haunted location.
14. Siewers Spring, Decorah
One of Iowa's real hidden gems, Siewers Spring in Decorah runs along Trout Run Trail from the fish hatchery, so it's no surprise that this is a great spot to do a little fishing while you take in the amazing scenery.
What’s the fun in secrets if you can’t share them, right?! Know of any more amazing hidden gems in Iowa? Let us in on them!