Are you wondering what is Iowa known for? While pigs, plains, and golden grains of corn come to mind, the Hawkeye State is known for much more than corn and pork.
Yes, there is corn – lots of it. And there’s simply epic pork production going on at Iowa’s farms (this is the Midwest, after all). There are also historic attractions, interesting activities, and fun facts about Iowa as well as weird facts about Iowa.
From the south-central Iowa state capital of Des Moines to Mason City in the north, Iowa City in the east, and Sioux City in the northwest, the Midwestern state of Iowa sits between two navigable rivers…the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
It’s the only state with that distinction. It’s a state bordered by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
If you thought you knew everything there was to know about Iowa (or that there was nothing to know about Iowa), keep reading to discover everything there is to know about the Hawkeye State.
Let’s get to it!
History and Statehood
The rich history of Iowa includes French explorers, Native Americans, French Louisiana, and the Missouri Territory. One of those unique landmark facts is that it’s the only state that has a border of two major rivers; Missouri and the Mississippi.
I bet you didn’t know that Iowa was once Spanish property and part of Louisiana. In 1762, France secretly gave part of Louisiana to Spain (and since Iowa was part of that property, it went with it) to become Spanish Louisiana.
Iowa became the 29th state on December 28th, 1846 (as part of the Louisiana Purchase). The state gets its name from the Ioway people, a Native American tribe.
You’re probably wondering “Why is Iowa called the Hawkeye State?” Hint: This official nickname has nothing to do with Clint Barton or any other Avenger, for that matter.
This official nickname is in tribute to the Native American warrior Chief Black Hawk. Though, we could picture Clint and the fam living way out on a farm in the Hawkeye State. Can’t you?
See Related: Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit
The Iowa state bird and flower are the Eastern Goldfinch (also known as the wild canary and American goldfinch) and the prairie rose.
Other Iowa symbols include the geode as the state rock and the oak as the state tree. Outside of the bird, there is no state animal of Iowa (or state insect, for that matter).
Adopted in 1847, Iowa’s state motto is “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain”.
The state song is “The Song of Iowa“. It was written by S. H. M. Byers in 1867 and became the official state song in 1911.
See Related: Best Places to Vist in the Midwest
Food and Fairs
So, what food is Iowa known for? And where best can I try it all?
Yes, our mind leans toward food every time we think of Iowa.
The cuisine is right up there at the top of our “want-to-know” list. Breaded pork tenderloin, Iowa sweet corn, and the hot beef sandwich (a massive pile of beef, gravy, and mashed potatoes on top of white bread) are just a few of the Iowa staples you’ll have to try.
Additionally, the red delicious apple, grown in the state, was originally named the Hawkeye. It was even promoted at the 1904 World’s Fair.
Sliced Bread Machine
Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the inventor of the sliced bread machine, is from Davenport, Iowa. He began in 1912 and produced the first fully working machine in 1928. The first bakery to commercially use the machine was in Chillicothe, Missouri.
But technically, it’s Iowa that takes the honor of being the best thing since sliced bread!
Iowa State Fair
The Iowa State Fair, held in Des Moines in Polk County, first began in 1854. It’s the largest event in Iowa as well as one of the largest and oldest agricultural events in the country.
The fair is held over 11 days in August, but events like car shows, flea markets, and livestock exhibitions take place at the venue all year round.
You can find all the farm animals, jams and jellies, prize-winning quilts, midway rides, and food-on-a-stick that you’d expect at such an event.
National Hobo Convention
The Hobo Convention (yes, there’s a hobo convention and we’re sure it’s everything you’re imagining) is held in Britt, Iowa.
Hobos from across the country come to town to celebrate their vagabond way of life. It’s held the second week of August and features parades, entertainment, activities, and arts and crafts.
See Related: Historical Landmarks in Iowa You’ll Want to Visit
Actor John Wayne was born in Winterset in 1907.
Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the U.S. in 1869. She passed the Iowa bar despite a law restricting it to only men. After her challenge in court, Iowa became the first state to accept women and minorities to its bar.
