My favorite Iowa Road Trips from 2023

Every year, I get asked, “How many miles do you put on your car?” I usually answer with “a lot”. Yes, I have a zillion photos of every corner of the state of Iowa, so I do put quite a few miles on. But many people make the mistake of thinking that I’m constantly on the road traveling and that isn’t the case. Over time, I’ve become more selective of where and when I travel, as I’m trying to get to as many locations as possible in the least distance. But the miles still add up and every December, I sit down to calculate my mileage for the year – and the total for 2023 is 4,407 miles, which is down significantly from 6,375 miles in 2022.

The trips primarily fall into three basic categories:

Personal trips, where the destinations are my choice. Sometimes I bring family, sometimes I travel alone. Just depends on what the destination is and the timing. If it’s early morning or late at night, I’m probably on my own.

FAM trips are when a community reaches out to Iowa Road Trip seeking help to promote their community. FAM actually stands for familiarization, not family. But sometimes I do get to bring the family on FAM trips, just depends on the location and what the goals are for the journey. If your community is interested in more exposure on Iowa Road Trip, reach out to us and we can talk through some ideas. Iowa Road Trip will also be exploring some advertising options in the coming year to help communities get their events and programs out to a new audience of roadtrippers.

The last category is an assignment trip, where someone has me traveling to capture a specific subject or location. These are mostly solo trips, but my kids have been invited along as photo assistants for a few of the assignments. As my kids get older, I’m just starting to say yes to more assignments and it’s led to some great adventures!

Color the Wind Kite Festival in Clear Lake, Iowa

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My favorite winter event is held every 3rd Saturday in Feb on Clear Lake, where hundreds of colorful kites take the skies. The event draws up to 20,000 people who come out and slide around the ice as best they can to take in closeups of the kites.

YouTube video

The Great Balloon Hunt

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It’s not a balloon festival, but more of a hunt instead. The event is scheduled ahead of time – but the exact balloon locations are not released, causing you to drive around town to find them.

Tulip Festival in Pella

I’ve been to the Tulip Festival many times, but I have to admit that I still haven’t seen everything. So I took the day off of work and headed down to Pella to work on checking things off the list – and I’m hoping to build an ultimate guide to the tulip festival this winter.

Blooming in Burlington

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For the past couple of years, I have made a single-day run down to Burlington during the spring to catch Snake Alley during spring bloom. It’s a gorgeous location on any day of the year, but when the crab apple trees are blooming, it’s a real treat.

Des Moines Farmers’ Market

This spring and early summer, I also spent some time gathering photos and videos of the Des Moines Farmer’s Market, hosted on Court Avenue in downtown Des Moines. It consistently ranks as one of the top 5 farmers markets in the United States and has about 40,000 attendees on a typical weekend.

Aerial view of the downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market

Des Moines Art Festival

Another annual event in Des Moines that draws thousands and consistently ranks as one of the top events in its category in the county – is the Des Moines Art Festival. I spent some time collecting photos, videos, and even hyperlapses of the event.

Aerial view of the annual Des Moines Art Festival that is held around the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines, Iowa

Corning, Iowa

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I joined a group of travel bloggers from the Midwest Travel Network and was hosted by the community of Corning, Iowa. It’s located in Adams County in SW Iowa and despite being the least populated county in the state, it was full of surprises. Johnny Carson’s birth home, Lake Icaria (which might be the hidden gem county park in the entire state), Corning Opera House, and French Icarian Village.

Corning Opera House in Corning, Iowa.

National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa

I’m not sure if it’s just a habit – or an addiction. At the end of every July, I find myself waking up early, driving to Indianola to chase hot air balloons during sunrise.

Hot air balloons take the skies multiple every day during the annual National Balloon Classic.

In Harmony Farms in Earlham, Iowa

While on assignment for The Iowan Magazine, I toured In Harmony Farms in Earlham, Iowa. The land was gifted to provide immigrants with land to help them become farmers. Read about it in the Nov/Dec issue of The Iowan Magazine.

Allamakee County

I spent some time in Allamakee County working on visiting scenic overlooks – as I’m hoping to eventually compile a list of the best locations, which I hope to have published in 2024.

This fall, I took some time to check a list of scenic overlooks in Allamakee County, Iowa. This view is from the Luster Heights Unit of Yellow River State Forest.

Boone County

I haven’t been on the rail explorers in Boone County yet – but I did make several trips to the area to photograph the rail explorers while they crossed the Bass Point Creek Bridge, which is a gorgeous location.

A group riding on Rail Explorers ventures over the Bass Point Bridge in Boone County, Iowa

Fairfield, Iowa

I joined a group of travel bloggers from the Midwest Travel Network which was hosted by the community of Fairfield, Iowa. The community features a unique vibe, lots of arts, and a food scene like no other town in Iowa.

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Fishback-Stephenson Cider House in Fairfield, Iowa is home to Iowa’s best burger, along with a collection of locally made ciders.

Ledges State Park in Boone County, Iowa

I’ve been to Ledges many times – but always wanted to catch during peak autumn colors, which I managed to do this year.

Aerial view of Canyon Drive that wanders through Ledges State Park in Boone County, Iowa.

Lighted Christmas Parade in Winterset, Iowa

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Every year, I try to add another lighted Christmas parade to my list – and this year it just happened that the parade in Winterset, Iowa was happening when I was available.

Mt Pleasant, Iowa

While on the hunt for Christmas lights, I added the Festival of Lights to my list. I also stopped by the Harlan-Lincoln House for a quick history lesson.

Did you know that part of the jacket that Abraham Lincoln was wearing while he was shot – is housed at the Harlan-Lincoln House in Mount Pleasant, Iowa?


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JC Huffman Cabinetry in Fairfield, Iowa created a mini version of Whoville and then opened it up to the public during the holiday season.

Osky and Pella in the snow

During the first snowfall of the year, I was traveling through both Oskaloosa and Pella, which made for a great time capturing the combinations of holiday lights and snowfalling.

Pella’s Dutch store fronts receiving a fresh covering of snow.
Fresh snow at the City Square Park in Oskaloosa.

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