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Those who don’t know Iowa will associate it exclusively with corn. The state is the country’s largest producer of the crop, anchoring the Midwestern Corn Belt. But beyond its obvious associations with farmland in the heartland, Iowa is rich in culture and nature. Home to the world’s largest truckstop and the country’s most famous state fair, the state is represented by snippets of real Americana, patched together like a quilt across the prairie. In western Iowa, the town of Le Mars is known as the ice cream capital of the world. The eastern part of the state boasts a UNESCO-designated City of Literature, Iowa City, as well as the cultural hubs of Cedar Rapids and Davenport. And in the heart of the state, Des Moines stands as its center of politics and economy. No matter where your Iowa journey takes you, there’s sure to be a scenic byway, a quiet monument, or a photo opportunity along the way.
People drive in Iowa. Be it tractor or truck, most Iowans own at least one vehicle, necessary for traversing the long country roads between farms and navigating the metropolitan cities of Des Moines, Sioux City, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids. All four act as hubs to the state, and the capital city of Des Moines is home to the Iowa’s major airport: Des Moines International Airport (DSM). Visitors should plan to have their own vehicle no matter where they’re headed. While Iowa is vast, it’s still possible to cross the state by car in less than a day, making it possible to easily explore multiple regions.
Extreme heat. Frigid cold. Thrilling summer thunderstorms. Awe-inspiring tornadoes. Depending on when you visit Iowa, you could experience any number of weather patterns, thanks to its position in the landlocked, wide-open plains. Iowa’s variable climate also means that spring is glorious and fall color is gorgeous, and the only thing rivaling the state’s sticky-hot summers are its postcard-perfect winter scenes. In general, it’s best to visit Iowa during the warmer months, when festivals and fairs dominate the event calendar. Book a trip to the northwest in May for the Orange City Tulip Festival, an homage to Dutch heritage that’s more than 80 years old. In late July, Indianola hosts its glorious National Balloon Classic. The famous Iowa State Fair takes over Des Moines the second week of August, drawing fans of funnel cake and carnival rides to see the famous butter cow sculpture. And in the fall, the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival is a fantastic occasion to go leaf-peeping just outside Des Moines.
Some of Iowa’s best spots to visit are its smallest. Pella shows off its 175-year-old Dutch heritage with the tallest working windmill in the country and the annual Tulip Time festival, held during peak blooming season each May. The seven tiny villages that comprise the Amana Colonies were established in the 1850s for German exiles, and stand today as National Historic Landmarks. All over the state, small towns with unique histories welcome visitors year-round.
Chances are you’ve heard of Madison County’s picturesque covered bridges, which have stood sturdy since the 1800s. Of the 19 originally built around the county, there are now just six, and they’re well worth the visit — especially in October, when they’re honored with a celebratory festival.
Earning its name for the fact that it was bypassed by glacial drift, the Driftless Area was left with beautiful and unique geographical features unlike a typical Midwestern landscape. The Iowa section of this multistate region is marked by deep river valleys, limestone bluffs, and steep inclines. Beyond numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, the sparsely populated Driftless Area is home to quaint inns, old churches, and charming antique shops.