Buffalo Bill Cody
American buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, U.S. Army scout, and actor Buffalo Bill Cody was born in Le Claire, Iowa in 1846. His larger-than-life personality set the scene for the Wild West through fiction, tall tales, and dramatic entertainment like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Total fibber though. Guy didn’t kill a single buffalo. North American bison on the other hand…
Riverside, Iowa is the fictional “future” birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame (March 22, 2228). There’s even a marker to commemorate the spot. Iowans must be Trekkies.
Buddy Holly’s crash site is in Clear Lake, Iowa, north of Des Moines. The plane crashed in 1959 with Holly and fellow passengers Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson.
The pilot, Roger Peterson, died too in case you were wondering.
See Related: Things to know about the Buddy Holly Crash Site
Presidents and Politics
President Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States was born in West Branch, Iowa in 1874. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is in Iowa City in eastern Iowa.
The Iowa Caucus
Iowa ranks right up there with the political candidates. The Iowa Caucus is one of the most important political caucuses in the election of a U.S. president. It’s the first state to show support for candidates (and every candidate, regardless of party, is camped out there if they want any chances of going forward).
For comparison purposes: a caucus is a series of local gatherings where voters openly meet, support, and select candidates. With a primary, supporters cast secret ballots in a state election.
The level of support a candidate gets in the state is a sign of how they’ll do in other states. The theory is that if a candidate can resonate with the average middle-American, he/she will do well with the rest of the country.
So, if you’re planning to run for President, get yourself to an Iowa town.
Attractions and Natural Landmarks
Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park (in McGregor, Iowa, not the Colorado version) features nearly 1,000 acres of hiking trails with beautiful views along a national scenic byway. Enjoy majestic views of the spot where the Mississippi River and the Wisconsin River meet from a 500-foot bluff at this state park.
While at the state park, check out the Bridal Veil Falls waterfall, and walk along hiking trails overlooking bluffs and valleys brimming with wildlife, forests, and native plants.
The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
The largest manmade grotto in the world, the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, can be found in West Bend, which is near Wright County. The religious shrine is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City.
Constructed out of stone, it’s made up of a series of nine grottos (a natural or man-made cave) depicting the life of Jesus Christ.
There’s a collection of minerals, fossils, shells, and other artifacts there as well. Construction began in 1912 and continued for 42 years. It earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
The Iowa Speedway
The 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway race track is located in Newtown, approximately 30 miles east of Des Moines. It plays host to several races throughout the year, including the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1908 Stockman House was the architect’s first and only prairie schoolhouse-style structure in the state. You can take a tour of it, as well as other prairie-style architecture houses in the Rock Crest-Rock Glen Historic District.
Reiman Gardens, located at the Iowa State University campus in Ames, offers 17 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens. In addition to beautifully designed gardens, you’ll want to check out the architectural details of the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing and other prairie school structures.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
If you Build a Bridge, They’ll Come to Tour It
The Bridge of Madison County
The Bridge of Madison County (either the 1922 book by Robert James Waller or the 1995 film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep) is set in Madison County in Winterset, which is about 30 miles from Des Moines.
The movie was filmed in Winterset. You can take a guided tour of the film sets and the bridges, including the Roseman Covered Bridge (believed to be haunted) and Holliwell Bridge (which is more than 110 feet long). Both were featured in the movie.
With a tour, you’ll learn the history and architectural facts about these unique bridges and be able to explore some of the other ones in town (including the Cutler Donahoe Bridge).
Field of Dreams
Another book-turned film that’s set in the Hawkeye State is Shoeless Joe (1982) by WP Kinsella. If you’re not familiar with the book, you may be familiar with the line “If you build it, he will come.” Yes, Field of Dreams would be correct.
The 1989 film starring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, and Amy Madigan was set in Iowa. You can tour the fictional farmhouse of Annie and Ray Kinsella in Dyersville in Dubuque County. The field is there, so come on over.
Interesting and Weird Facts About Iowa
- A University of Iowa swim coach invented the butterfly stroke.
- John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor at Iowa State College, created the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), the first electronic digital computer, in the 1940s. He had the assistance of Clifford E. Berry, one of his graduate students.
