Scenic byways are often some of the most forgotten of America’s roads. But, don’t let that lack of attention fool you. Some of the best and most beautiful drives you can find are those off the highway and on scenic byways.

In this post, we want to talk about a truly hidden gem; the Iowa Loess Hills Trail. 

You’ll not only learn how to get there but why it’s going to be totally worth it as a side trip, or it’s own day trip destination. 

Let’s take a look!

About the Iowa Loess Hills Trail

What sets this area apart is that it is actually a unique natural land formation. It’s relatively small, only 15 miles wide and just over 200 miles long. The full byway runs along the western border of Iowa. This section of the trail is just about 6 miles in length. 

The hills themselves began forming right after the last ice age period. As the Missouri River was being formed, small sand and soil deposits were kicked up into the air, picked up by the wind, and deposited here. 

No big deal, right?

Well, not exactly. What makes the Loess Hills Trail special is that these dunes are over 60 feet high. There’s only one other place in the world where you can find dunes taller than these, and that’s China. 

So you can see why this is an exceptional spot to check out.

Things to do and see

You can explore the area in your car by traveling down Loess Hills Trail Road or hiking through the area too. There are over a dozen small trails, paths, and loops that you can explore as they wind their way through the landscape. Take a break, either from the car or your hike, and stop at some of the wooden viewing platforms. 

The area is also well known for being home to many Native American tribes. Archeological digs over the last few decades have discovered thousands of tools, pottery, and weaponry used and traded by the tribes who lived in this area. You can check some of these out in the interpretive center.

Not far from the trail, you can also visit the Sawmill Hollow Wildlife Area, a small woodland and prairie area that is popular with local fishermen and hunters.

Getting there

The Iowa Loess Hills Byway runs near several big Midwestern cities, so it’s very easy to get to as well. This section of the trail is just about a half hour drive from Omaha and an hour from Sioux City, just follow Highway 29 North or South, respectively. 

From Des Moines, the trip is approximately 2 hours and follows along Interstate 80.

Once there, feel free to hop in the car and take a lazy drive around the hills. You’ll encounter plenty of interesting places to stop along the way and get a great view of the Missouri River Valley too.