Iowa offers experiences that you cannot find elsewhere, and I’m thrilled to share this road trip with you. This road trip offers experiences all year long, but summertime is my favorite time to make this trip. The corn and soybean fields are lush and green, which adds to the panoramic views. Start at the Mississippi River in Dubuque and end in Des Moines. You will find yourself in the rolling hills of Eastern Iowa surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Hawkeye State. As you travel west, the landscape opens up as the wide open skies of Iowa prevail. These seven towns offer fun experiences as you drive this route. Sit down, buckle up, and it’s time to hit the road.
Dubuque is home to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which ranks at the top of my favorite museums in the Midwest. It offers 14 acres of educational experiences along with views of the Mississippi River.
While you are in Dubuque, you must take a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator. It is known as the world’s steepest, shortest scenic railway. I have ridden this elevator several times, and each time it has been a great experience. To ride this elevator, you must be steady on your feet as the incline is steep. Iowa is a state with all four seasons, and the views from the top change with the seasons.
Dyersville is home to the Field of Dreams movie site. If you visit during the later part of summer, the corn is tall. This is when you can literally feel all the feels from the film Field of Dreams. It is easy to imagine the players walking out from the corn as you view the playing field. If you have never watched the movie, I would encourage you to view it before you begin this road trip.
This town is also home to the St. Francis Basilica, a one-of-a-kind experience, especially for a town of 4,200 people. Your visit will not be complete without a stop at the National Farm Toy Museum. Dyersville will not disappoint you, as it’s a small town that plays big. Before you leave town, you need to dine at the Country Junction Restaurant. The pie ladies are hard at work each day, preparing fresh pies for all who want to indulge. I can speak from experience: These pies are made out of the freshest-tasting secret ingredients.
Amana is home to the Amana Colonies. The seven villages that span 26,000 acres make this another place that you must stop during your road trip from Dubuque to Des Moines. The broom and basket shop in West Amana offers broom making on site. The Amana General Store has been in business since 1858 and offers a unique gift and specialty goods shopping experience. The Christmas store is a highlight for many.
The Amana Colonies offer insight into a simpler time, and it will be an experience that you will talk about for many years. A tip that I can give you is to arrive hungry. The Ox Yoke Inn offers traditional meals from timeless Old World German and American recipes passed from mother to daughter. Five generations of the Leichsenring family have been preparing and serving meals here. Meals have been served family style since 1940, and visitors continue to return year after year.
Grinnell is home to a former school building turned boutique hotel now known as Hotel Grinnell. This is a modern luxury hotel that is an architectural enthusiast’s dream come true. This property was renovated in 11 months and opened in 2017, and you can even book a night’s stay in the principal’s office.
Outdoor lovers will appreciate all that Jacob Krumm Nature Preserve has to offer. With seven miles of hiking trails, you will want to lace up your hiking boots and get outside. Summertime offers colorful flowers dotting the prairie as the prairie grasses grow taller as the season goes on. To get a different perspective out of your hike, pack your binoculars to view the birds that frequent the area.
Pagliai’s offers mouthwatering Italian food, including pizza, lasagna, and their famous Italian meatballs. Grinnell is often overlooked, yet it offers unique experiences and meals that will keep you fueled during your road trip.
Pella is home to tremendous Dutch heritage. Springtime offers the annual tulip festival, which always brings in thousands of visitors. This charming Dutch-influenced town is open all year round and offers the Dutch experience 365 days of the year. The Historical Village, Vermeer Windmill, and Scholte House are favorites for all the folks who come to town. A Dutch letter is something that everyone should indulge in when they visit Pella. The Jaarsma Bakery located on Main Street is where you can stock up on breads, pastries, cookies, and almost any sweet treat you can imagine.
It’s rare that I leave this town without a large sack of baked goods. Handmade Dutch chocolates can be purchased at Van Veen Chocolates and are always a treat. I enjoy the chocolates here along with the sea salt caramels.
You will enjoy the slow pace and all of the history that this historical Iowa town offers. Make the time to stroll through the town and become a native Dutch person for the day.
Nature and race car enthusiasts will appreciate all that Knoxville has to offer. Lake Red Rock offers fishing, boating, and an opportunity to be on the water. If you enjoy nature and water, this lake will be a winner for you. Before you head out to the lake, stock up on a picnic lunch in town.
The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum is home to the cars and trophies of numerous sprint car racers. Nearwood Winery and Vineyards offers a relaxing way to unwind during your stay in Knoxville. This is a family-run winery, and they serve wines that are made from Midwest grapes that are grown and processed on site. The owners, Mike and Joann, will make you feel right at home as you sip on these fine wines of the Midwest. This winery also hosts small weddings on site and offers a venue that you and your guests will appreciate.
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines is where you will wrap up this phenomenal road trip. This is Iowa’s capital city, and it is home to lakes, parks, art, shopping, and the list goes on and on. The State Historical Museum is where you will find a lot of Civil War and Iowa history, all in one setting. With more than 80,000 objects on site and 1,500 objects on exhibit at any given time, plan a minimum of three hours for your visit. Visit the Iowa capitol building to see more of these collections and view the stunning architecture that Iowa’s capitol has to offer. If you make this road trip in the summer, the Downtown Farmers’ Market offers a taste of Iowa on Saturday mornings.
The 4.4-acre outdoor Pappajohn Sculpture Park is home to more than 25 works of art. This park is the entranceway to downtown Des Moines and is handicap accessible, free, and open from sunrise to midnight. Most importantly, take your camera with you, as these sculptures are stunning works of art. Des Moines is a bustling city yet feels small. You will want to spend a minimum of two days here and most likely will start planning your return visit upon your arrival!
When you complete this Dubuque to Des Moines road trip, you will have experienced Iowa at its finest. This road trip offers scenic views from above, rolling hills from your windshield, and an introduction to the fine people of Iowa. Each community has something unique and stunning to offer as you continue across the miles. A Midwest favorite of mine is Casey’s General Store, and this is where I recommend that you fill your car up with gas and ask a local what they love about their community.