Quick Facts About Iowa

Situated in the heart of the Midwest and existing between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the state of Iowa is marked by rolling plains and, often, cornfields as far as the eye can see. That’s where its logical moniker — the Corn State — comes from. A more common nickname is the “Hawkeye State,” likely a nod to Chief Black Hawk, leader of the Native American Sauk tribe. However, some also suggest the moniker is inspired by Hawkeye, a character in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, “The Last of the Mohicans.”  

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Iowa was a part of French Louisiana and Spanish Louisiana, with a state flag modeled after the one in France. It was after the Louisiana Purchase that people set the tone of Iowa’s agriculture-based economy in the heart of the Corn Belt. By the latter half of the 20th century, Iowa’s agricultural economy diversified to include advanced manufacturing, processing, financial services, green energy production, information technology and biotechnology. 

In upland areas, Iowa’s natural vegetation consists of tallgrass prairie and savanna, transitioning to dense forest and wetlands in flood plains and protected river valleys. Meanwhile, pothole wetlands are found in the state’s northern prairie areas. 

Among the nation’s top states with the lowest cost of living*, Iowa is an affordable place to live and raise a family.  Clearly, people have caught on since the state’s population3.2 million as of 2020 — has grown by one million people in the last decade alone.  

Weather in Iowa

Featuring a humid continental climate, Iowa’s weather consists of extreme hot and cold temperatures. In Des Moines, the average annual temperature is 50° F, while northern locales like Mason City average 45° F and Keokuk — situated along the Mississippi River — averages 52° F. 

Snowfall is a fact of life during Iowa winters — so much so that Des Moines sees about 26 days of snowfall a year. Meanwhile, spring ushers in other severe weather.

Iowa experiences thunderstorms for approximately 50 days of the year. Additionally, tornadoes are known to occur. The state’s average rainfall ranges from less than 26 inches in the northwest to more than 38 inches in southeast Iowa.  

Iowa summers are hot and humid, with daytime temperatures that hover near 90° F, or even exceed 100° F. This is also the rainiest time of year. By contrast, winters in the state of Iowa are plenty cold, with temperatures that can drop below freezing. Be sure to bundle up — subzero temperatures are possible. 

If you’re considering when to move to Iowa, fall is temperate, as well as more predictable, time of year, one that’s less prone to temperamental weather. 

Advantages of Moving to Iowa 

You may find yourself wondering, Is Iowa a good state to live in? By all accounts, the answer is yes.  

According to the annual 2021 United Van Lines National Movers Study, 42.6% of those surveyed moved to Iowa for family, followed by jobs (33.8%) and retirement (16.9%). 

Compared to the national average — including neighboring states —Iowa’s cost of living is low, making it an affordable place to live at any stage of life. 

As for the job market, it’s strong, with an unemployment rate of just 2.6% as of August 2022. Comparatively, the national average sat at 3.7%. To that end, Iowa’s top industries include wholesale and retail; healthcare and social services; manufacturing; and education. 

Speaking of education, Iowa’s high school graduation rates are consistently the highest in the nation. Add that to the fact 51.7% of school districts have students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Post-secondary education is emphasized in Iowa, too, with highly regarded options that include Drake University, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Grinnell College. 

Fastest Growing Cities in Iowa 

The cost of living in Iowa is low, a draw for new residents and the reason many choose to stay, In July 2021, 3,193,079 people called the state of Iowa home. That’s up .1% from April 2020, when the count was 3,190.369.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020, the state’s top population slot went to the state capital, Des Moines, with its 215,408 residents. Popular places to live in the Des Moines metro area include West Des Moines, Ankeny, Ankeny and Waukee. Meanwhile, Cedar Rapids was booming with 133,125 residents, followed by Davenport (102,199), Iowa City (75,849), Sioux City, with 82,535 residents. 

Per the Iowa Association of Realtors, home prices in Iowa were up 13.3% year-over-year in August 2022. In 2021, the median home price was calculated to be $195,000, setting a new record in Iowa real estate. That said, the median home sales price in Iowa is lower than in some neighboring states and the median gross rent is well below the national average. 

Curious about the average income in the state? It was $65,600, per the U.S. Census Bureau.  

