Road Trip in Iowa

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Middle America is sometimes collectively—and unfairly—referred to as the “fly-over states." But taking a car to travel through them, rather than a plane to fly above them, reveals that they have just as much to offer as their coastal cousins.

If your travels take you to the landlocked state of Iowa, it's important to investigate what makes the Hawkeye State unique—in both the laws governing its roads and the attractions it offers visitors.

Major Iowa Roadways

There are several major highways in Iowa taking you in all the cardinal directions and leading you to some of the state's biggest draws, including:

  • Interstate 80
    • The state's longest highway, I-80 cuts directly across Iowa, going east to west. Beginning in the east at the Illinois state border, the highway includes exits for the state capital of Des Moines, as well as Iowa City—home of the University of Iowa—and Davenport before exiting at the Nebraska state line.
  • Interstate 35
    • Nearly as long as I-80 is I-35. Unlike I-80, I-35 runs north-south, connecting Iowa to Minnesota in the north (and continuing in that direction toward Minneapolis-St. Paul), and exiting the state at the Missouri state line, near Lamoni. Aside from letting drivers traverse the entire state, the roadway can bring travelers to Des Moines.
  • Interstate 29
    • Skirting Iowa's western border, I-29 closely parallels the Missouri River. This scenic route can get you to Council Bluffs and Sioux City, where it terminates in the north. The southern route hits other IA destinations until the highway exits the state at Hamburg, IA.
  • Interstate 27
    • Iowa's portion of the “Avenue of the Saints," a major Midwestern highway system connecting St. Paul, Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri, I-27 travels north-south through the Hawkeye State. It runs through Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, among other Iowa cities.

IA Driving Laws

As with every state, Iowa has its own unique set of traffic laws concerning a number of situations specific to Iowa.

Speed Limits in Iowa

IA speed limits vary depending on location, but there are general guidelines you can follow for how fast to drive.

  • Business districts—20 MPH.
  • Residential and school districts—25 MPH.
  • Suburban areas—45 MPH.
  • Unsurfaced secondary roads—50 MPH.
  • Primary roads and some highways—55 MPH.
  • Rural or interstate highways—70 MPH.

Seat Belts & Car Seats

All front seat passengers—including the driver—must wear a seat belt in Iowa. The requirement also stands for any back seat passenger under 18 years old.

Laws concerning children's car seats are as follows:

  • Children younger than 1 year old that weigh under 20 lbs. must be secured in a rear-facing child car seat.
  • Children between 1 year old up to 6 years old must be fastened into a child restraint system.
  • Children between 6 years old up to 11 years old can be secured in a child restraint system OR safety belt.
  • All passengers between 11 years old and 18 years old must be fastened with a seat belt.

Motorcycle Laws in IA

Iowa has NO helmet requirements regarding motorcycle operators or passengers.

Cell Phones While Driving

It is illegal for all drivers in Iowa to read, write, or send a text message while driving.

It is also unlawful to use any electronic communication or entertainment device if you are driving and:

  • Under 18 years old.
  • Have an Instruction Permit.
  • Have a Minor Restricted License.
  • Have an Intermediate License.

School Bus Laws in Iowa

Iowa's school bus laws vary, depending on the color of lights the bus is flashing. If the bus is displaying:

  • Flashing amber lights—Slow down to 20 MPH or less and be prepared to stop.
  • Flashing red lights—Come to a complete stop at least 15 feet away from the bus.

You must also come to a complete stop if the bus' stop arm is out.

The only exception to this law is if you're driving in the opposite direction of the bus, on a road with at least 2 lanes in each direction.

Iowa Destinations

Driving through Iowa will give you the chance to check out some of the state's unique attractions.

Des Moines

Iowa's capital and biggest city, Des Moines is home not only to the state's seat of government, but many parks and live music venues. The city also boasts a botanical garden, zoo, and amusement park.

If you visit Des Moines in August, you can also check out one of the state's biggest events: the Iowa State Fair. The huge get-together attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the country each year and includes over a week's worth of music, art exhibits, and agricultural contests—and that's not even mentioning the food, which includes a mix of healthy, fresh produce and the feast of fried offerings state fairs are famous for.

Grotto of Redemption

A truly unique destination for those looking to veer slightly off the beaten path, this religious shrine—located in West Bend—is among the largest in the country. Built in the early 1900s and taking more than four decades to complete, the site is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and includes among its exquisitely carved stone walls a museum filled with artifacts, photos, and semiprecious stones.

Field of Dreams

They did build it, and people have been coming ever since. The set for the wildly popular 1989 movie remains intact in Dyersville, Iowa, and visitors are allowed to run the bases. True fans of the movie can pick up some souvenirs at the site, and also stop at a number of the area's local wineries.

Pikes Peak State Park

Not to be confused with the Colorado Springs mountain of the same name, Iowa's Pikes Peak State Park is located at a much lower elevation, but is just as beautiful. The bluffs overlook the Upper Mississippi River, and the rest of the expansive emerald grounds are a great place for hiking, biking, and camping.