Historic Sites In Iowa. More Than Just Parks has 5 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the 5 Historic Sites In Iowa that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks.
If you are planning a trip to Iowa then you might want to pick up a copy of Oddball Iowa: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places by Jerome Pohlen.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Historic Sites In Iowa
#5. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
At #5 on our list of the best historic sites in Iowa is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail follows the historic outbound and inbound routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Commemorating the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-06), the Trail connects 16 states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon).
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The trail is administered by the National Park Service. It’s not a hiking trail, but it does provide opportunities for hiking, boating and horseback riding at many locations along the route.
The Historic Trail In Iowa
In Sioux City, Iowa, near the intersection of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, stands the Sergeant Floyd River Museum and Welcome Center.
The museum is nestled inside the retired M.V. Sergeant Floyd, which was a boat once used by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. It was named after Charles Floyd of Kentucky. He was one of the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. (Source: National Park Service)
The museum has some fascinating exhibits on the history of transportation and the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
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Lewis & Clark Monument Scenic Overlook
The Lewis and Clark Monument Scenic Overlook in Council Bluffs was dedicated in 1936. It honors the 1804 expedition of Lewis and Clark and their historic meeting with Otoe and Missouri Tribesmen.
The monument depicts an image of the meeting and has text stating “Beneath the bluffs on the Missouri, Lewis and Clark held parley with the Otoe and Missouri Indians and named the locality Council Bluffs.”
Visitors have the opportunity to see some stunning views of the Missouri River, Council Bluffs, and the Omaha skyline. Bring your camera if you go.
The overlook is also home to a popular mountain bike trail.
Historic Sites In Iowa
#4. Effigy Mounds National Monument
At #4 on our list of the best historic sites in Iowa is the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
The Effigy Mounds National Monument is a fascinating look at an ancient Native American site. It’s a sacred plot built by native Americans on mounds in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Mounds are considered ceremonial or sacred sites. These prehistoric mounds date back to sometime between 500 B.C. and 1300 A.D. The monument includes 20 culturally associated Native American tribes.
These incredible mounds of earth were built in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle, panther or water spirit are the most common image. One amazing group of these mounds has 10 bears and three birds, a formation archaeologists call the Marching Bears.
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Incredible Hiking Trails
You can explore this incredible site. There are 14 miles of trails throughout this wooded park.
Hiking trails take you through heavily wooded areas and to a lookout point above the scenic river. If you visit during the winter keep an eye out for nesting bald eagles as they perch above the river looking for food.
During the fall the brilliant autumn foliage offers a beautiful example of nature’s magnificence There are scenic roads surrounding the area which provide an amazing view of a idyllic rural paradise. It’s no wonder people have loved coming here for thousands of years.
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Historic Sites In Iowa
#3. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Coming in at #3 on our list of the best historic sites in Iowa is the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.
Smith said he had been directed to the plates by an angel named Moroni, who also had given him divine tools for translating the ancient inscriptions into English. Smith used the plates to produce the Book of Mormon in 1830.
In New York, Smith organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His followers, who regarded Smith as a prophet, became known as Mormons.
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Mormons On The Move
As a retired history teacher, I love nothing better than researching the stories behind these amazing places. Well, maybe there’s one thing I love better. That would be visiting them.
Joseph Smith continued to move the Mormon Church. He finally settled along a bend of the Mississippi River in Illinois. There he established a community they called Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful place.”
It was there that Smith began introducing the Old Testament practice of “plural marriage,” or polygamy, among select church leaders.
Conflicts arose between Smith and those opposed to his practices. Smith was arrested and jailed at Carthage, Illinois.
On June 27, 1844, a mob broke into the jail and murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Other vigilantes attacked Mormon farms around Nauvoo in an attempt to expel them.
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A New Leader Emerges
Brigham Young emerged as Smith’s successor. Realizing that it was too dangerous to remain where they were, Young organized a Mormon Exodus to Utah.
On March 1, 1846, some 500 Mormon wagons lurched northwesterly across the winter-bare Iowa prairie toward the Missouri River. Their route is the Mormon Trail.
