Loess Hills Iowa Trip


From the Twin Cities, drive Southwest on US169 towards Mankato, MN. If you want to take a little side-trip, stop at Minneopa State Park to see a picturesque waterfall.

Travel South and stop in Blue Earth, MN to see the 55ft tall Jolly Green Giant Statue. It’s quite the sight to behold!

Palisades State Park

Palisades State Park

Hop on I90 and travel West towards South Dakota. Stop for the night at you first campsite–Palisades State Park in Garreston, SD. Split Rock Creek, which flows through the park, is lined with Sioux quartzite formations varying from shelves several feet above the water to 50-foot vertical cliffs. It’s a very beautiful park and highly recommended.

Keep heading West until you reach Sioux Falls, SD. There you can check out Falls Park and maybe have time to see the Sertoma Butterfly House.

Head South on I-29 to start you journey on the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. The Loess Hills landform is an Iowa treasure that spans more than 1,080 square miles along the eastern edge of the Missouri River flood plain. This unique feature is up to 15 miles wide and 220 miles long.

Your first stop on the Byway will be the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, an interactive museum with indoor and outdoor exhibits and trails. They also have live birds of prey.

A bit further South, is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, a 20,000 square foot cultural complex, commemorating the Lewis & Clark expedition that followed the Missouri River.

The Murray Hill Scenic Overlook in Harrison County, IA is a must-see stop. It offers a beautiful panoramic view of the Missouri River Valley.

Loess Hills Lavender Farm

Loess Hills Lavender Farm

Get a little bit off the beaten path to visit the Loess Hills Lavender Farm. Enjoy the smells and sample the many products.

If you are hungry and want to step back in time, enjoy a milkshake and lunch at Penny’s Diner in Missouri Valley, IA.

20-minutes South from there is your next campsite at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, IA. This 1,268-acre nature center is located in the heart of the globally significant Loess Hills and harbors some of the largest remaining prairie remnants in the state of Iowa.

When you are ready to move-on, travel East towards Des Moines, IA. Before you reach Des Moines, stop for a detour to Madison County, IA. Madison County is the Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa, with the largest group of covered bridges that exists in one area in the western half of the Mississippi Valley.

Village of Yesteryear

Village of Yesteryear

Spend the day exploring the up-and-coming city of Des Moines. They have a zoo, botanical gardens and a great food and art scene.

About an hour North from Des Moines is your last campground–Ledges State Park in Madrid, IA. The main attraction at Ledges is the canyon drive. This winding one-way road along Pea’s Creek offers motorists breathtaking views of the canyon and Des Moines River Valley. Sandstone ledges rise nearly 100-feet above the floor of the stream bed. The sandstone was deposited 300-million years ago following the retreat of the shallow sea that covered must of the Midwest.

Head back North on US 35 towards the Twin Cities. A few quirky spots along the way include Music Man Square in Mason City, IA and the Village of Yesteryear in Owatonna, MN.

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