One of the most famous treasures in the history of Iowa is the lost, stolen loot of Bonnie and Clyde. The infamous robbers hid in a forest a few miles north of Dexter, Iowa. People speculated that they buried most of their stolen loot to prevent the police from catching them.
Treasure stories undoubtedly sound exciting. However, finding treasures yourself from the places we listed below is a more exciting experience.
Established in 1919, Backbone State Park is the oldest state park in Iowa. Since the exact location of this state park is the valley of the Maquoketa River, it got its name from the narrow ridge of bedrock you will find on the said river. This narrow and steep ridge also once gave the Maquoketa River the name Devil’s Backbone.
Backbone State Park has a camping, hiking, and picnicking area where visitors can spend their time. The park is adjacent to the Backbone State Forest, a 186-acre pine forest. There, people can go hunting and horseback riding.
2. Emerson Bay State Recreation Area – Dickinson County
Emerson Bay State Recreation Area measures 12 acres and lies near Milford City. It lies west of West Okoboji Lakes shore. Notably, West Okoboji Lake is one of the Iowa Great Lakes, so you will find many recreational activities in the area.
The recreation area has an observation tower so that you can view the entire place from above. There is also a modern campground, boat ramp, picnic shelter, and playground.
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3. Maquoketa Caves State Park – Jackson County
This state park has the most caves out of all the state parks in Iowa. A series of trails link these caves, giving hikers a scenic hiking experience. New constructions along the trail system prevent accidents, making hiking safer for state park visitors.
The caves in this state park have limestone formations, such as stalagmites and stalactites. Unfortunately, some souvenir hunters ruined some of the formations, while the others remain. So, be respectful and careful when visiting this place for treasure hunting.
4. Union Grove State Park – Tama County
Union Grove State Park houses Union Grove Lake, a waterfall, and a dam. This 282-acre state park opened in 1938 and features a beach, fishing sites, and two boat ramps, including three miles of hiking trails, two cabins, and a campground.
If you like being close to nature, this state park allows you to watch animals like turkey, deer, and birds. There are also a variety of fishes, including crappie, bluegill, walleye, and channel catfish.
5. Wilson Island State Recreation Area – Harrison County
This state recreation area in Harrison County measures 544 acres. It lies near the Missouri Valley and is a forested area along the Missouri River. Additionally, the recreation area got its name from then Iowa governor George A. Wilson.
Wilson Island State Recreation Area has fishing sites and a boat ramp. Visitors can also hunt outside the recreation areas’ developed parts for birds and deer. Foragers will also find the recreation area an excellent place for finding morel mushrooms that grow there during the spring months.
6. Conover – Winneshiek County
Conover is a ghost town in Winneshiek County, Iowa, established in 1864. The place had a promising future, with people settling there quickly. In 1869, Conover became a residential town with multiple establishments like stores. However, a massive fire destroyed the town, turning Conover into a ghost town.
Today, Conover is a paradise for metal detector hobbyists as they can get old coins and relics left by those who once lived there.
7. Buxton – Monroe County
Buxton was a coal mining town established in 1888. It had approximately 5,000 residents, making it a prosperous town. The town had the typical amenities a town should have, such as an opera house. There is also a post office and a school.
However, mining declined in the area, forcing people to leave the town. Now, Buxton is an empty town that serves as a big hit for treasure hunters. Considering the number of people who once lived there, chances are you will find old coins, jewelry, mining tools, and even the kitchenware they once used.
8. Kinross – Keokuk County
Kinross is not entirely abandoned. A 2020 census found that 80 people are living in the town.
In 1879, people created this town as they wanted to live close to a new railroad depot. Along with the people moving into Kinross was the establishment of businesses and houses.
Moreover, the arrival of people in Kinross turned Hinkletow, their prior community, into a ghost town.
But while Kinross is not a complete ghost town, metal detector hobbyists and treasure hunters can freely look for treasures there as long as they do not disturb the residents.
9. Sunbury – Cedar County
Sunbury was famous for its dance hall. People founded the town in 1895 when a railroad was established and lived there until 1964. A bank also opened in 1901 and operated until the town closed.
