Loess Hills Scenic Byway is a unique SWI destination
It’s been more than 20 years since western Iowa’s unique land formation was designated the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway.
The stretch of scenic hills, that extend for 220 miles along the Missouri River valley from north of Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Joseph, Mo., were created from windblown silt during the last ice age. The hills are more than 60 feet high in some areas on the Iowa side of the river. The only other place in the world to find a similar formation of loess soil is in China. The Loess Hills area of western Iowa is comprised of about 640,000 acres of land and is the only area in the state to earn the national scenic byway designation.
“Because of the significance of the Loess Hills, we have people from all across the country and even international visitors who call and request information about the byway and attractions,” Becca Castle of Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) said. “We help them create itineraries depending on what their particular interests are and how long they’ll be staying and what time of the year it is.”
Conservation areas, wildlife refuges, recreational trails, parks and historical attractions can be found all along the Loess National Scenic Byway route in western Iowa – stretching from Five Ridge Prairie Reserve near Westfield down to Waubonsie State Park in Fremont County. In between are attractions like the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City, Loess Hills State Forest outside Pisgah, the Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center in Missouri Valley, the Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek, the historic Dodge House in Council Bluffs, West Oak Forest north of Pacific Junction and the Todd House in Tabor.
In southwest Iowa, Castle said Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont Counties each have their own unique attractions along the byway.
“The museums and the Wabash Trace are the big ones in Council Bluffs - the Dodge House, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, the Western Historic Trails Center and Rails West Museum,” she said. “In Glenwood, there are a lot of attractions – Glenwood Lake Park, the Mills County Historical Museum and the Davies Amphitheater.”
Some of the other Mills County attractions include Pony Creek Park (home of the Mills County Conservation and Nature Center), Mile Hill Lake, Vine Street Cellars and Bodega Victoriana wineries, Bella Terre vineyard and Keg Creek Brewing Co.
Fremont County attractions include Moonstone (Lavender) Gardens near Thurman and the Fremont County History Center and Iowa’s Championship Rodeo Museum in Sidney.
All of the attractions on and near the byway are highlighted in the 32-page Loess Hills National Scenic Guide , entitled “Shaped By Nature.” The colorful guide can be downloaded from the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway website at www.visitloesshills.org.
“The byway guide is really a great resource because it provides county-by-county information, shows detailed maps and talks about specific businesses and attractions,” Castle said.
Work toward the getting the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway designation began in 1989 as a volunteer grassroots effort from dedicated citizens in cooperation with Golden Hills RC&D and the Western Iowa Tourism Region. The byway became an Iowa Scenic Byway on July 8, 1998, and received the national designation less than two years later on June 15, 2000.
The Loess Hills Scenic Byway is governed by a 12-member board of representatives from the seven byway counties (Plymouth, Woodbury, Monona, Harrison, Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont), State Historical Society, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Golden Hills RC&D, Western Tourism Region and one at-large member.