Golden cornfields and flatlands swelling with soybean crops are beautiful on their own, but an abundance of natural wonders and diversity make Iowa a prime road tripping destination. Even if you use one of the useful online route planners, some of the natural landmarks are worth seeing even if it means getting a bit off the track.
The Upper Midwest is home to some of the most stunning areas of continental US, yet is often overlooked by road-trippers. A result – your Iowa road trip might turn one of the most peaceful tours you've ever done. However, due to its position on the tip of the notorious Tornado Alley, spring in Iowa is known to usher severe weather. The period between April and September is the most critical, as two-thirds of all the rain falls in these months, with 50 days of thunderstorm activity on average.
This all means your car needs to be in top shape, in case you run into a sudden shower or hailstorm. Apart from stocking extra food, water, and blankets, make sure the wiper blades are working properly, and check the tire tread before you head out. Adverse weather with hail might not only prevent you from completing your trip on time but also damage your car's windshield, in which case you should note down a few local spots for car hail damage repair, where you can have the damaged windshield fixed and be on your way with minimum delay. One way or another, make sure to check the Storm Prediction Center when planning your trip.
1. Dunning Springs Park
Located within the city limits of Decorah in northeast Iowa, this park is best known for its 200-foot waterfall. Dunning Springs is a total must-see for families touring through the area, as the waterfalls are easily accessible, with the trail leading only five minutes uphill from the road. Apart from great opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing, visitors can explore the Decorah Ice Cave, which has ice on its walls even in the peak of summer due to the glacier deep below.
2. Backbone State Park
Established in 1920, Backbone State Park near Dundee in the northeast includes a diverse landscape like the Maquoketa River, Backbone Lake, hilly trails, and many rocky outcrops. Families can enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, fly fishing, and canoeing, while air-conditioned cabins are waiting for those who decide to spend the night there. In case you've missed an opportunity for a perfect family selfie, there's 15-foot strawberry statue just three miles from the Park.
3. Loess Hills Scenic Byway
Created between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago by retreating glaciers, The Loess Hills are stretching over 1,080 square miles of the eastern edge of the Missouri River flood plain. Offering breath-taking views on the steep prairie and forest-topped bluffs, the whole area seems like the introduction to the Rockies. Locations to see here are the Hitchcock Nature Center, Preparation Canyon, Waubonsie State Park, and Mt. Crescent with Iowa's longest zip line.
4. Maquoketa Caves State Park
Definitely the most unique state park in this part of the country, Maquoketa Caves State Park features more caves than any other locality in Iowa, with limestone formations, rugged bluffs, and a trail system connecting many of the caves. It’s a perfect stop for families with kids who love exploring and adventure. Many of the caves are self-guided and easy to navigate, so prepare your flashlights and prepare to get muddy.
5. Kuehn Conservation Area
Sprawling across 800 acres of Dallas County along the Racoon River, Kuehn Conservation Area has something for just about everybody – short trails for young hikers, expanses of native and restored prairie, forests, interesting geological formations, and archaeological sites with artifacts from Native American history. The stretch by the river is a prime spot for birdwatching, with an abundance of hawks and eagles, while in the summer, the prairie is swarming with hummingbird and monarch butterflies.
Although 93% of Iowa is devoted to farmlands, there’s more to The Hawkeye State than meets the eye. All the localities listed here have something in common – their topography is unbelievably different from the flat central region of the state.
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