Everyone needs a vacation once in a while, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money – or even leave the state! There are plenty of fun, unique vacations to take right here in Iowa. From scenic byway road trips to beachside resorts, here are 10 vacations that every Iowan should take at least once in their life!
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life. While we continue to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, please take proper precautions or add them to your bucket list to see at a later date. If you know of a local business that could use some extra support during these times, please nominate them here:
1. Soak up the sun at Okoboji
Okoboji is easily Iowa's best vacation destination. Thousands of people come every year to go boating, swimming, water skiing, and more on one of the Iowa Great Lakes. While you're there, soak up the sun on one of the beautiful beaches, and stay at one of the beachside resorts.
Along with everything else that Okoboji offers, there is also a theme park! Arnold's Park, built in 1889, is one of the country's oldest amusement parks, and a longtime favorite of all who visit it. The park is known especially for its old wooden rollercoaster, The Legend.
2. Immerse yourself in German culture at the Amana Colonies
Entering the little German villages of the Amana Colonies is like taking a step into a different world. The colonies are as picturesque as it comes, and you can spend days just visiting all the little shops, where almost everything is handmade. The Woolen Mill is especially fun to see, and their products are sold all over Iowa.
3. Explore the historic, riverside city of Dubuque
As Iowa's oldest city, Dubuque is bursting with history and culture. The city has so much to do, you could spend an entire week here and still not get to see everything! Some highlights to check out are: the Fenelon Place Elevator Car ride, the Mississippi River Museum, the historic Dubuque Star Brewery, and the Five Flags Theatre. While you're there, stay in the Hotel Julien, a historic gem of the city.
4. Traverse through the famously beautiful Maquoketa Caves
Every year, the Maquoketa Caves draw visitors from all over the state, and even the country. These are by far Iowa's best caves, and if you're looking to have a fun, outdoor adventure, Maquoketa Caves is the place to go. It is truly stunning to see, and every Iowan should visit at least once in their life.
5. Discover the charming Villages of Van Buren
The Villages of Van Buren are definitely a hidden gem. Plan a vacation, and visit as many of the villages as you can. In Bentonsport, stay at the historic and haunted Mason House Inn, in Bonaparte, find some delicious grub at the Bonaparte Retreat, and check out the Strawberry Festival in Farmington.
6. Experience the magic of the National Balloon Classic
Every year, the National Balloon Classic is held in Indianola, and every year, the event draws visitors from across the nation. The balloon festival is held from the end of July to the beginning of August, and it's truly magnificent to watch the balloons float through the sky, and even better to be in one of them.
7. Eat, drink, and be merry at RAGBRAI
Every Iowan should experience RAGBRAI at least once in their life. If you can't ride it, you should at least visit the towns that RAGBRAI goes through or stays in, and party it up with the riders. Each town has food stands galore, tons of fun activities or carnival rides, live music, beer gardens, and plenty of fun people to share it all with. Probably the best part about RAGBRAI is watching all the little towns come to life as 20,000 bikers come to stay with them.
8. Catch your thrills at Adventureland
You can't take a summer vacation in Iowa and not go to Adventureland, it just doesn't happen! This theme park has such a fun, old-time feel, and is so unique compared to the modern, generic theme parks of today. Some of the best memories here are eating cotton candy, gazing down at the park from atop the Ferris wheel, and getting soaked on the Log Ride.
9. Tour the food and fun the Iowa State Fair
No summer vacation is complete without a trip to the Iowa State Fair - it's one of Iowa's oldest traditions! Spend the day sampling all things fried, riding the ski lift across the fairgrounds, checking out the butter sculptures, and rocking out to live music!
10. Take a road trip on the scenic byway through the Loess Hills
The Loess Hills of Iowa are truly majestic, and it's totally worth it to take a road trip to see them. The 220-mile main route and the additional 185 miles of excursion loops offer a beautiful view no matter where you're at, and there are several scenic outlooks that you can get out of the car to enjoy.
One thing that you have to see on your road trip through the hills is Preparation Canyon. Pack a picnic and take a hike through this scenic canyon, and experience some once-in-a-lifetime views.
Now the hard part is choosing where to go first! What are some of your favorite vacation destinations in Iowa?