Iowa’s Literary Rest Areas

Iowa Rest Stop Entrance

These Rest Areas Take ‘Bathroom Reading’ to Next Level

Never in my life did I think I would have a favorite rest area. 

Then I went to Iowa.

The rest areas on both eastbound and westbound I-80 near Tiffin celebrate Iowa’s connection to American literature.

While the two share a theme and sit on lovely, well-manicured lawns, the eastbound is by far the more elaborate, so stop there if you can. [1]The reason we went to two is because Soyia was going the wrong way initially and stopped at the wrong one.

You’ll find columns that look like stacks of books, statues of pens and pencils, and picnic shelters featuring quotes from some of the best-known authors with ties to the state. 

We’re talking about people like Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Smiley, John Irving, Yaa Gyasi, and Tennessee Williams.

John Irving Quote Picnic Shelter Iowa Rest Stop

Tiffin lies about 15 minutes from Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa and the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a graduate program for writers of fiction and poetry. Between the state’s homegrown authors and the ones who’ve come through the Workshop as students or professors, Iowa has serious literary cred.

Keep scrolling for more rest area photos.

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If Only We’d Known

Not till researching this post did I learn that Iowa has 19 themed rest areas dedicated to the state’s history and culture. These include celebrations of the harvest, transportation, pioneers, the Underground Railroad, and the Mississippi River. The one we’re saddest to have missed, given that we were right there in Cedar Rapids, honors artist Grant Wood. Next time, Iowa!


Iowa Rest Stop Book Stack
Iowa Rest Stop Book Column

Stacks of books top concrete blocks and serve as columns.

Featured Post: The Incredible House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin


Iowa Rest Stop Book Wall

An exterior border resembles a library bookshelf complete with category names.


Iowa Rest Stop Wall of Fame

Interior borders are etched with images of writing instruments and the names of famous writers. [2]The interior of the rest stop was almost as impressive as the outside.


Iowa Rest Stop Wall of Letters

Graphic designers will appreciate this collection of W’s, all in different fonts.


Iowa Rest Stop Pencil

Fun fact: Joyce Carol Oates, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck all wrote at least the early drafts of their novels using pencils.


Iowa Rest Stop Vonnegut Quote

I love this quote from Kurt Vonnegut, who taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1960s. [3]In Iowa City later that day, I’m pretty sure I creeped out some neighbors geeking out over the house Vonnegut stayed in.


Iowa Rest Stop Cornfield

Surely W.P. Kinsella, who attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and wrote “Shoeless Joe,” which was adapted into the movie “Field of Dreams,” would appreciate that there’s a cornfield just behind the westbound rest area. [4]This was the view for about 90% of our driving in Iowa. And Wisconsin. And Indiana.

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