Two companies in the state made the 2022 Fortune 500 list, Principal Financial and Casey’s General Stores. This year, 27 Iowa companies appeared on the annual Inc. 5000, a ranking system highlighting the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. As Iowa’s fastest-growing company in 2022, IT services organization Ready Wireless is based in Cedar Rapids. 

Of the companies listed, businesses in the financial, software and construction industries abound and are largely based in the Des Moines area. Others, like call center outsourcing company Humach, and rural general store Dutch Country Living reside in Dubuque and Bloomfield, respectively. 

Fun Things to Do in Iowa 

Neighbored by Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota, Iowa is the future birthplace of James T. Kirk, the Captain of starship USS Enterprise, who is expected to be “born” in the state on March 22, 2228.  

Bringing it back to the real world, Iowa is also home to the world’s biggest bike touring event, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). 

Another anomaly to the state: it’s the only one bordered by two navigable rivers; the Missouri River to the west and the Mississippi River to the east, ensuring lots of outdoorsy adventures await. Indoors, though, you can explore the life, history and culture of its waterways at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.  

Come summer, the Iowa State Fair is not to be missed. With 1,118,763 attendees in 2022, it’s the state’s single largest event and a showcase of the best in agriculture, industry, entertainment and achievement. Featuring everything from livestock competitions and crop contests to canning, cake and meatloaf-making challenges. 

Painter Grant Wood, known for his depictions of rural Midwestern life, is most recognized for American Gothic, in which a farmer stands stiffly beside his daughter. Both dressed in 19th-century attire, they’re in front of the iconic Carpenter Gothic-style Iowa home, which can be toured in the small town of Eldon. 

Honoring musicians Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens, The Day the Music Died memorial is set amid a cornfield in Clear Lake, near the site where the legendary artists’ chartered plane crashed on February 3, 1959. The locale is marked by a giant pair of glasses resembling those Holly wore. 

Running from Ankeny to Woodward and crossing over five Iowa towns, the half-mile-long, 130-feet-high High Trestle Trail Bridge is particularly noteworthy when illuminated at night. Originally built to carry shipments for the Union Pacific Railroad, it’s now a picturesque passageway for horseback riders, bikers and hikers. 

Offering free admission, the Sanford Museum & Planetarium in Cherokee features exhibits and activities on a wide array of topics, like archaeology, art, astronomy, geology, history, natural history and paleontology. Learn about the lives of early settlers through historical artifacts; discover the history of Iowa’s astronaut, Peggy Whitson; and wonder at fossilized remains from the Ice Age — all in one place. 
 
See Hogwarts Castle, the Millennium Falcon and the Space Shuttle Challenger made out of matchsticks at the Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladbrook, where an impressive collection of models was crafted from the namesake material. 

As for the mighty Mississippi River, Iowa features a wide array of activities along its banks, including: 

  • Buffalo Bill Museum & River Pilots Pier, LeClaire 
  • Driftless Area Education & Visitor Center, Lansing 
  • E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center/Mines of Spain Recreation Area, Dubuque 
  • George M. Verity Riverboat Museum, Keokuk 
  • Heritage Center Museum, Burlington 
  • Hurstville Interpretive Center, Maquoketa 
  • Iowa DNR – Guttenberg Fish Hatchery, Guttenberg 
  • Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center, Camanche 
  • Motor Mill Historic Site, Elkader 
  • Muscatine History & Industry Center, Muscatine 
  • Nahant Marsh Education Center Davenport 
  • National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium & National Rivers Hall of Fame, Dubuque 
  • Old Fort Madison, Ft. Madison 
  • Pine Creek Grist Mill, Muscatine 
  • Putnam Museum of History & Natural Science, Davenport 
  • The Sawmill Museum, Clinton 
  • Toolesboro Mounds & Museum, Wapello 

Tune in our Road Trip music station if you’re exploring the Corn State.

Outdoor Things to Do in Iowa

When it comes to outdoor fun, Iowa has no shortage of options, from stunning state parks to picturesque trails.  

One of the most fascinating and destination-worthy is Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry. Managed by the National Park Service, the site preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by pre-Columbian moundbuilders, primarily during the first millennium AD. Considered sacred by many, especially the Monument’s 20 culturally associated Native American tribes, the effigy mounds are shaped like animals, such as bears and birds. While you’re there, take time to appreciate the diverse flora and fauna amid the topography characteristic of the “driftless,” or non-glaciated, region of the state. 

