5 Best National Parks in Iowa You Must Explore

6 mins read

Are you exhausted from the daily grind or want to vacation? According to research, spending some time in nature can uplift your mood and help you feel refreshed. However, we all know that going to a forest or jungle can be a life-threatening experience. But there is nothing to fear as we have an alternative by visiting National Parks in Iowa.

A national park is an area set aside by the government to preserve the natural flora and fauna of the region. One of the most important functions of national parks is to protect animals from hunting and poaching. Due to increased urbanization, the habitats of animals are at risk of being destroyed. Wildlife provides balance and stability to the natural process.

This is where the role of the National Park Service comes into the picture. They conserve the natural resources of the environment and even educate people on the importance of wildlife conservation. Instead of locking up animals in cages, they operate in large parks, which are the natural habitats of animals. This way, the animals are not bound to a cage.

Image from Pexels by Robby McCullough, copyright year 2019
Image from Pexels by Robby McCullough, the copyright year 2019

About Iowa

Iowa is a U.S. state located in the Mid-Western region. The name ‘Iowa’ comes from one of the American Indian Tribes of the same name. Situated between the Mississippi River and Missouri River, making it the only state in the country to be bordered by two rivers. Iowa is known as the ‘Hawkeye State’ since it is named after the character in ‘The Last of Mohicans Book.

The capital and largest city are Des Moines. The neighboring states of Iowa include Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri. Iowa was officially recognized as a state on December 28th, 1846. While the USA is known for its diverse economy, many places in the country are home to beautiful landscapes. Iowa is one of those states.

About 92% of the land consists of farmland. Apart from its agricultural activities, the state obtains revenues from industries like manufacturing, biotechnology, and government services. Iowa has many amazing places, which include national monuments, historic buildings, hiking trails, etc.

In this article, our primary focus will be national parks. The national parks are handled by the national park service, which the central government administers. Each national park sites have members, staff, park rangers, and volunteers to ensure that the parks are in the best condition. Let us look at some of the most popular national parks in Iowa that are a must-visit for tourists.

National parks in Iowa
Image from pexels by get lost mike, copyright 2019

Most Popular National Parks In Iowa

1) Effigy Mounds National Monument

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Image from Shutterstock

The Effigy mounds national monument is an ideal tourist spot for history buffs. Native Americans built prehistoric mounds about 1000 years ago. But we must first understand what mounds are. Mounds were considered ceremonial or sacred sites made from earth, sand, or gravel.

In fact, the effigy mounds are as big as a house. Usually, they are shaped in the form of animals like bears, birds, turtles, or even the water spirit. In total, there are more than 200 such mounds. One mound group has 10 bears, which archeologists call the ‘Marching Bears.’

Interestingly, most effigy mounds are so big that tourists need to hike on them. Apart from the effigy mounds, travelers can also explore the hiking trails, a 14-mile stretch of wooded areas. During winter, we can also see nesting bald eagles. If you don’t like the cold weather, you can visit the Effigy mounds national monument in autumn. You can get an amazing view of an idyllic rural paradise at that time.

2) Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

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Image from Shutterstock

Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of America. His tenure was between 1929 and 1933. He was one of the earliest supporters of the national park service. In fact, during his presidency, the lands assigned for national parks and monuments increased by forty percent.

Also, President Hoover managed to expand the scope and size of the national park service by 70%. A key reason why President Herbert Hoover wanted more national parks could be due to his upbringing. During the first eleven years of his life in the outdoors of Iowa.

During these years, he spent time on activities like Fishing, Swimming, and Horseback Riding. Although Herbert Hoover’s national historic site was founded in 1916, it became famous after Herbert Hoover became President. When visiting Herbert Hoover’s national historic site, be sure to visit Herbert Hoover’s presidential library.

The presidential library shows Herbert Hoover’s life through many exhibits. The library even talks about the first lady, Lou Henry. The national park also houses a blacksmith shop, which the father of President Hoover owned.

Inside the blacksmith shop, you can find an anvil, a working forge, and a rack filled with several other tools which blacksmiths commonly use. The visitor center is a good recommendation by many tourists. It is like a self-guided tour.

