From snowshoeing along trails to discovering hidden waterfalls and trying your luck at pumpkin bowling, Iowa certainly boasts a variety of unique places and activities. Venture out from your Iowa vacation rental in Des Moines, Dubuque, or Cedar Rapids to see more than just the typical tourist destinations. Without further ado, here are the most noteworthy hidden gems in Iowa.

1. Beulah Spring Falls

fall foliage in story county iowa
Source: Flickr/Carl Wycoff

Beulah Spring Falls is a beautiful waterfall that runs over 20 feet of moss covered rock. The falls are located near Spook Cave Campground, which is in McGregor in Clayton County. Make your trip to the falls into a day trip by visiting Spook Cave afterwards, which is only accessible by boat. You can stay in a vacation rental in a nearby town such as Giard, Bridgeport, or Farmersburg. McGregor is also only about an hour and a half drive from the city of Dubuque, Iowa.

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2. North Trail

a green prairie field
Source: Flickr/Joshua Mayer

If you’re looking to explore the outdoors but are not looking for a strenuous hike, consider North Trail located in Whitewater Canyon in Bernard, Iowa. This hike is a little under three miles and takes you through cliffs, meadows, and along a creek. Since Bernard is a very small town, you may want to search for a vacation rental in the city of Cedar Rapids, which is about an hour from Bernard. In Cedar Rapids you can rent an apartment downtown, a charming bungalow in Czech Village, or a cozy house right by the airport.

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3. Pinters Garden Center

pumpkin bowling
Source: Flickr/Venessa Goldberg

If you are vacationing in Iowa in the fall, Pinters Garden Center is a fun spot to go with kids for a day or even for a date. Fall festivities include wagon rides, a corn maze, life-sized chess, go-karts, and even pumpkin bowling. Additionally, there are duck races, tetherball games, slides, and farm animals to see. Pinters Garden Center is in Decorah and is closed on Sundays and Mondays but open until 5:30pm the rest of the week.

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4. Lake Icaria

trees reflections on lake icaria
Source: Flickr/regan76

Lake Icaria is in Corning, Iowa and is a great place for a day trip from your vacation rental, since you can go fishing, swimming, hiking, and picnicking. Popular fish at the lake include channel catfish, bass, and walleye and you can even go ice fishing here if you’re visiting during the winter. After spending the day at the lake, you can explore other nearby places such as the Kline Museum, the Aquatics Center, or the Adams County House of History.

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5. Loess Hills Lavender Farm

a blooming lavender field
Source: Flickr/Kathryn Yengel

Surrounding yourself with lavender may be one of the more unique relaxing experiences you can have in Iowa. Loess Hills Lavender Farm has over 1,200 plants and is open from May to October every year Thursday through Sunday. The farm also has a multitude of lavender themed bath and skin products. Visit in July to attend the farm’s lavender festival, known as LavenderStock.

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6. Swiss Valley Nature Preserve

bridge trail at swiss valley nature preserve
Source: Flickr/SD Dirk

For a challenging roughly three mile hike, check out Swiss Valley Nature Preserve’s Woodland Ecology Trail, which will take you through the forest on a steep path. There are more than 10 miles of trails here that go through wetlands and prairies and plenty of prime fishing spots. If you come during the winter you can go cross-country skiing on the hiking trails or even borrow snowshoes from the center for free.

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7. Willow Creek Waterfall

waterfall at dubuque arboretum
Source: Flickr/DMichael Burns

Located in Mason City, Willow Creek Waterfall is open all year round. Although it is technically on private property, the public can view it from the State Street bridge. After viewing the waterfall, there are several museums in the area that you can check out with your family, such as the MacNider Art Museum, Kinney Pioneer Museum, or the Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House and Architectural Interpretive Center.

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8. Charley Western Recreational Trail

cedar river
Source: Flickr/panda_monious

The Charley Western Recreational Trail is in Charles City, which is a small city in Floyd County and is about an hour drive from Waterloo. Along the trail you’ll find multiple picturesque places to stop and take in the view, especially on the bridge over the Cedar River. This trail connects to others if you wish to extend your walk for a total of about five miles. Finding a vacation rental will be easier in Waterloo than in Charles City. Waterloo has newly renovated homes in central locations.

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9. Phelps Park

phelps park
Source: Flickr/Denise Krebs

Find a vacation rental in Decorah, Iowa so that you can spend time exploring scenic Phelps Park! Kids will tire themselves out between playing on the playgrounds, volleyball court, and hiking. There are many homes to rent in the Decorah area, ranging from large pine cabins that sleep 16 to modern lofts downtown.

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10. Woodland Mounds Preserve

waubonsie state park trail
Source: Flickr/Christine Warner Hawks

Located in Milo, Iowa, the Woodland Mounds Preserve is an expansive place to explore and spend a day birdwatching and hiking along quiet, lesser known trails through the forest. In addition to hiking, you can also look for some Woodland Indian burial mounds, wildlife, and a good spot to take a break and have a picnic.

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