The Mississippi River has long been a lifeline for Iowa, and you can learn about its history at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. Kids can take their turn at the wheel of a reproduction barge or see turtles and herons in the nearby Woodward Wetlands. For another family-friendly museum experience, head to Indianola and the National Balloon Museum, which takes visitors through more than two centuries of hot air ballooning history.
For a fascinating look at one of Iowa's unique groups of settlers, visit the Amana Colonies, a group of seven villages founded by members of a German religious sect over 150 years ago. Until 1932 members lived communally, sharing cooking duties in central kitchens. The communal kitchens are now restaurants serving simple, wholesome fare. You can also explore five museums, buy traditional furniture and crafts, stay in quaint B&Bs, and even go golfing.
In Des Moines, you can't miss the multi-domed State Capitol building—the central dome is gilded with 23-karat gold. Sign up for a guided tour and you'll see everything from a collection of dresses once worn by Iowa governors' wives to the spectacular law library, with its wrought-iron circular staircases and stained glass ceiling. Political junkies will also be drawn to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, where the 31st president was both born and buried.
Almost 90 percent of Iowa's land is dedicated to agriculture—the state leads the nation in production of pork, corn and eggs—and you can sample some of the bounty in Iowa's 180-odd farmers' markets or at many restaurants throughout the state.
Iowa is also home to five National Wildlife Refuges. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles and migrating waterfowl at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, or elk and buffalo at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center near Prairie City.