Iowa is bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and crisscrossed by many others. And what better way to explore the state’s waterways than taking a boat tour? Whether you’re looking for an old-school river boat experience or a quiet paddle, there are some awesome ways to get on the water. Here are the best boat tours in Iowa.
Riverboat Twilight is Iowa’s highest-rated boat tour. They offer their passengers an experience that harks back to the Mississippi Riverboats of the 19th century. With departures from LeClaire and Dubuque, you can take a short tour of the Mississippi or immerse yourself with a one- or two-day cruise.
Launching from the Coney Island-style Arnolds Park Amusement Park, a tour on the Queen II is an awesome way to explore Lake Okoboji. Modeled after the steamers that once plied the lakes in this popular resort area, the Queen II—“flagship of the Iowa navy”—offers several daily excursions.
Canoesport Outfitters takes paddling enthusiasts—and beginning enthusiasts—out on guided canoe and kayak adventures. From eco-tours of Lake Red Rock (Iowa’s biggest) to Mississippi and Raccoon River paddles, you’re sure to find an adventure that suits your interests and abilities.
Folks looking for a boat tour in Northeast Iowa will enjoy one of the several excursions offered by Maiden Voyage Tours in Marquette. You can explore the backwaters of the river and the wildlife that inhabits them, take a music cruise or if you’re a birder, enjoy a bird-focused eco-tour.
If you’re looking for a low-key tour of one of Iowa’s most scenic rivers, hit up Maquoketa River Rental LLC, located on the river and in the city that bear the same name. Not only do they rent vessels, they take folks out for guided paddles and river tours.
Those who want a slightly different kind of boat may enjoy those offered at Spook Cave and Campground near McGregor. The only way to tour the allegedly-haunted, flooded cave is by boat. The campy feel of this roadside attraction makes the fascinating cave adventure even more unforgettable.
One of the best ways to explore one of the state’s most beautiful lakes is to hop on board the Lady of the Lake, a stern-wheeler that plies the spring-fed waters of aptly-named Clear Lake. In addition to their regularly-scheduled public cruises, the Lady of the Lake also makes several special, themed cruises.
The Scenic City Empress offers regular boat tours to members of the public who wish to see more of the Iowa River’s gorgeous upper reaches. You’ll see gorgeous limestone bluffs, wildlife and the historic swinging bridge—all illustrated by the river boat captain’s narrative.
Another awesome way to explore the wild Mississippi River is on one of the many tours offered by Mississippi Explorer out of Lansing. All of the cruises leave the main channel of the river to explore the backwaters, but throughout the year, several special cruises are offered focusing on events like autumn wildlife, nesting bald eagles, and the lotus and lilies that bloom on the water.