Iowa is known for its rolling cornfields and has some of the world’s most fertile soil. In fact, 92% of the state is farmland! Even though hogs outnumber people 4-to-1 there are still plenty of sights to see if you find yourself in the area.
While there aren’t any National Parks in Iowa, the National Park Service operates a national monument, historic site, and two national historic trails that are worth a visit.
What National Parks are in Iowa?
There are two points of interest run by the National Parks Service in Iowa:
- Effigy Mounds National Monument
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
There are also two commemorative sites of Iowa. Both are considered National Historic Trails that recognize original trails or routes of historical significance:
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
- Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Effigy Mounds National Monument
The Effigy Mounds National Monument is located in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa. It is open year-round and located on the far northeast side of the state, alongside the Mississippi River.
Originally Effigy Mounds was planned as part of the larger, Mississippi Valley National Park. Unfortunately, that park never materialized.
Today there are over 14 miles of trails you can hike at the National Monument. Along the way, you’ll see over 200 American Indian burial and ceremonial mounds–the largest collection in the US. Many of the mounds are shaped like animals with bears and birds being the most common.
These mounds represent over 20 American Indian Tribes and are considered sacred sites.
The trail system is not paved and winds through forested areas, wetlands, and prairies. Some of the trails lead uphill and will reward you with some beautiful views of the Mississippi River. It’s a great place to go for a hike if you’re in the area.
Things to do at the National Park include:
- Guided Tours (during summer)
- Interpretive Programs (during summer)
- Watch a film at the Visitor’s Center
Fees: Effigy Mounds no longer charges any fees. You can access the visitor’s center, museum, trails, and guided tours all free of charge.
Pets: Leashed pets are allowed on all of the park trails but not in any of the buildings.
Camping: There are no campgrounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument, but there are a few in the surrounding area. We recommend checking out the Yellow River State Forest for paid campgrounds to the north, or the Bloody Run Wildlife Management Area for camping south of the park.
Things to do Nearby
There is plenty of hiking to do along the Mississippi River in Allamakee County Iowa. In addition, there are some of our favorite nearby attractions to visit:
- Pike’s Peak State Park (15 minutes south)
- Yellow River State Forest (15 minutes north)
- Driftless Area Wetland Center (10 minutes south)
- Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin (20 minutes southeast)
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (2 hours, 15 minutes south)
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is located in West Branch, Iowa. It’s on the east side of the state about 30 minutes outside of Cedar Rapids. This is a small park consisting of a visitor center, a few historic buildings, nature trails, and a presidential library and museum.
Most travelers spend between 1-4 hours visiting the park.
What is the Historic Site Known For?
Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch and later returned to celebrate his career. The Historic site was established as a memorial to the President.
You can take a self-guided tour of the birthplace cottage, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, meetinghouse, and gravesite. The National Park Service has a mobile app that can guide you along the way and introduce facts about Herbert Hoover’s life.
In downtown West Branch, 15 historic buildings have been preserved within walking distance of the visitor center. These buildings display shops and restaurants that were built between 1875 and 1929.
You can watch a short film at the park visitor center and learn about the early life of Herbert Hoover. Before leaving, enjoy 2 miles of nature trails through a tallgrass prairie along Hoover Creek.
Things to do at the National Historic Site:
- Watch a film at the Visitor’s Center
- Take a self-guided tour of Herbert Hoover’s hometown
- Go on a two-mile nature hike
- Visit downtown West Branch
- Tour the Presidential Library and Museum
Fees: Entrance to the Herbert Hoover National Historic site is free. Access to the Presidential Library and Museum costs $10.
Pets: Leashed pets are allowed in the historic district and on the hiking trails but they are not allowed inside any of the buildings.
Camping: There are no campgrounds at the National Historic Site. We recommend traveling 30 minutes northwest to the Hawkeye Wildlife Management area where you can find a number of campgrounds along the Iowa River.
National Park Service Attractions Nearby
- Effigy Mounds National Monument (2 hours, 15 minutes north)
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site (3 hours southeast)
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is 4,900 miles long and crosses 16 states including Iowa. The main park headquarters are located in Omaha, Nebraska; which is only 10 minutes west of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
One of the most popular things to do in the area is a hike along the historic trail and retrace the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. The hike runs along the Missouri River up the west side of the state. In the summer months, you can bike along the dirt path. And in the winter, snowshoeing and cross country skiing are also fun ways to experience the area.
Things to do at the National Historic Trail Headquarters:
- Visit the Hitchcock Nature Center
- Experience the DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge
- Walkthrough the Harrison County Welcome Center and Historical Village
- Explore the Sioux County Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
- View the Sergeant Floyd Monument
Pets: Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails around the Lewis and Clark National Historic Site. They are not allowed inside any of the buildings.
Camping: From Council Bluffs, IA travel south 15 minutes and consider camping at Lake Manawa State Park.
National Monuments Nearby:
- Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota (3 hours, 20 minutes north)
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail crosses five states including IL, IA, NE, UT, and WY. This trail marks a 1,400-mile route where Mormons fled from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1846.
The main park headquarters are located in Nauvoo, IL but you can hike portions of the trail or drive on the Iowa Tour Route. 317 miles of the trail across southern Iowa. Unfortunately, many parts of the trail itself are privately owned and don’t allow public access.
Pets: Pets are allowed on public sections of the National Historic Trail
Main Points of Interest Along the Historic Trail:
- Garden Grove Historic Site, Garden Grove, IA
- Mt Pisgah Historic Site, Union County, IA
- Western Historic Trails Center, Council Bluffs, IA
Iowa National Parks
Iowa may not be home to the most famous National Parks, but there is still plenty to see. If you find yourself on the east side of Iowa, take some time to visit the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Central Iowa is home to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.
You can find the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail on the west side of the state, and Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail in southern Iowa.