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4 EPIC Iowa National Parks (A Very Helpful Guide + Photos)

Looking for the best Iowa National Parks? Iowa’s got national monuments, historic sites, heavenly trails, Native American sites, and more.

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Iowa National Parks

Iowa National Parks! We’ve got four incredible national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Hawkeye state.

A beautiful Iowa sunrise | Iowa National Parks
Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa, but we’re going to give your four reasons why it’s a heavenly vacation destination.

Iowa National Parks includes national monuments, historic sites, heavenly trails and so much more.

We’re going to give you four reasons why you’ll want to make Iowa your next vacation destination.

To be clear, these are national park sites (as in managed by the National Park Service) but they are not capital letter National Parks. There are only 63 of those (so far).

Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

Iowa National Parks Table Of Contents

  1. Effigy Mounds National Monument
  2. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
  3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  4. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
  5. Iowa’s Field Of Dreams

Best Iowa National Parks

1. Effigy Mounds National Historic Site

effigy mounds iowa national parks
There are 14 miles of hiking trails at Effigy Mounds National Monument | Courtesy of the National Park Service

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.

Incredible Hiking Trails

Effigy Mounds National Monument | Iowa National Parks
Effigy Mounds National Monument | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

2. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site | Iowa National Parks

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site | Iowa National Parks
During Herbert Hoover’s presidency from 1929 to 1933, the land designated for new national parks and monuments increased by 40 percent. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

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.

“Hoover campaigned aggressively for establishing new parks in the east, protecting and expanding existing parks, and including significant historical sites and monuments within the park service.

During his presidency national forests were expanded by more than two million acres, and land designated for new national parks and monuments increased by forty percent.

Hoover also laid the groundwork for eastern parks that would be established after his term as president, including the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Everglades parks.”

-Herbert Hoover And The Great Outdoors, Hoover Institution

The NPCA President Who Became US President

Herbert Hoover | Courtesy of the National Park Service

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

First Lady Lou Henry Hoover and President Herbert Hoover sit on the porch of their retreat home, Rapidan Camp, in this undated photo. They donated the 164-acre property to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1932, and it became part of Shenandoah National Park in 1935. Courtesy 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 at Effigy Mounds

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site | Iowa National Parks
Visitors walk the shady path from the Gravesite of President and Mrs. Hoover | National Park Service

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.

Check Out The Birthplace Cottage Of Herbert Hoover

Hoover's Birthplace Cottage | Iowa National Parks
Herbert Hoover’s birthplace cottage is among the attractions you can see at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

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.

Schoolhouse & Blacksmith Shop

One Room Schoolhouse | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Visiting the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is like stepping into a time machine. You are transported back to a 19th century world where you can see a one-room schoolhouse much like the one in which Hoover was educated.

“Iowa in those years was filled with days of school, and who does not remember with a glow, some gentle woman, who with infinite patience and kindness, drilled into us those foundations of all we know today.”

-Herbert Hoover

Hoover’s father, Jesse, was a blacksmith. Visitors can see a reproduction of a blacksmith shop circa 1857. It’s based on the sketches of Herbert’s older brother Theodore, from his recollections of what their father’s shop looked like.

While there you’ll see a working forge, anvil, and a rack filled with tools of the trade.

Presidential Library & Museum

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library | Iowa National Parks
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Iowa National Parks

lewis and clark trail iowa national parks
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Iowa National Parks (courtesy NPS)

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).

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail | Iowa National Parks
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is approximately 4,900 miles long, extending from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the mouth of the Columbia River, near present day Astoria, Oregon (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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 | Iowa National Parks

The Sergeant Floyd Museum | Iowa National Parks
The Sergeant Floyd Museum in Sioux City, Iowa | Courtesy of the National Park Service.

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.

Lewis & Clark Monument Scenic Overlook

Lewis & Clark Monument Scenic Overlook | Iowa National Parks
Lewis & Clark Monument Scenic Overlook | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

4. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Iowa National Parks

Illustration in History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century of Mormon handcart pioneers. A depiction of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints en-route to Salt Lake City. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Mormon Migration is a fascinating story which begins in 1827. 21-year-old Joseph Smith announced that he had unearthed a set of golden plates, inscribed with the tenants of God’s true church.

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.

Mormons On The Move

Photo from One Hundred Years Of Mormonism depicting the Mormon migration | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

A New Leader Emerges | Iowa National Parks

Brigham Young succeeded Joseph Smith as the leader of the Mormon Church | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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 Taking By The Mormon Faithful

Explore sites along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Courtesy of the National Park Service

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:

  1. Linger Longer Park
  2. Riverfront Park
  3. Sugar Creek
  4. Des Moines River Ford
  5. Bentonsport National Historic District
  6. Van Buren County Courthouse
  7. Richardson’s Point
  8. Davis County Historical Complex
  9. Drakesville Park
  10. Chariton River Crossing and Campsite
  11. Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County
  12. Locust Creek Campsite
  13. Garden Grove Historic Site
  14. Clarke County Historical Museum
  15. Murray Trail Exhibits
  16. Seven-Mile Creek Campsite
  17. Mount Pisgah Historic Site
  18. Bank of Memories Museum
  19. Mormon Trail County Park and Lake
  20. The Pote Farm Ruts
  21. West Nishnabotna River Crossing
  22. The Grand Encampment
  23. Western Historic Trails Center
  24. Kanesville Tabernacle & Visitor Center

More Than Just Iowa’s National Parks

Iowa’s Field Of Dreams

Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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?

Some Fun Facts About Field Of Dreams

iowa national parks
View from the 3rd baseline at night | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Field of Dreams debuted in 1989. For many it has become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film about the power of sports to shape peoples lives.

“They’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.

But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” 

-Terrance Mann, Field of Dreams

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.

How Ray Kinsella Got His Name

The author of the book was W.P. Kinsella who insists that he did not name the lead character, Ray, after himself. He named the film’s lead after a character in a J.D. Salinger story titled  A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All.

You’ll Never Believe Who Two Of The Film’s Extras Were

Believe it or not, two of the extras working in the film were Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who were 17 and 16 respectively. They went on to write a screenplay which became a hit film that featured both of the actors. It was titled Good Will Hunting.

President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton hosting a screening of “Good Will Hunting” at Camp David. President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton greet and meet with Robin Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sec. Madeleine Albright and others at the screening. Courtesy of the White House.

Moonlight Graham

Jimmy Stewart was the original choice to play Moonlight Graham, which is ironic as Field of Dreams is often compared to Stewart’s It’s A Wonderful Life | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Archibald Moonlight Graham was actually a real person. His lone major league game took place in June of 1905, not on the last day of the 1922 season as is depicted in the film.   The author found his name in an actual baseball encyclopedia.

The first choice to play Moonlight Graham was not Burt Lancaster. Jimmy Stewart was the first choice to play the role. This is ironic because Field of Dreams is often compared to Stewart’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

RELATED: Look Familiar? 25+ CLASSIC Movies Filmed In The National Parks

“Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases … stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag.

That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?” 

-Dr. Archibald Graham’s response when Ray Kinsella asks him his greatest wish

List Of Iowa National Park Sites

  1. Effigy Mounds National Monument
  2. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
  3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  4. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Map Of Iowa National Park Sites

Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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