Agriculture dominates the landscape here, with a neatly ordered patchwork of fields and farms occupying the softly rolling plains. It’s pleasant, with a gentle pace of life and hospitable, small-town feel, but its tourist appeal – and some would say excitement value – is limited; as Bill Bryson, born in its capital, memorably declared, “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.”
The two major tourist draws are the small white house that, along with its stony faced residents, was immortalised in Grant Wood’s American Gothic, and the bridges of Madison County, where the eponymous book and film were set.
Cinema buffs can also make a detour to see Dyerville’s baseball diamond, built for the filming of another tear jerker, 1989’s Field of Dreams.
In the westernmost part of the state, the dramatic ridges of the Loess Hills rise some 61 metres above the plains. Formed in the Ice Age by drifts of windblown sediment, they’re now home to a number of wildlife and nature reserves and State Parks, popular with hikers, hunters and campers.
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One of the Great Plains states, Iowa’s climate has wild weather with thunderstorms, droughts, blizzards, and hailstorms, and the western part of the state is in tornado alley.Iowa generally has hot and humid summers with temperatures reaching or exceeding 37 degrees (Celsius). Winters are cold and harsh, January temperatures are generally in the minus figures and low single digits, and travel can be difficult. Spring and autumn are mild, but the springs are wet. Typically, the state has 266 sunny or partly sunny days and an average of 76cm (30 inches) of winter snowfall.
Summer is the peak tourist season and when most visitors step off their flights to Iowa. July and August are busy with fairs and festivals, and the Iowa State Fair (the state’s largest event) is held in August.
There are lots of outdoor activities, and summer is the time for golfing, fishing, hiking, camping, and biking.
Des Moines is comfortable in late spring and early autumn, especially May and September, when temperatures are in the low 20s (Celsius).
The autumn foliage rivals that in some of the more expensive states, and “fall” also brings about the hunting season.
Winter has cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, although the weather can make travel around the state difficult.
Driving is the best way to get around Iowa and its cities, and the best way to see the state. Scenic drives take you to the Madison Country bridges, along the Mississippi valley, and through the Loess Hills. Iowa has 13 scenic drives and 23 visitor centres.
The terrain of plains and low, rolling hills makes bicycling easy, and the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai) is an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state and is the longest, largest, and oldest touring bicycle ride in the world.