Now, Sunbury is an unincorporated community on the west of County Roads 44 and Y26’s intersection. Sunbury has now been abandoned for decades and makes a good place for treasure hunters to do their thing.
10. Rockville – Delaware County
Rockville is an abandoned grist mill near the Maquoketa River. Oliver Olmstead founded the town in 1845. Since then, people have built numerous homes, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, and several stores.
This town is also one of the oldest in the county of Delaware and was a significant point of trading for businesses. Rockville also served as a stopping area for stagecoaches going to the Mississippi River.
However, Rockville seized from prospering when its neighboring towns became better, prompting Rockville’s residents to move there. In 1915, only one person was living in Rockville.
11. Volga River – Fayette County
The Volga River is Turkey River’s major tributary. This river measures 80.7 miles and runs across Fayette and Clayton counties before flowing through the Turkey River. Additionally, the Volga River State Recreation Area sits along this river.
Moreover, the Volga River is popular among treasure hunters and gold panners for its gold. Gold panners have seen success in finding gold on the shores of the Volga River over the years. Even the river itself has bits of gold that hunters can find. However, you will have to invest in a metal detector built for treasure hunting in the waters to ensure success.
12. Nodaway River – Adair County
This 65.7-mile river stretches from the southwest of Iowa to the northwest of Missouri. The river got its original name Nodawa, an Otoe-Missouria term for “jump over water,” from the expedition of Lewis and Clark that camped on the river’s shore on July 8, 1804. However, there is no apparent reason why the two named the river this way.
Lewis and Clark liked this river and made it the winter headquarters of the Astor Expedition from 1810 to 1812. This expedition discovered Wyoming’s South Pass, where many settlers from Oregon, California, and the Mormon Trail would pass.
13. Upper Iowa River – Allamakee, Winneshiek, Howard, Fillmore, and Mower Counties
This 156-mile river starts in southeastern Minnesota, near the border of Iowa. Then, it flows through four Iowa counties: Howard, Winneshiek, and Allamakee. Finally, the Upper Iowa River meets the Upper Mississippi River near New Albin.
In addition, this river is a part of Iowa’s Driftless Area or the places that did not turn into ice during the last ice age. It is also the only river in Iowa eligible as a National Wild and Scientific River. However, the Upper Iowa River has not attained the status yet as private individuals own some of its parts.
14. North River – Guthrie, Adair, Madison, Warren, and Polk Counties
The North River is 103 miles long and a tributary of the Des Moines River in south-central Iowa. It is also a part of the Mississippi River’s watershed that rises northeast of Casey in Guthrie County and flows east through Adair, Madison, and Warren counties. It then flows into southeastern Polk County and joins the Des Moines River.
Moreover, the North River collects a short tributary named North Branch North River in Madison County.
15. Trout River – Winneshiek County
This 13.5-mile river is the Upper Iowa River’s tributary. One end of the river is in Frankville Township, and the other travels to the Upper Iowa River in Glenwood Township. From the west, the river joins its major tributary, Trout Creek. The Trout River is famous for trout fishing.
It is worth noting that treasure hunters must be careful when hunting on the Trout River’s shores. The reason is that private individuals own most parts of the land.
Iowa is famous for its treasure legends, and one of the most popular stories is the lost army payroll on the banks of Miners Creek. According to the story, the army paymaster’s stash was hidden along Miners Creek’s banks near Guttenberg to keep it safe during a war but did not tell anyone its exact location.
Until today, no one knows where the paymaster hid the fortune. (source)
Before you bring out your metal detector and start digging somewhere in Iowa, you must learn about the laws in this state to prevent yourself from getting into trouble. Read about the regulations with this link to the Iowa State website -> Iowa State Recreation Regulations PDF
Metal detection in the state parks of Iowa is prohibited. However, park officials can give hunters permits depending on where they want to use their metal detectors. It is ideal for metal detection in isolated areas where not many activities are happening. There are also designated beach areas where you can use your metal detector freely.
