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Destinations and Attractions in Iowa

Places where people go for fun and relaxation in Iowa range from natural sites to architectural landmarks to places where performances take place. Iowans have unique opportunities in their state, and the places that make Iowa special are plentiful!

Parks

Iowa has many parks, each with its own charm. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) operates some parks. To name a few: Ledges in Boone County, Dolliver in Webster County, Nine Eagles in Decatur County, and Backbone in Delaware County.

All 99 counties in Iowa have county parks. Some of the popular county parks include F.W. Kent Park in Johnson County, Jester Park in Polk County, Hitchcock Nature Area in Pottawattamie County, Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in Woodbury County, and Fontana Park in Buchanan County.

City parks exist by the hundreds. At Eagle Point Park in Dubuque there are picnic shelters constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the depression of the 1930s. Almost every town in Iowa has a local park, often a square block devoted to picnic shelters, playground equipment and public restrooms.

A variety of activities are available in Iowa's parks, including boating, swimming, cook-outs, camping, bird watching and opportunities for photographing nature. Other publicly owned areas offer fishing, hunting, trapping and hiking. There are areas in Iowa where a visitor may view the fall foliage color changes. The Mississippi River in Allamakee, Clayton and Dubuque counties are especially good. Southeastern and southern Iowa also are timbered and offer beautiful scenery during the fall.

Enjoy Nature

Iowa has a State Preserves System which preserves rare and endangered areas containing geological features, plants, and habitats. Here visitors can study birds, animals, reptiles and insects. Because of the delicate nature of these preserves, visitors in large numbers would harm the environment. So the preserves are mostly used for scientific studies.

Iowa contains many popular areas for boating, swimming and camping. The largest of these are the reservoirs at Red Rock, Saylorville, Rathbun and Coralville. Lake Cooper at the Keokuk Dam provides similar opportunities.

Attractions made by humans are as plentiful as the natural attractions in Iowa. Every county in the state has at least one historical museum. Some Iowa museums represent the history of a specific ethnic group. Other museums honor famous people.

Museums

Museums that tell the stories of ethnic groups exist around the state. The Norwegian-American Museum is in Decorah. The Danish Immigrant Museum is in Elk Horn. The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is located in Cedar Rapids. There is the African-American Museum in Cedar Rapids. There are museums devoted to Swedish heritage in Swedesburg, Stanton and Stratford.

Some of Iowa's museums are centered around themes. Keokuk has a museum devoted to riverboats. Dubuque has a museum about the Mississippi River. Other theme museums include the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, the Gold Star Museum in Johnston, and the Museum of Repertoire Americana in Mount Pleasant. A collection of antique farm machinery is at Mount Pleasant too.

Some Iowa museums are devoted to famous people who lived in Iowa. A famous labor leader, John L. Lewis, was born in Lucas, where there is a museum in his honor. A museum in Van Meter honors the baseball player, Bob Feller. There is a museum in Winterset that is the birthplace of the actor, John Wayne. The lives of two famous musicians are remembered in museums in Iowa too. At Clarinda there is a museum for musician, Glenn Miller. In Mason City a museum honors composer and playwrite, Meredith Willson.

Iowa's early history is remembered in replicas of forts at Fort Dodge, Fort Madison and Fort Atkinson. Lewis and Clark's historic expedition is recalled in monuments at Council Bluffs, Onawa and Sioux City. Many houses are preserved as museums and furnished to the period when they were built. One example is Carrie Lane Chapman Catt's girlhood Home in Charles City. Carrie spent her early years in Charles City, but became famous as suffragist. Story City has preserved an early carousel. Railroad depots have been preserved at Council Bluffs, Fort Madison, Webster City, Moravia, Dows and Spirit Lake, among other places.

Places for Entertainment

During the 1800s most towns in Iowa had Opera Houses where plays, dances and musical entertainment took place. Some Opera Houses have survived and been restored. The towns of What Cheer, Ainsworth, Elkader and Pella have restored their Opera Houses. Chautauqua Pavilions were built for social and educational gatherings in some towns in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some still exist at Red Oak, Sac City and Riverton.

Beautiful old movie theaters are popular attractions at Charles City and Burlington. Band shells, where summer entertainment takes place, are found in Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Davenport and many other cities.

Iowa was home to many amusement parks. Riverview Park in Des Moines was a popular attraction during the middle of the 20th century. Adventureland, east of Des Moines, and the Arnolds Park amusement park are still popular.

Fabulous Buildings

Buildings designed by famous architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright can be found in Grinnell, Algona, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Mason City, Charles City, Oskaloosa, Monona and Quasqueton. Visitors from Iowa and other states travel to see these landmarks. Many examples of 19th century architecture may be seen in the towns and cities along the Mississippi River. These also attract visitors. Dubuque, Davenport and Fort Madison are valued for their historic old buildings.

Ethnic Celebrations

In addition to museums dedicated to various ethnic groups, there are entire communities that celebrate their ethnic roots with yearly events. Some towns honor their ethnic roots year-round. The seven Amana Villages in Iowa County are visited by hundreds of tourists throughout the year. They are known for their restaurants and shops. The Dutch heritage is celebrated with festivals in Pella, Orange City and Sioux Center. The German villages of Shelby County also are popular attractions.

Native American Indians sponsor an annual "Pow Wow" at the Mesquakie Settlement in Tama County. Nationally recognized attractions in Iowa include the Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette and the DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley. At Missouri Valley visitors also can see the cargo of the steamboat Bertrand which sank in the Missouri River in 1868. It was excavated in 1969.

Today across southern Iowa monuments and museums commemorate the Mormon Trail. In 1846 as members of the Mormon church traveled across the state on their way to new homes in Utah, they set up sites along the way where travelers could rest. Some of these places developed into Iowa towns. Today visitors go to these memorials to remember the early Mormon travelers. Sites of the original way stations are located at Sugar Creek, Garden Grove, Mount Pisgah and Grand Encampment.

Look Around Your Town

Iowa residents and visitors from other states and countries enjoy the attractions throughout the state—those that are natural and those made by humans. Many of the sites that attract visitors are unique to Iowa. Around every corner something of interest can be found. Take a look around the area in which you live and you may find some wonderful adventures.

By Loren Horten

 

 


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