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Travel Guide North America USA Midwestern United States Iowa

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Introduction

Iowa countryside

Iowa countryside

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Iowa might be considered one of the most midwestern of midwestern states. Although over looked by many travelers there is a lot more to Iowa then corn. The cities of Des Moines and Iowa City have a lot of offer in terms of culture and sports. And the RAGBRAI is one of the most famous bike rides in the country and a super fun time. Overlooking Iowa might be something most travelers don't even realize they will regret.

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Geography

Iowa is bordered by the Mississippi River on the east; the Missouri River and the Big Sioux River on the west; the northern boundary is a line along 43 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude. The southern border is the Des Moines River and a not-quite-straight line along approximately 40 degrees 35 minutes north. Iowa is the only state whose east and west borders are formed entirely by rivers. States bordering Iowa include Minnesota to the north, Wisconsin to the northeast, Illinois to the east and southeast, Missouri to the south, Nebraska to the west and South Dakota to the northwest. Iowa is generally not flat; most of the state consists of rolling hills. There are several natural lakes in the state, most notably Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, and East Okoboji Lake in northwest Iowa (see Iowa Great Lakes). To the east lies Clear Lake. Man-made lakes include Lake Odessa, Saylorville Lake, Lake Red Rock, Coralville Lake, Lake MacBride, and Rathbun Lake. There is a dearth of natural areas in Iowa; less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie that once covered most of Iowa remains intact; only about 5% of the state's prairie pothole wetlands remain, and most of the original forest has been lost.

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Cities

  • Ames - A half hour's drive north of Des Moines, home of Iowa State University
  • Cedar Falls - home of University of Northern Iowa and on the western edge of the larger Waterloo
  • Cedar Rapids - Iowa's second-largest city
  • Council Bluffs - western city along the Missouri River
  • Davenport
  • Des Moines is the state's capital and largest city
  • Dubuque - a hilly city along the Mississippi River, considered to be the "insurance capital of the U.S."
  • Iowa City - home of University of Iowa, just south of Cedar Rapids
  • Sioux City - northwest city along Missouri River bank, where Palmer Candies pumps out Twin Bings cherry candy
  • Waterloo

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Sights and Activities

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Weather

Iowa, like most of the Midwest, has a humid continental climate throughout the state with extremes of both heat and cold. The average annual temperature at Des Moines is 10 °C; for some locations in the north the figure is under 7 °C, while Keokuk, on the Mississippi River, averages 11 °C. Winters are often harsh and snowfall is common. Spring ushers in the beginning of the severe weather season. Iowa averages about 50 days of thunderstorm activity per year. Tornadoes are common during the spring and summer months, with an average of 37 tornadoes in a single year. In 2008, twelve people were killed by tornadoes in Iowa, making it the deadliest year since 1968 and also the second most tornadoes in a year with 105, matching the total from 2001. Iowa summers are known for heat and humidity, with daytime temperatures often near 32 °C and sometimes exceeding 38 °C. Average winters in the state have been known to drop well below freezing, even dropping below -28 °C. Iowa's all-time hottest temperature of 48 °C was recorded at Keokuk on July 20, 1934; the all-time lowest temperature of -44 °C was recorded at Elkader on February 3, 1996.

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Getting There

By Plane

Des Moines International Airport (DSM) is the largest airport in Iowa. It offers flights to/from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Dallas, Chicago, Cancun, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Memphis, Detroit, Denver, Newark, Houston, Phoenix, Charlotte and Washington, D.C..

The Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) serves Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and other communities in eastern Iowa. It has flights to/from Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Memphis, Denver and Houston.

By Train

Two trains, operated by Amtrak, travel through the state of Iowa:

  • The California Zephyr travels between Chicago and Emeryville (San Francisco), stopping en route in several places in Iowa.
  • The Southwest Chief travels between Chicago and Los Angeles, stopping in Fort Madison, Iowa.

By Car

Most people enter (and leave) Iowa via Interstate 80 if coming from the east or west, I-35 from the north or south. Both interstates are easy to navigate, as are many Midwestern states. The former has done more to perpetuate the stereotype that Iowa is flat and boring than just about anything else. If you want to see the true face of the state, get off the interstate, ignore the fast-food signs, and find one of the small towns that make the Midwest so charming. State maps are available free of charge at state "Welcome Centers" and rest areas. State maps list such points of interest as Cedar Rock, a rare Usonian example of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, and scenic routes, often found on county roads.

By Bus

Check Greyhound buses for options. MegaBus connects Chicago, Iowa City, and Des Moines

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Getting Around

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

Iowa has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.

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Eat

Iowans consider themselves the "breadbasket of the world", which is reflected in their cuisine. Get ready for pork chops and pork BBQ, corn-on-the-cob, casseroles, and more just-plain-good Midwestern cooking than you can possibly eat in a lifetime. Most rural towns have a fast-food restaurant or two if you're in a hurry, but the best places are the ones which take a little more time, possibly giving you a chance to chat with friendly locals over a pie or coffee. Early morning in a rural diner might find you in the company of a bunch of farmers!

Towns with strong ethnic identities sometimes have restaurants devoted to a particular country's cuisine. Iowa has a substantial Latino population, and there are many family-run Latino restaurants which generally have quite good food.

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Drink

Before Prohibition, Iowa had a healthy wine industry, which is growing once again. There are vineyards scattered throughout the state, each producing their own wines.

Des Moines boasts the state's largest number and widest variety of establishments for all age groups, but the bustling college towns of Cedar Falls, Ames and Iowa City provide the most avid nightlife in the state for (mostly) younger crowds (older crowds are more popular on game days, particularly in the fall during football season). Scores of young adults pack local bars and clubs Thursday through Saturday nights.

Alcohol purchases cease at 2:00am in both bars and stores. There are no separate outlets for different types of alcohol purchases and all alcohol content in beer is the same no matter where it is purchased. Alcohol is available seven days a week and the state does not have any "dry" counties.

Millstream Brewing Company, based in the Amana Colonies, and Okoboji Brewing Company from the Iowa Great Lakes area are local craft breweries whose products can be found throughout the state.

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Sleep

Hotel and Motel Chains

There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:

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Contributors

as well as Peter (4%), Lavafalls (4%)

Iowa Travel Helpers

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This is version 20. Last edited at 11:51 on Apr 8, 16 by Utrecht. 21 articles link to this page.

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