For one of the state’s most scenic overlooks, head to Pikes Peak State Park. Among Iowa’s most photographed locations, it affords spectacular views of the Mississippi River from atop a 500-foot bluff, at an elevation of 1,130 feet. Named after Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, sent by the government in 1805 to select a site for a military fort, it officially became a state park in 1936. Be sure to traverse the half-mile wooden boardwalk through one of the park’s picturesque glens to breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls. 

Dedicated in 1920 as Iowa’s first state park, Dundee’s Backbone State Park is one of Iowa’s most geologically significant spots. There, find the steep and narrow ridge of bedrock — The Devil’s Backbone — the highest point in northeast Iowa; the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) museum; a 21-mile multi-use trail system; and some of the state’s best trout streams.  

Want to hit another trail? The 33-mile, multi-use Sauk Rail Trail journeys from Lake View near Blackhawk Lake State Park to Swan Lake State Park south of Carroll, with camping facilities at both ends. Or, for a change of pace, there’s always the 32-mile Three Rivers Trail, which follows the path of the old Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. 

Often referred to as Okoboji, the Iowa Great Lakes are a group of seven natural lakes in northwestern Iowa, that draw boaters, vacationers and anglers, making it a popular spot during warmer weather. 

Eat Local Iowa Cuisine 

Like the Midwest as a whole, Iowa is known for its salt-of-the-earth fare.  

However, if there is one thing it’s famous for, it is pork tenderloin — specifically crispy, huge, breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, pounded thin and tucked into a comically small bun. Get yours at Victoria Station in Harlan or PrairieMoon on Main in Prairieburg, situated about 30 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids. 

“Loose meat” sandwiches are a tried-and-true Iowa classic, consisting of a mixture of sauteed onion-stippled, browned ground beef on a steamed bun, sometimes topped with pickles, ketchup, mustard and cheese. Get it in a flash at Maid-Rite, a popular, local franchise. 

Want the Iowan pie to end all Iowan pies? Enjoy a slice of rhubarb pie at the unassuming, family-run Andrew Cafe in the town of Andrew. 

Speaking of sweets, have you ever had a scotcheroo? Many Iowans make them at home, and they’re staples at bake sales statewide. Don’t want to make them yourself? There’s always Beyond the Bar Bakery in Decorah. It’s a favorite destination for the no-bake cereal bar, which is similar to Rice Krispies treats but flavored with peanut butter and topped with melted butterscotch and semi-sweet chocolate chips. 

Steak de Burgo is an Iowa specialty, created by erstwhile Johnny and Kay’s Restaurant in the Des Moines area. Typically made with beef tenderloin, it’s topped with butter, garlic and Italian herbs. The rendition at Des Moines’ Latin King is lauded and served on a sizzling metal plate bathed in garlic butter. 

Here’s another Iowa classic that may surprise you: Taco pizza. The first and possibly best take can be had at Happy Joe’s, which has locations across the state. Since one pizza creation to call its own was not enough, Iowa also created breakfast pizza, which you can readily find at gas stations in the state. Casey’s breakfast pizza was long considered the gold standard, though the version at QuikTrip — topped with sausage, eggs, melted cheese and sausage gravy — gives Casey’s a run for its money. 

For fantastic sweet finales, don’t miss Wilton Candy Kitchen, a 1910 step back in time. Set within a gabled, two-story wood-frame building in the town of Wilton, the ice cream parlor, soda fountain and confectionery brims with sugary bliss. 

Prepare for Your Move to Iowa

Ready to make your move to Iowa? Professional long-distance movers from United Van Lines can help relocate you. Planning a move within the state of Iowa? United agents also provide local moving services under their own businesses and brands. 

Whatever the circumstance, United’s full-service moving packages — which can even include packing — make your move stress-free. 

To help guide you through your move, the MyUnited Move Portal helps keep you organized, while a wealth of moving tips and tricks can be found on our blog. Consider them your go-to, whether you DIY or move with us. 

Have any questions? Want to secure your date for your move to Iowa? Contact us for answers or to get a moving quote.  


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