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Interstate 80 (I-80) is the bustling lifeline that stitches together the heart of Iowa, beckoning travelers to embark on a journey of discovery. Spanning 306 miles across this picturesque state, I-80 has everything from historic gems to fun attractions and gee whiz stops not to miss.
So, this is your go-to guide whether you need a pit stop to refuel and recharge or want a hidden gem to explore. We’ve curated a roadmap to the best experiences along the way. And we’ve even created a Google map, guiding you to fuel stations, rest stops, hotels, and campgrounds.
Table of Contents
- Map of I-80 in Iowa: Fun stops, rest areas, fuel, & places to stay
- Must-see stops & top things to do along Interstate 80 in Iowa
- Plan your next road trip adventure along Interstate 80 in Iowa
Fun facts about Interstate 80
- It spans the United States from San Francisco, California, to Teaneck, New Jersey (New York City).
- It passes through 12 states.
- It’s the second-longest interstate in the United States, at 2,900 miles (I-90 is the longest).
- Work began in 1956, and the final segment was completed in 1986 in Salt Lake City.
- It reaches its highest elevation at 8,640 feet in Wyoming.
Map of I-80 in Iowa: Fun stops, rest areas, fuel, & places to stay
Must-see stops & top things to do along Interstate 80 in Iowa
Interstate 80 in Iowa passes by historic sites, parks, casinos, and shopping centers – with other exciting and fun stops on the route.
Below, we’ll highlight the most popular stops along Interstate 80 in Iowa. We’ll start on the state’s west side and work our way east.
Council Bluffs (and Omaha)
If you’re passing through Council Bluffs, Iowa, you’re probably also going through Omaha, so we include it here. A stop in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area is a great place to experience several fun attractions.
Omaha is home to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, one of the best zoos in the world! You can also stop at The Old Market, the Durham Museum, and the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum.
Any stop in the Council Bluffs & Omaha area should include crossing “The Bob.” It’s a 3000-foot-long pedestrian bridge where you can “bob” between two states and see Omar the troll!
Once you’ve crossed to Iowa, try your luck at one of three casinos in Council Bluffs. You can also stop by Lake Manawa State Park for a picnic or go a few miles north to the Hitchcock Nature Center and beautiful Loess Hills.
Between Council Bluffs & Des Moines
Several fun roadside attractions are on the route between Council Bluffs and Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines.
Popular roadside attractions on this route include:
- The giant Volkswagen Beetle Spider (Exit 40)
- A Danish windmill (Exit 54)
- Tree in the Road photo op (Exit 64)
- The Jesse James Historical Site (Exit 75).
- The Smiley Face water tower (Exit 76).
- The Menlo Freedom Rock (Exit 86).
Some travelers even veer off the path several miles to visit the Roseman Covered Bridge (Exit 100). It’s 18 miles south of the interstate, near Winterset, Iowa (on a gravel road).
If you stop for an overnight (or two or three) in Des Moines, you’ll find tons of fun and exciting things to do.
Des Moines has a vibrant downtown full of great things to see and do, like the East Village, Iowa State Historical Museum, and Science Center of Iowa. And, of course, there are plenty of great places to stay!
And if you have time while you’re here, check out our favorite local parks and explore the network of trails! Gray’s Lake, Water Works Park, Saylorville Lake, and Jester Park are a few local favorites.
For attractions right off I-80, Living History Farms, an outdoor museum and working farm, is off Exit 125. Or take Exit 127 to climb the walls at Climb Iowa.
On Des Moines’ east side (Exit 142) is Prairie Meadows Casino & Racetrack, a popular casino and horse racing track. If you have more time, stop and spend the day at Adventureland Park. It’s an amusement park with over 100 rides and attractions, including roller coasters and a water park. The Outlets of Des Moines are also nearby.
I-80 between Des Moines and Williamsburg
Points of interest between Des Moines and Williamsburg are Quarry Springs Park, the Iowa Speedway, and Williamsburg Outlets.
