Take the road less traveled: Iowa Byways

LogoPack the car, get off the beaten path, and go explore for the weekend! If a costly cross-country getaway isn’t on your agenda for the summer, here’s an even better route: Iowa Byways. With nine state-designated and two nationally-designated byways, there is plenty to see. From cold-water trout fishing to hiking through the Loess Hills, Iowa Byways are something you won’t want to miss this summer. 

The Iowa Byways Program Manager at the Iowa Department of Transportation, Mary Stahlhut, works with local advisory boards to manage the byways. “People are proud to share their local assets,” Stahlhut said. “We continue to hear that Iowans are so friendly. You are treated like an invited guest rather than just a passerby.” Her best advice when traveling through the towns along the byways? Talk to the locals. Visit unique local restaurants and shops. Pick up a detailed map at a local attraction and ask locals to share their favorite spots along the byway. 

Loess Hills in Western Iowa

Canoeing, kayaking, camping, fishing, hiking, and diverse wildlife, it’s safe to say that Iowa can compete with states known for adventure it’s just not as well known – yet. The goal of the Byways program is to use our transportation system to promote the scenic, historic, and local treasures Iowa has to offer visitors and Iowa residents alike.  

“Many people who take more direct routes through Iowa miss our state’s rich variety, but once they discover Iowa’s byways, they want to stay longer,” Stahlhut said.

Our border byways offer world class views not everyone thinks of when they picture Iowa. Consider the Loess Hills on Iowa’s western border. These hills are a rare landform of wind-blown silt produced by ice age glaciers. The only other location on earth where they occur in such a large formation is in China. The Iowa Great River Road along the world renowned Mississippi River on Iowa’s eastern border is equally spectacular with limestone bluffs and breathtaking river views.

Pikes Peak State Park along Great River Road


The Iowa DOT Byways program is currently completing several projects funded by the National Scenic Byways grant program that ended in 2012. Projects include building interpretive centers with local conservation boards, bike trails in cities and along county roads, a new scenic overlook, and even a boardwalk that extends into the Mississippi River. In recent years, 10 of the byways received the new Iowa Byways brand signing with their own distinctive logos to help travelers recognize and follow these special routes. The Iowa Great River Road will receive similar new signs in 2016. The new designs can also be found in the popular Iowa Byways Travel Guide. The program distributes nearly 20,000 of these colorful map, image, and information-packed guides per year. Visit where you can order your own travel guide or plan your Iowa Byways adventure.

We want to see photos of your summer road trip! Use the hashtag #IowaByways on Instagram and Twitter to show us where the road less traveled is taking you. 

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