It plays a short film (12 minutes) about the life of America’s 31st president, Herbert Hoover. Apart from the historic buildings, the park also features a tall grass prairie.

3) Lewis And Clark National Historic Trail

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Image from Shutterstock

The Lewis and Clark expedition follows the adventures of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. These two travelers wanted to find a practical route along the western region of North America.

It took two years and 16 different states to complete the expedition. During the expedition, they also managed to obtain information on flora and fauna of the regions.

Once they crossed Louisiana, they made it to the Pacific Ocean. While the Lewis and Clark national trial is not a hiking trail, it does consist of many recreational activities like horse riding, hiking, boating, auto tours, etc. The Lewis and Clark historic trail is about 4900 miles long, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Astoria, Oregon.

4) Sergeant Floyd River Museum And Welcome Center

While the Lewis and Clark national historic trail were made popular by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, there was one more member, Sergeant Charles Floyd.

Unfortunately, he died during the expedition. After his death, a boat called’ M.V. Sergeant Floyd‘ was named after him. The boat was built in Indiana in 1932. Initially, it was used as a workhouse for the Missouri River Division of the corps of Engineers.

As technology improved, the role of M.V. Sergeant Floyd was limited, and it was about to be decommissioned. However, Congress decided to convert it into an exhibition boat. Initially, the boat was mobile, traveling the gulf and inter-coastal waterways.

In 1983, the boat was decommissioned and transferred to Sioux City. Currently, the boat serves as a museum and welcome center. Here, the visitors can see the history of Missouri River Transportation, old artifacts, and photos.

The Museum also displays one of America’s largest exhibits of Missouri River Steamboat and keelboat models. This attraction will surely catch the interest of history buffs.

5) Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

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Image from Shutterstock

There is a long history associated with the Mormon pioneer national historic trail. It follows a 1300-mile route from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah. The journey included as many as 14000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ.

While the trial occurred between 1846 and 1868, the real story began in 1827. A man named Joseph Smith made claims of finding golden plates in God’s true Church. Smith claims that an angel named Moroni guided him to the plates. He also claimed that the angel provided him with ancient tools to translate the ancient text into English. Smith used these to produce a group of scripture called the Book of Mormon.

He founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Saints a few years later. His followers would be known as Mormons. Unfortunately, many groups opposed Joseph Smith’s teachings, and eventually, he was arrested in Carthage, Illinois.

While Smith passed away, the legacy of his teachings would continue. One of his followers, Brigham Young, would continue the Mormon pioneer national historic trail. He realized that staying in Illinois was too dangerous, so Young decided that they would take shelter in Utah.

On March 1st, 1846, Young and a group of 500 Mormons traveled Northeast toward the Missouri River. The route included places like council bluffs, Iowa, fort bridge, Wyoming, California, and Oregon trails would be known as the Mormon trail.

This could be the reason why there are so many Mormons in Utah. As mentioned earlier, the trial is a 1300-mile route. The route consists of stops in other national parks like Chimney Rock National historic site, Scott’s Bluff National monument, and Fort Laramie National historical site.


As mentioned in the beginning, Iowa is a state with large farmlands, wildlife, terrains, etc. Thus making it a great tourist destination. In particular, the national parks in Iowa play an important role in both tourism and wildlife conservation.

However, it is important that when visiting the states, you travel safely and responsibly. Especially after the pandemic, we must follow safe and hygienic practices. Responsible traveling means not littering. Maintaining cleanliness is not only the National Parks Service’s responsibility but also the responsibility of tourists.

Verified Content by Experts

USA Tales has content written by niche experts, travelers, students, and those with real-life experience. Our content is also periodically reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure content accuracy and relevancy. Have a question? Email us at team@usatales.com

Rahul Bhuyan

Born and brought up in Bangalore, I have always been fascinated by writing. I have a total of three years of work experience in different industries like fast food restaurants, Information Technology and Training and Development. My hobbies include watching movies, writing and exercise.

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