11 Surprising Sites in Iowa

When asked for details about the Hawkeye State, many people admit they don’t know much. We are here to tell you, this state, covered in rolling hills and about 92% farmland, offers a lot you don’t want to miss. Located in the part of the nation known as "America’s Heartland," Iowa is the only state whose east and west borders are formed entirely by rivers. Some other facts to keep in mind: Iowa boasts the highest literacy rate in the nation (99% of the population can read); hogs outnumber humans four to one; it is the birthplace of John Wayne (aka The Duke); and is home to the National Hobo Convention celebrating the nomadic traveler. From the most crooked street in the world to a romantic host of covered bridges, you will find something to enjoy in Iowa.
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Covered Passages in Winterset

You might remember the book, but you definitely remember the movie. You know, the one that made you bawl your eyes out. Based on the 1992 best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County tells the story of a married woman and her love affair with a man who is photographing the historic covered bridges of Iowa, including this very one, the Hogback Bridge. Get ready to fall in love with these bridges, just like in the movies. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

Quite a Ride in Okojobi

An old-school amusement park is where memories are made. Arnolds Park Amusement Park brings everything from go-karts and a miniature golf course to Midway rides and a roller coaster. Also, the park offers live concerts year-round, evening lake cruises on the Queen II Excursion Boat, and its very own beach (with water sports!). The key feature? A classic Ferris wheel that will be the highlight of your trip. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

>>See more famous amusement parks across the country.

The Ultimate Castle Playground in Clinton

If you’re a kid from Iowa, you know this place as "The Castle." Calling 164-acre Eagle Point Park home, this structure, built from 1933 to 1934, overlooks the Mississippi River. Built under the Works Progress Administration, the structure is referred to as the stone lookout tower castle. Boasting a spiral stone staircase winding around twice before it reaches the top of the building, it’s the ultimate playhouse, meant for imaginary pirates, cowboys and superheroes. Visit to experience history, as well as imagination. Courtesy photo by Leisl Mensinger.

From Bulbs to Blooms in Orange City

What began as a tiny celebration in 1936 has blossomed into one big party. Started to honor the area’s Dutch heritage, Orange County turns into a carpet of tulips every May, and this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Tulip Festival. Expect daily parades, a carnival midway, live musical performances, authentic Dutch food and costumes, and, of course, tons of tulips. This is your chance to see small town Iowa at its very best. Photo courtesy of Orange City Tulip Festival.

A Long and Winding Road in Burlington

It’s a fact: Iowa is home to the most crooked street in the world (not San Francisco’s Lombard Street as many think). Snake Alley, designed in 1894 as an experiment by German founders, was planned to link the downtown area with the shopping district of Burlington. Yet, due to the angle and sharp turns of the road (seven curves in 275 feet), it is restricted to one-way traffic only — the one way being downhill. Pop a Dramamine, prepare for a ride and don’t bother traversing it in winter (it’s closed for safety reasons). Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

A Creepy Goodnight in Villisca

If you want to visit an attraction full of sunshine, roses and rainbows, this is not your spot. In 1912, this house was the site of a horrendous murder. The story goes that an axe murderer entered the house of Josiah Moore and killed him, as well as his wife and six children. The crime was never solved and remains a chilling mystery today. Now a major tourist attraction, visitors can tour the Villisca Ax Murder House and Museum or, if your dare, stay there for the night. It’s been restored to its rustic, yet authentic, state, including family photographs and a wall calendar dating to the month of the murders. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

Play Ball! in Dyersville

If you close your eyes, you can hear the words "If you build it, they will come." Those famous words were the anchor of the big screen flick "Field of Dreams." While this location and baseball field was built for a Hollywood movie in 1988, it still exists as one of the greatest tourist attractions in the state. Visit, play some ball and imagine yourself at bat with one of the ghost players that made this film magical. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

Down By the River in Sioux City

Ah, the magical Missouri. It’s the longest river in the country and the location of many adventures for water lovers. Known as the "Big Muddy," the Missouri River got its nickname from the grand amount of sediment or silt. One cool fact to know: Lewis and Clark navigated the Missouri River on their famed expedition. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

A Moo-velous Attraction in Audubon

This is one cool attraction, and that’s no bull. Standing at 30-feet tall and weighing 45 tons, this statue of Albert the Bull was built in 1964 as part of "Operation T-Bone," a venture by Albert Kruse (hence the cow’s name) to promote the area’s beef industry. A perfect concrete replica of a Hereford, Albert is the world’s largest bull and provides the perfect backdrop for a family photo op. As a bonus: There is a park area where visitors can read about Albert’s construction and listen to Albert speak about his life. Yes, that’s right. You can hear Albert talk. Or moo. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

A Geologic Wonder in Maquoketa

If it’s a exploring a cave you are after, then a visit to Maquoketa Caves State Park, which houses more caves than any other state park in Iowa, needs to be on your calendar. Thanks to an easy-to-navigate trail system, the limestone-formation-filled caves, which include some that can be walked through and some that require crawling, can be discovered even if you’re more couch potato than adventure seeker. Just bring a flashlight and don’t don your Sunday best, as getting dirty is expected. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.

Sculpt It in Des Moines

This 4.4-acre downtown area of the state’s capital city was once forgotten and somewhat sad. But in 2009, the area was revitalized with park benches, clean walking paths and an impressive park boasting a staggering 28 outdoor sculptures. While many people wouldn’t expect world-class art in Des Moines, it’s here at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Visit by day, and again at night, for a totally different experience. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tourism Office.