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Iowa – Rolling Plains, Relaxing Lakes, and Attractive Cities

Two major American rivers form the borders of the State of Iowa: the Mississippi in the east and the Missouri in the west. Iowa is also a state known for its many beautiful lakes. Topographically, rolling plains are dominant. But there is also a section in the northeastern part of the state which belongs to the so-called Driftless Area, where the elevation is higher. Rugged hillsides are a common sight there. However, Iowa is anything but a mountainous state. The highest site, Hawkeye Point, lies a mere 1,670 feet above sea level.

The climate in Iowa is not very different from the one found in the other Midwestern states. Winters can get harsh with December and January being the coldest months. Summer temperatures are high though, often climbing beyond 90 degrees. The coolness of the lakes regions is especially soothing then.

Before European colonization, the Iowa region was the home of several Native American tribes, such as the name-giving Ioway, but also Sioux and Missouri Indians. Today, only the Mesquaki tribe remains, whose settlement is located in Tama County. European-American settlement did not start until the 1830s. Large-scale settlement started from the mid-19th century. The newly built railroad brought importance to the region and connected it with the East. In 1846, Iowa became a fully-fledged state, the 29th to reach this status. Iowans were more than residents of other states involved in the Civil War. 13,000 Iowans died. In the modern era, Iowa’s political importance is increased by the fact that the first presidential caucus is traditionally held here.

Des Moines

Des Moines is Iowa’s state capital and home to Drake University. With a population of nearly 200,000, Des Moines is Iowa’s largest urban area. Originally a French fort, one can still trace the historical roots of the city. The Iowa State Capitol with its landmark golden dome is one of Des Moines’ most popular sights. The best shopping of the state takes place in the East Village. Wandering on historic paths is possible in the protected historic district, the Sherman Hill neighborhood. Des Moines offers something for all interests. Blank Park Zoo or one of the great arboretums attract nature’s lovers. And for those who want to learn something about Iowa’s rich agricultural history a visit to one of the living history farms tells you everything about the state’s rural past.

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids is located in the western part of the state and is Iowa’s second largest city. The topography of the city is dominated by the Cedar River running through the city center. Mays Island, in the middle of the river, houses the city hall and county courthouse. Cedar Rapids is known as the City of Five Seasons, with the fifth season being the one to celebrate the other four. So a visit to Cedar Rapids is always fun, no matter which season. The Tree of Five Seasons, a notable sculpture, manifests this nickname in the city center. The historic Czech Village gives insight into the ethnic origins of many residents. Museums additionally inform about the Czech and Slovak immigration to the region.

Sioux City

Sioux City is located in the far eastern part by the Missouri River. Siouxland, as the surrounding area is often called, extends to the neighboring states Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Sioux City combines a modern urban environment with many beautiful recreational areas and park sites such as Stone State Park. It runs along the Big Sioux River and is famous for its great mountain biking trails. Grandview Park is another nice park, situated close to downtown Sioux City. Many art centers, museums and other cultural facilities are located in Sioux City and complement the rich experience the city offers.


Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city and lies at the banks of the Mississippi River in the so-called Tri-State region. The huge Mississippi is a natural attraction on its own. But many other sights are located here such as the Shot Tower by the river and the 19th century town clock. Historic tours, for example through the city’s Victorian houses, are offered in Dubuque.

Iowa Lakes

Iowa is not only framed by two major rivers but also boasts countless lakes and ponds. One of the most popular regions are the Iowa Great Lakes. They are located in Dickinson County in the northwestern part of the state. Three principal lakes are located here, Big Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, and East Okoboji Lake. They are all natural glacier lakes. Scenic outlooks and byways as well as recreational and sports opportunities of all kinds abound in the Great Lakes area. Big Spirit Lake is a popular fishing location, containing over 40 species of fish. West Okoboji Lake is loved for its clear blue waters. It offers all kinds of water sports but also some decent fishing opportunities. East Okoboji has a narrow, long shape. Upper and Lower Gar Lakes and Silver Lake complement the region which is an excellent choice for a fun vacation by the water. Across the region, amusement parks, wineries, and museums enable more entertainment and enrichment. Lodging options in the region extend from cozy cottages, cheap bed and breakfasts, to modern hotels and condo for rent. It only depends on what you opt for.

There are plenty of man-made lakes in Iowa as well, including Lakes Odessa, Red Rock, and MacBride as well as Saylorville Lake, Coralville Lake, and Rathbun Lake.

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