Explore The Route Taken By The Mormon Faithful
There are 24 historic sites or interpretive facilities on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail in Iowa for you to visit. They include the following:
- Linger Longer Park
- Riverfront Park
- Sugar Creek
- Des Moines River Ford
- Bentonsport National Historic District
- Van Buren County Courthouse
- Richardson’s Point
- Davis County Historical Complex
- Drakesville Park
- Chariton River Crossing and Campsite
- Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County
- Locust Creek Campsite
- Garden Grove Historic Site
- Clarke County Historical Museum
- Murray Trail Exhibits
- Seven-Mile Creek Campsite
- Mount Pisgah Historic Site
- Bank of Memories Museum
- Mormon Trail County Park and Lake
- The Pote Farm Ruts
- West Nishnabotna River Crossing
- The Grand Encampment
- Western Historic Trails Center
- Kanesville Tabernacle & Visitor Center
To learn more about this fascinating chapter in our nation’s history, I recommend Handcarts to Zion: The Story of a Unique Western Migration by LeRoy R. Hafen & Ann W. Hafen.
Historic Sites In Iowa
#2. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
At #2 on our list of the best historic sites in Iowa in the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.
The National Park Service was originally created in 1916 and one of its earliest supporters was President Herbert Hoover.
Hoover had a love for the outdoors. He had moved from Iowa to Oregon at the age of eleven. He spent much of his childhood horseback-riding, swimming, and—his particular favorite—fishing.
The NPCA President Who Became U.S. President
Just five years after the creation of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a rising politician took over the presidency of the fledgling organization. He would be the only one who would be able to create national park sites with the stroke of a pen.
Herbert Hoover was chosen as president of NPCA in 1924. He held this position while also serving as President Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of Commerce.
He Expanded The Scope & Size Of The National Park Service
During Hoover’s presidency, appropriations for park operations increased by 70 percent. He also expanded the size of the National Park System by 40 percent.
Hoover used his power under the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments at Arches, Death Valley, Saguaro, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks.
Things To Do
You should set aside at least a half a day as there are various things to do and see at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.
I always recommend that first-timers begin at the Visitor Center. While you’re there check out the 12-minute film about the life and times of America’s 31st president.
Visitors can take a self-guided walk of the grounds and historic buildings. You can see the birthplace cottage which was a typical starter home for a young late 19th century family.
Antique furnishings represent common household items of a simply furnished two room rural home. Herbert Hoover referred to his birthplace cottage as “physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life.”
This cottage was built by Hoover’s father. Its two rooms were designed for a family of five which certainly taught the future president the value of thriftiness.
Presidential Library & Museum
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum contains some fascinating exhibits chronicling the life and times of the president who presided over the worst economic calamity in our nation’s history.
If you’re interested in learning more about our 31st president then I recommend reading Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times by Kenneth Whyte.
The #1 Historic Site In Iowa | If You Build It They Will Come
#1. Iowa’s Field Of Dreams
At #1 More Than Just Parks has selected the Field of Dreams.
One of the most highly anticipated games in Major League Baseball history took place on August 12, 2021. It was Major League Baseball’s Field of Dreams Game.
It was the New York Yankees versus the Chicago White Sox. And the winners were anyone lucky enough to see it.
Step back in time, while you’re in Iowa, by visiting the Lansing Family Farm House in Dyersville. There’s a 30-minute guided tour.
You can learn about the history of the Lansing family homestead and how it became the set for the Kinsella family in the 1989 fantasy classic Field of Dreams.
And, while you’re there, maybe you could have a game of catch?
Detour To Dyersville
If you’re planning to visit Iowa then it’s well worth making a detour to Dyersville to see this iconic place and feel some of its magic.
Did you know that the film was based on a book titled Shoeless Joe? The book was first published in 1982 and it took seven years to bring it to the big screen.
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List Of Historic Places In Iowa
- Field Of Dreams
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
- Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
- Effigy Mounds National Monument
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
Map Of Historic Sites In Iowa
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for the More Than Just Parks website. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then sign up below!
To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!