Are you planning a trip to Iowa? You’re in for a treat. Iowa is filled with friendly people who are happy to show you around. The tips below will help you to plan a fantastic trip to Iowa.
I grew up in small-town, rural Iowa. No matter how many places I’ve lived or visited around the world, I still hold a deep appreciation for the community that I’ll always call “home”.
During your visit to Iowa, I hope you discover some of the things that make Iowa an amazing place to visit and live. The spectacular blue skies, as far as the eye can see. The friendly people. The miles and miles of nature trails. The more thoughtful pace of life.
So let’s get started! The tips below will help you to plan a fantastic trip to Iowa.
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Explore rural areas
Like many places in the world, the true essence of Iowa lives in its rural areas.
While I encourage you to visit Iowa’s urban centers and take advantage of Iowa’s fantastic interstate highways, you’ll really experience Iowa when you get off the beaten path.
The small towns of Iowa have picture-perfect downtown squares, insanely good restaurants, and some of the friendliest people you’ll meet in the world.
Strike up a conversation
Iowans are known as some of the friendliest people in the world. To fully experience Iowa friendliness, you’ll want to get to know some of the people you encounter.
So strike up a conversation with the Iowans you meet during your trip.
Iowans are more than happy to share their favorite restaurants, suggest local landmarks to visit, and identify hidden gems known only to locals.
You’ll get great travel tips and will walk away feeling like you really connected with the Iowa community.
Eat well – but not necessarily healthy
Some of my favorite meals to date have been in Iowa. Best-in-the-world sweet corn. Pork tenderloin the size of your head. Perfectly cooked and seasoned brisket.
My mouth is watering just remembering the delicious meals of my home state.
But you may have noticed that not a single one of my examples was a low fat or super healthy dish. As one of my fellow Iowans said, “We Iowans like beige food”.
To fully experience the delicious Iowa food scene, you may have to enjoy one or two cheat meals. But believe me, they are so worth it.
Look out for wildlife
Deer are plentiful in Iowa. If you’re traveling rural roads around twilight, there’s a good chance that you’ll see a few on the road.
Hopefully the deer will stay safely to the side of the road. But be extra vigilant if you’re driving at this time of day.
In addition to deer, Iowa’s roads have plenty of raccoons, skunks, rabbits, and squirrels. While these animals aren’t as dangerous as deer, you’ll still want to be mindful that these animals could suddenly cross rural roads at any time.
Take advantage of outdoor spaces
Some of my fondest childhood memories are tied to all the time I spent outdoors in Iowa. Bike rides, creek walks, and nighttime strolls were a frequent part of my day-to-day life growing up in Iowa.
Iowa also has over 80 state parks and many, many more local county parks. One of my personal favorites is the Ledges State Park, where you can walk through ankle-deep water along rocky walls/ledges.
To help you plan a fantastic trip to Iowa, make sure to pack your walking shoes, water shoes, and if driving, your bike. These items will help you to take advantage of Iowa’s outdoor spaces.
Be cautious on gravel roads
Rural Iowa has a number of gravel roads. Although you can get most places on paved roads, GPS may occasionally direct you to travel on gravel roads to get to a local, hidden gem.
It is extremely easy to lose control on gravel roads. Think of it as ice on steroids. If you slam on your breaks or swerve suddenly, your tires will have a hard time regaining traction on the tiny pieces of rock.
Whatever the speed limit is on the gravel road, go below it. When you see an approaching stop sign, start slowing down well in advance.
While you should be perfectly fine traveling on gravel roads, you need to treat them with caution.
Embrace the lack of traffic
If you’re used to clogged roadways and standstill traffic, the roadways of Iowa will be a dream come true for you. Nothing but free-flowing traffic for miles and miles!
Iowa was built using a beautiful square grid with many alternative routes. If there’s road construction slowing down one road, there are plenty of alternative options to get you to your destination.
Pro Tip: Don’t get too carried away by the call of the open road. People traveling in Iowa generally stick to the speed limit. You’ll stand out to a state trooper or local police officer if you get too heavy with the gas pedal.
Expect bugs – lots and lots of bugs
If you’re visiting Iowa during the warm months, you should plan on sharing that experience with plenty of bugs.
The crops in Iowa attract lots of bugs. Those bugs also seem to be attracted to car windshields. You’ll likely need to clean your windshield at some point during your trip to Iowa.
In addition, if you want to avoid bug bites, plan on using bug spray on a regular basis. My mom (who lives in central Iowa) keeps a bottle of bug spray in her car during the warm months.
Check opening hours before going anywhere
As an adult currently living in Washington, DC, I now greatly appreciate the more thoughtful pace of life in Iowa. Growing up in rural Iowa, work-life balance wasn’t a buzz phrase. It’s just what people did. Family, friends, hobbies, and well-being were much more important than work.
Because of that, many stores in rural Iowa are not open 24/7. Many stores are closed on Sunday and in the evenings. Some places also have alternative hours.
Before heading to any location, check the opening hours. You don’t want to be surprised when you arrive and find that the location isn’t open.
Plan for extreme weather
During the warm months, thunderstorms can be a regular occurrence in Iowa. Tornadoes are not uncommon. As part of tornado alley, Iowa is one of the places with the highest tornado activity in the world.
Thunderstorms and tornado warnings should be taken very seriously. Make sure you have your phone set to receive local weather alerts so you know when to take cover. If you’re driving on the highway when you get an alert, find the nearest bridge overpass and pull onto the shoulder under the bridge.
Aside from severe weather, summer months can be hot and extremely humid. Interestingly, all the crops make Iowa even more humid. Plants release moisture into the atmosphere, which raises the dew point. The millions of crop acres in Iowa apparently increase the dew point by five to ten degrees! You can read more about it here.
Traveling during winter in Iowa can be extremely dangerous. Blizzards, white-out conditions, and icy roads are a regular occurrence.
But Iowans are well-equipped to deal with winter weather. The super-efficient snowplow drivers do an amazing job of quickly and safely clearing snow and ice from roadways. It’s a great thing for safe driving. It’s not so cool if you’re a school-aged kid who really wants a snow day.
Avoid driving during winter storms in Iowa. If you’re not used to regularly driving in snow and ice, you won’t be prepared to safely navigate the roads.
Appreciate the incredible sky
Glaciers from past ice ages have flattened out the Iowa skyline. That means that you have a spectacular view of the sky from nearly every spot in the state.
When I was home recently, I could not stop raving about the sky. I needed to travel the world over to fully appreciate the Iowa sky I grew up seeing every day.
Summer days are often filled with gorgeous, puffy clouds. Spectacular sunsets are common. Approaching storms are breathtaking from miles away.
Expect to take lots and lots of pictures of the Iowa sky during your trip. You’ll need photographic evidence that such beauty actually exists.
I have a deep appreciation for my home state of Iowa. And I hope you share that appreciation after your visit. Please use the tips above to plan a fantastic trip to Iowa and reach out to me with any questions!