When it's time to escape from the hustle and the bustle of your everyday life and finally spend some time reconnecting with the people that are important in your life, the Loess Hills of western Iowa are a great destination. Unique, beautiful scenery…original, authentic Midwestern cooking, and a multitude of attractions ranging from thought provoking, to peaceful and many nature focused.
Rising out of the Missouri River's flood plain, this unique land formation parallels both Iowa's western border and the Missouri River for 200 miles from north of Sioux City, Iowa to near St. Joseph, Missouri. The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is a mosaic of roads selected to make your Loess Hills experience memorable. Five Iowa Welcome Centers, 4 Interpretive Centers and numerous interpretive panels assist travelers along the Byway. (A map depicting the driving routes for the entire byway is located at the end of this article.)
What makes the Loess Hills unique?
By the way, locals pronounce Loess, "luss" which rhymes with bus.
Although deposits of loess are found across the world, nowhere else but China are those deposits higher than they are in Iowa. The definition of a Loess Hill is a hill made of windblown loess soil that is more than 60 feet in height. Using that definition; about 640,000 acres of land in western Iowa constitute the Loess Hills landform.
The Loess Hills landscape of windblown silt deposits creates steep, sharply ridged topography supporting many rare plants and animals and this topography also supports largest expanse of native prairie in the state of Iowa.
Nationally Designated Scenic Byways are exceptional roads that exemplify regional characteristics of the nation's culture, history and landscape. The National Scenic Byway program is managed by the Federal Highway Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation. The program was designed to recognize and enhance the best of America's transportation corridors.
Interpretive Centers and Portals will help guide and explain the unique characteristics of the Loess Hills and most also have information about other attractions available in the area. A stop at one or all of the following centers will serve as an excellent guide post during your journey:
Gateway Portals, open 24 hours each day are available at the Harrison County Historic Village and Iowa Welcome Center just north of Missouri Valley. Sheltered picnic tables are also here. Visitor Information assistance is available inside, 6-days a week. A walking trail, observation deck and media presentation are in the works for the fall of 2010. Don't forget to get some free cherry drink in the Welcome Center right next to the portal.
The community of Akron (north of Sioux City) has a portal shelter and interpretation in their city park. And the community of Westfield, just south of Akron has a small interpretive center that displays interactive components explaining the creation of the loess hills .
Other Interpretive Centers, (north to south) include:
Located in Sioux City's Stone State Park, the main theme of the exhibit gallery is: The Loess Hills are fragile and contain a diverse community of plants and animals, provide an important aesthetic and economic resource and are worthy of protecting.
Exhibits include: natural history exhibits, interactive prairie, wetland & woodland exhibits, live native reptile and fish exhibits, bird viewing area ,outdoor amphitheater , butterfly and wildflower gardens and several miles of trails leading to forest and prairie viewpoints.
The facility is open six days a week, year around. http://www.woodburyparks.com the Center can be found by clicking "Nature Center."
Loess Hills State Forest
Thousands of acres of state-owned land make up this preserve in Monona County. An observation deck about 1.5 miles from Preparation Canyon State Park is one of the best overlooks of the interior of the Hills and is handicapped accessible. The State Forest Visitor's Center located in Pisgah has exhibits and staff available to assist travelers. 712-456-2924 or http://www.iowadnr.con/forestry/loesshills.html
Loess Hills Visitors Center and Gift Shop
A host or hostess will assist you find maps and brochures, tell you about places of interest like the overlook locations and country churches or give local advice about best places to eat or for overnight accommodations if you want to spend a night or two in the Loess Hills.
The center's gift shop features arts and crafts from area artisans, including Kessler pottery, fired with bits of loess soil in its creation. Accessible to Persons with Disabilities.
Located at 119 Oak Street in Moorhead. 712-886-5441, http://www.loesshillstours.com
Hitchcock Nature Area
Located just north of Crescent, this center has a 45 observation tower offering a birds eye view of the Loess Hills and indoor exhibits focused on the raptor migration and the unique biological communities of the Loess Hills.
This nature area located in the heart of the loess hills region has some of the largest remaining prairie remnants in Iowa and serves as a refuge for plants and animals found nowhere else in the state. Open every day of the year for hiking, biking, bird watching and camping.
Southern Loess Hills Interpretive and Welcome Center
Learn about the geography, people, animals and rare plant life in Iowa's nationally significant Loess Hills region. View displays about wetlands, Underground Railroad history. Includes local and state tourism information and a gift shop. Located just off Interstate 29 and Highway 2, west of Sidney and Interstate 29. Phone 712-382-1272. Accessible to Persons with Disabilities.
Check out http://www.visitloesshills.com to learn more and to download or order a 31-page guide complete with maps and written directions and listings of attractions and services on or near the Byway.