Photo courtesy of The Iowa capital building rests on lush and vibrant grounds in Des Moines.

Family Vacations in Iowa Overview

The sunlight glinting off rolling fields of corn is sure to soothe and relax any weary traveler headed to the great state of Iowa; and Iowa has more to offer than just farmland, including teeming urban centers, peaceful suburban retreats, and miles of beautiful and serene landscape.

Look below for just a few of the attractions Iowa has to offer:

The Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair is an annual event and has more competitions than any such fair in the nation. The Iowa State Fair boasts whimsical contests for kids such as the "Ugliest Cake" contest, unconventional attractions like the yo-yo contest, and more traditional fare such as livestock and pie-baking contests. All this in addition to rides, games and all the food you can eat makes the Iowa State Fair a family vacation not to be missed.

Bridges of Madison County

Famed as the setting for James Waller's novel, The Bridges of Madison County, and as the birthplace of John Wayne, Madison County receives inspiration-and romance-seeking tourists every year. At its peak, Madison County tallied 19 bridges, which created a practical link between picturesque routes throughout the county.

Amana Colonies

The Amana communities encompass 20,000 acres and 31 historic places. They were one of the world's longest active communal societies, lasting from 1855 to 1932. Hundreds of buildings were once part of the communities; almost 500 have survived.

Continue to the next page to learn more about all the down-home excitement going on at the Iowa State Fair.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Iowa State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Iowa, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Piglets on display at the fair's Livestock Show at the Iowa State Fair, one of the world's largest.

Family Vacations: Iowa State Fair

When it comes to state fairs, Iowa brings home the blue ribbon. It has more competitive events -- almost 900 -- than any other state fair in the nation. It seamlessly blends old favorites such as pie baking, quilt making, and prettiest pig contests with some unusual competitions that are great fun to see. The ugliest cake contest is a favorite for children. It's not judged on appearance only, however; the cake must be tasty as well. Other tests of skill include a yo-yo contest, a nail driving competition, a rubber chicken throwing contest, and a pigeon rolling race.

Each year Duffy Lion, an Iowa resident, crafts 550 pounds of locally produced butter into the form of a cow. This life-size sculpture has been a fair trademark for nearly 100 years.

You'll find rides and games on the fair's expansive midway, plus concerts featuring chart-topping performers, acres of farm equipment, one of the world's largest livestock shows, and agricultural displays of all types. The food ranges from fair favorites such as funnel cakes, corn dogs, and cotton candy to chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick, sweet potato fries, and fried ice cream.

Iowa State Fair

Address: East 30th St. and E. University Ave

Des Moines, IA

Phone: 515/262-3111, 800/545-FAIR

Hours of Operation: First - Second week in Aug., 8 a.m. - 1 a.m.

Admission: $10 adults; $4 kids

Visitors can enjoy their State Fair treats en route to another one of Iowa's famed spots: the Bridges of Madison County. Click on the next page to learn more about these scenic routes.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Iowa State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Iowa, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

The Holliwell Bridge is one of the five original bridges still standing in Madison County.

Family Vacations in Iowa: Bridges of Madison County

Madison County, Iowa, used to be a typical Midwestern farm area. Less than an hour's drive south of Des Moines, the county was notable as the birthplace of John Wayne, for the home of the 18-acre Madison County Historical Society building, and for its rustic covered bridges. Then Robert James Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison County, a best-selling novel. Today, Madison County's covered bridges have become such a tourist draw that the county now is building reproductions of lost covered bridges.

Madison County at one time tallied 19 picturesque covered bridges; today just five of the original ones survive. These are the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, Hogback Bridge, Holliwell Bridge, Imes Bridge, and Roseman Bridge, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A suspected arson fire destroyed Cedar Bridge in 2002. County officials have offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator. A replica Cedar Bridge was dedicated in 2004.

While Waller's book tells a romantic tale, the bridges' origins were quite practical: The Madison County Board of Supervisors ordered they be covered to preserve their large flooring timbers, which were more expensive than the lumber used to cover the bridges' sides and roofs.

Bridges of Madison County Information

Address: Madison County Chamber of Commerce

73 Jefferson St

Winterset , IA

Telephone: 515/462-1185, 800/298-6119

While the Bridges of Madison County put Iowa on the map, Iowa's history is rooted in Amana Colonies America. Learn more about the Amana Colonies' seven communities and 31 historic places on the next page.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Iowa State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Iowa, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

©Amana Colonies Convention and Visitors Bureau. Blankets and fabric were produced at the Amana Woolen Mill. Most of its wool came from sheep raised in nearby East Amana.

Family Vacations in Iowa: Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies America has always had a strong utopian streak, whose sweetest fruit is on display in eastern Iowa's gently rolling hills where you can find the seven communities that make up the Amana Colonies. The Amana Colonies made up a historic utopian society in Iowa's River Valley. Established shortly before the Civil War by German immigrants of the Community of True Inspiration sect, the colonies today are on the National Park Service National Register of Historic Places.

The Amana communities encompass 20,000 acres and 31 historic places. They were one of the world's longest active communal societies, lasting from 1855 to 1932. Hundreds of buildings were once part of the communities; almost 500 have survived, including the Ox Yoke Inn, the Colony Inn Restaurant, the Amana Woolen Mill, Roger's Anvil/Industrial Machine Shop Museum, the Amana Furniture Shop, and the striking Millstream Brewing Company.

Probably the best place for visitors to start, however, is the Museum of Amana History, which helps explain what the communities' religionists called "the Great Change" away from shared life. The Amana Church remains pivotal in the communities: Residents still attend services and live their lives infused by their faith.

Amana Colonies Information

Address: Amana Colonies Visitors Center

622 46th Ave

Amana, IA

Telephone: 319/622-7622 800/579-2294

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Iowa State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Iowa, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.