- Quaker Oats are produced in Cedar Rapids. It’s the largest milling facility in the world.
- Along with corn, oats, and pork, Iowa produces soybeans, cattle, and eggs.
- The “Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot” was the name of a newspaper published from 1839 to 1843. The newspaper publisher was in Burlington.
- Iowa is sometimes called the Corn State. This comes as no surprise as Iowa is the largest producer of corn in the U.S. Located on the northern side of the state, Kossuth County has the highest percentage of corn production, churning out more corn than any of its sister counties.
- Elk Horn, in southwest Iowa near Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest Danish settlement in the U.S. It’s less than one square mile in size.
- The house in the famous 1930 American Gothic painting (by Grant Wood) is still standing today in Eldon, Iowa. It’s called the Dibble House. You can’t miss that Carpenter Gothic-style roofline window. We can’t guarantee that the farmer and his daughter (and pitchfork) will be at the American Gothic house to pose with you.
- Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is a yearly 8-day bicycle ride across the state that includes festivals, events, music, and food. It starts around Sergeant Bluff (near the Missouri River) on the northwestern side of the state and runs through Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, and Lawler all the way to Lansing (near the Mississippi River) in northeastern Iowa.
- The world’s largest truck stop, the Iowa 80 Truckstop, is in Walcott in Muscatine and Scott County. Open since 1964, there’s a chiropractor, a dentist, and laundry facilities along with food, shopping, and all the amenities a truck driver could ever need or want (think: showers, full-service fuel, a workout room, and more).
- Pigs outnumber Iowans by about 4 to 1. With a population of just under 3.2 million humans, there are nearly 13 million pigs in Iowa.
- Ancient Iowa was once the stomping ground of some notable mega-fauna, including at least two species of giant sloth!
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US
Where to Stay in Iowa
Looking for accommodations in Iowa?
Whether you’re hobnobbing with hobos, checking out local attractions, or running for president, we’ve found a few options for overnight visits.
AVID Hotels – Sioux City – Downtown, an IHG Hotel
AVID Hotels – Sioux City is within convenient access to the Sioux City Convention Center, the Sioux Center Art Museum, Tysons Event Center, and other attractions in Woodbury County.
Guests can enjoy a fitness center, free Wi-Fi, and daily continental breakfast at this pet-friendly hotel in Sioux City, the fourth largest city in Iowa.
GrandStay Hotel & Suites Ames
The GrandStay Hotel & Suites Ames is near Iowa State University (about 40 minutes from Des Moines) and has an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a fitness center. All guest rooms have a kitchenette, a seating area, and a sofa bed as well as free Wi-Fi.
It’s an excellent choice if you’re in the area for an extended stay and need more space to spread out. We really enjoy the idea of that kitchenette.
Hotel Baymont by Wyndham Des Moines Airport
The Hotel Baymont by Wyndham Des Moines Airport has an indoor heated pool, a hot tub, and a recreation room with a billiards table. Guest rooms offer a microwave, a mini fridge, a coffeemaker, and free Wi-Fi at this Iowa city hotel. It’s within convenient access to the Des Moines River.
Hampton Inn & Suites Mason City
If you’re bicycling across Iowa, or following the tour by vehicle, the Hampton Inn & Suites Mason City makes a good place to call it a night. There’s free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, and nearby restaurants.
Cobblestone Inn & Suites – Winterset
Cobblestone Inn & Suites – Winterset has a fitness center, a lounge, and a business center. Guest rooms have a microwave, free Wi-Fi, and cable TV. This pet-friendly hotel is a terrific choice for visiting Madison County’s covered bridges.
Historic 1860s Home
Located near Cedar Rapids, in Marion, this historic 1860s home offers modern amenities in a charming setting. The 1,650-square-foot townhome has three bedrooms and one bathroom and can accommodate up to seven guests. Enjoy the conveniences of a kitchen, dining room, and living room.
It’s within walking distance of restaurants and shops. The hosts are on-site at this duplex if you need anything. Dogs less than 50 lbs. are welcome to join you.
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