Hidden Gems in Iowa
Boondocking / Dry Camping, Off the Beaten Path Series, RV Camping, Travel Destinations & Stories

Off the Beaten Path in Iowa. Exploring the Our Top Hidden Gems.

Wait – Do people go to Iowa? I hope so!! I never see anyone talk about the beauty in Iowa, and there are so many amazing things to see! You’ll love it! As full-time RV’ers, we travel and see a lot. This is part of our Opting Out of Normal series where we explore the “Off the Beaten Path” of every state. We love the big popular stuff like everyone else, but there is just something incredible about discovering something unique, different, and maybe a little “off the beaten path”. We certainly can’t explore them all, but we’d love you to include your favorites below too. If you love boondocking, you’ll find a suggestion or two at the end of the blog.

Fun Facts – Did you know that Iowa is home to the world’s largest Bull named Albert?  And Iowa’s largest frying pan? Does that mean there is another “largest frying pan” somewhere else? I mean, who knew? 

Exploring our Top Hidden and Most Unique Places to Visit in Iowa

There are some really interesting and popular things to see in DesMoines. So if you’re going to Iowa, you’re probably heading there. But also check out our list of Off the Beaten Path places. 

Masquoketa Caves

Located in the state park with the same name, you’ll fall in love with the beauty here! Opened back up in April of 2021! With more caves than any state park, Maquoketa Caves is one of Iowa’s most unique outdoor attractions. And you’ll love the campground at Maquoketa Caves State park! This little state park is definitely grand when it comes to caves and you’ll learn about the cave history, and explore the gorgeous area. It’s well worth a day trip (or make it two).

Ice Cave Hill Park

ICE HILL

Decorah’s remarkable ice cave is located near Dunning’s Spring. While Iowa enjoys four seasons, you will find that the ice cave is frozen all year long, due to its glacial location. It’s a short hike up to the cave, and while the cave is small, it is a sight to see. Even in the Summer heat, be prepared to be cold in there. I wouldn’t even suggest taking a jacket though, as you’ll be in and out of there pretty quick.

Devonian Fossil Gorge

meFossil Gorge

This once hidden gorge was revealed by the floods of 1993, and it’s a fascinating place to stop if you’re in the Iowa City/Coralville area. Bring your cell phone!! You can take a free guided tour. There are instructions on a sign in the beginning. The gorge is actually a 375-million-year-old ocean floor with incredible fossils that are older than the dinosaurs. To get there, take I -80 Exit #244, go north for 2.6 miles on Dubuque Street NE, then east 1.3 miles on West Overlook Road to the Coralville Lake and Dam.

Dunning Springs

Located in Decorah, Iowa. There is a 200-foot waterfall located just minutes from downtown. Not a long hike at all, and bring your lunch. It’s beautiful!

Lover’s Leap Swinging Bridge

A warning to the weak-kneed: This narrow bridge does its swinging eight stories high.

meLoversLeapBridge

Directions: Columbus Junction is about 35 miles south of Iowa City, down Rt 218. Take a left onto Hwy 92 which turns into Oak Street when you get to town. Turn right onto Third Street (there’s a bright blue sign pointing the way), and the bridge is on the right where the road bends.

Historic Squirrel Cage Jail

mesquirrel-cage-cell

No, this isn’t a jail for squirrels. But this is a super great concept. This rotating jailhouse in Council Bluffs is one of the only jails of its type left in existence. Tour the inner workings of this unique jail built in 1885 and learn about the prisoners it held.

Wildcat Den State Park

We really love to explore state parks. The natural beauty of Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine will truly take your breath away. The park features an extensive trail system, with 75-foot cliffs and amazing rock formations. The park also has several historic structures to explore. Located at 1886 Wildcat Den Rd., in Muscatine

Fenelon Place Elevator

Fenelon Place Elevator

When you get to the top of the Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, you’ll be able to see not one…not two…but THREE states! Take a ride on the shortest, steepest railway in the world that elevates passengers almost 200 feet in the length of one city block.

The High Trestle Trail

The High Trestle Trail is a nature lover’s paradise and a work of art. It is a half-mile, the 130-foot-tall bridge gets bathed in blue light at night. Bike, walk or jog across the bridge, located near Madrid, for a one-of-a-kind experience. The 41 steel “frames” over the bridge represent support cribs within a historic coal mine. 

High Trestle Trail

After dark, the bridge comes alive as blue lights illuminate a section of the steel cribbings, which mark the location of the main river channel below. From April through October, the bridge is lit from sunset until midnight. From November through March, the lights turn off at 9 p.m.

Matchstick Marvels Museum

Located in Gladbrooke, Iowa. If you’re looking for something to do inside that is different and unique, this is the place! Patric Action of Iowa has been building detailed scale models with wooden matchsticks for nearly 40 years. In that time he’s created around 70 elaborate designs, from the Notre Dame Cathedral to the Wright Brothers’ Flyer. Each model is comprised of hundreds of thousands of two-inch matchsticks, which Acton has spent hours shaping, warping, and gluing together with careful precision in an impressive one-man operation.

This is such an amazing art form. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 5 to 12, and under 5 is free. The museum is open from April 1 through November 30, seven days a week from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is handicapped-accessible.

Roller Coaster Road

Are you up for a wild ride?

If anyone gets car sick in your group, definitely skip this one! Just outside of Harper’s Ferry in Northeast Iowa’s Allamakee County is Roller Coaster Road (Yes, it’s actually named that!). These thrills are typically reserved for the theme park, but here you can try it out in your car. Just remember to drive safely!

Boondocking

  • Big Creek Lake WMA (Polk City). We love Wildlife Management Areas. We also stayed at one in Colorado. Don’t pass these by: GPS: 41.819025, -93.756061
  • Hawkeye WMA. GPS: 41.792561, -91.71432 Gravel road is about 3 miles long but totally accessible. Big rig friendly! 

Here are a few more blogs we think you’ll love!

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