If you need to stretch your legs and get a dose of nature, stop at Exit 155 to visit Quarry Springs Park in Colfax. It’s an old quarry-turned park, popular for hiking, camping, fishing, and kayaking. And for even more nature, head south about 13 miles to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge!
Down the road off Exit 168 is the Iowa Speedway in Newton. This famous racetrack features IndyCar and other motorcar races, plus special events.
The Outlets & Marketplace in Williamsburg is also right off the road at Exit 220. Find outlets by American Eagle, Bath & Body Works, Coach, Nike, Old Navy, and more.
The Amana Colonies are an excellent stop for travelers with a little extra time!
The Amana Colonies are German villages from the mid-19th century that have preserved their history. Most villages are about 10 miles north of I-80, from Exit 225.
Visitors flock to the Amanas to experience German heritage and culture; they’ve become popular Iowa tourist destinations. While there, you can take tours, visit museums, and eat traditional German food. And you want to stop by the local shops, chock full of quality, handmade goods!
Just a few miles east of the Amanas, you’ll find many excellent stops in Iowa City! Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa and is the former capital of Iowa.
On your way through, stop on the east end of town off Exit 240 at Coral Ridge Mall. While there, you can shop, grab a bite to eat or watch a movie. But that’s not all! The mall has an indoor ice skating rink and is home to the Iowa Children’s Museum.
If you love classic cars and memorabilia, you’ll want to stop at the Antique Car Museum of Iowa! It’s just south of Exit 242.
Downtown Iowa City is about 2 miles south of I-80 off Exit 244 – and well worth the stop! See the Old Capitol Museum, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, and the Stanley Museum of Art. And don’t miss the Pedestrian Mall, a traffic-free area with shopping and restaurants, art, live music, and other points of interest.
For a photo op, head north of Downtown and just north of I-80 (Exit 244) to see the World’s Largest Wooden Nickel.
Then, drive three miles north of the big nickel to see the Devonian Fossil Gorge. Flooding near the Coralville Lake spillway uncovered this 375 million-year-old ocean floor. (This is outdoors and free to explore.)
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is just off Exit 254 in West Branch! The National Park Service operates the historic site dedicated to the 31st president of the U.S. – and it has something for all ages!
The site tells the story of Herbert Hoover’s life, from his childhood in Iowa to his presidency during the Great Depression.
Start at the Visitor Center to grab a map and brochure. Then tour the park’s historic buildings, like Hoover’s birthplace home, a schoolhouse, and a blacksmith shop.
Also, stop at the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum to learn more about the president’s legacy.
World’s Largest Truckstop in Walcott
We know what you’re thinking – it’s just a truck stop. But it’s so much more than that! The I-80 Truck Stop is the World’s Largest Truck Stop, unlike any other truck stop you’ve seen.
The truck stop is a small town under one roof – right off the interstate at Exit 284. It has everything under the sun, from restaurants, shops, and video games to a library, movie theater, and fitness room. You’ll also find services like a truck service center, barber, dentist, and laundry (to name a few).
Also, consider stopping by the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum on the north side of the truck stop. Exhibits include vintage toy trucks, over 100 antique trucks, trucking artifacts, and more!
I-80 skirts around the north edge of Davenport before crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. The Rhythm City Casino Resort is a popular roadside stop at Exit 298.
Venture into town to find museums, like the Putnam Museum & Science Center and Figge Art Museum. Also, consider visiting the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire. And just across the Mississippi, find even more to do, like the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois.
Plan your next road trip adventure along Interstate 80 in Iowa
Whether you want to glimpse into Iowa history or have fun, find several excellent stops along Interstate 80!
If you plan to overnight in Iowa, there are options along I-80, from camping to hotels and roadside motels! Many cities, like Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Davenport, offer many accommodations.
• Iowa Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff
• Backroads & Byways of Iowa: Drives, Day Trips and Weekend Excursions
• Rand McNally 2023 Road Atlas & National Park Guide
• the Next EXIT 2022 – The Most Complete USA Interstate Highway Exit Directory
• Road Trip Activities and Travel Journal for Kids