Iowa State Parks have so much to offer, read more and find the park closest to you. Here’s a shortcut link to the state website -> Iowa State Parks
Metal detecting in Iowa rivers is legal, so you do not have to worry about breaking the law or getting arrested. However, Iowa is strict regarding treasure hunting, so you need to be responsible while doing your activity. Rivers are among the best places to find treasures in this state as you will have chances of finding gold bits in the water.
Metal Detecting Tip: People are naturally drawn to water. Which means lots of things get lost, read about the techniques for searching in rivers with -> How to Metal Detect in Rivers and Streams
Iowa has numerous ghost towns, the best places for metal detector hobbyists to find treasures. In these ghost towns, you may find old coins, jewelry, and other items people use there. But as mentioned, ask permission before you start digging to ensure you are not breaking any rules. (source)
Just like the metal detecting laws of most states in the United States, you can keep the modern treasures that you will find. That includes modern coins and items that have no historical value.
However, finding relics you believe are more than a hundred years old is a different story. The government considers items this old to have historical relevance. For this reason, you need to contact the authorities if you find one. (source)
- Dan Spengler, a metal detector hobbyist, tries to look for historical treasures hidden for more than a hundred years in rural Iowa. (source)
- Metal detecting enthusiast Mick Wade found the wedding band owned by Clara Conger, a prominent resident of Washington, Iowa, in the 19th century. (source)
- Amateur prospectors found specks of gold in the rivers of Iowa. (source)
A mysterious soldier named Thomas Nelson came to Cerro Gordo County in Iowa in 1884, carrying many fortunes. Soon after, he realized that people were beginning to notice his wealth, so he decided to bury it. Nelson told one friend that he hid his wealth next to the Winnebago River. However, he could not locate the exact burying spot when he returned to it the next day. (source)
In 1903, a newspaper publisher received a mysterious letter named “LeBarge.” According to LeBarge, he and his two friends when to the Black Hills in 1877 to look for hold. They prospected a tremendous amount of gold and went on their way home to Illinois in 1878. After having a game of poker, one of the trio named William Gunton won ten times more than the two, so they accused him of trying to win over their portion of gold. Gunton was stabbed to death, and the two buried the gold jugs in different locations, fearing the police might accuse them of killing Gunton to steal his gold. A road crew allegedly found Gunton’s buried body in 1920 but never the treasure mentioned in the letter. (source)
Alexander and Chester Morgan were wealthy yet hated farmers in Seward County. People accused them of cheating on poor people and alleged they kept their treasure in a strong box buried on their farm. One night, the brothers’ enemies attacked and killed them. When the word about their death came out, people began searching for their wealth but were never successful. (source)
Commander’s Lost Treasures You Can Find in Iowa: Follow the Clues and Find Your Fortunes! – Commander Pulitzer
Commander Pulitzer’s book shows treasure hunters the right places to look for fortune in Iowa. It will also teach you how to find treasures and how your adventures could gain positive results. (source) Amazon carries this book, shortcut link – Commander’s Lost Treasures You Can Find in Iowa
Metal Detecting for Beginners: 101 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started (QuickStart Guides) – M.A. Shafer
Suppose you are a beginner metal detector enthusiast who wants to explore Iowa. In that case, this book will help you learn everything you need to know about treasure hunting and metal detecting. (source) If this book sounds good checkout this link to Amazon – Metal Detecting for Beginners: 101 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started
This book contains the legends of the lost treasures in the 27 states of Iowa. If you want to know where you can get real fortunes, this book may help you find the locations of the most popular Iowa treasures in history. (source) This book has some interesting stories, get a copy from Amazon – Iowa Legends of Buried Treasure
- Diggin’ It! Buried Treasure In Your Neck Of The Woods Clayton County, Iowa. Youtube Video. 2:00. Posted By Diggin’ It! September 9, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFuUTAaDQ7k.
- State Park Links and State Park Metal Detecting Laws & Regulations. MDHTALK Metal Detecting State Law. https://www.mdhtalk.org/cf/city-regulation.cfm?st=KY#:~:text=Section%201%3A%20Except%20as%20provided,in%20all%20Kentucky%20State%20Parks.
- Elias Johnson. Metal Detector Uncovers Historical Treasures Left Over A Century Ago In Rural Iowa. We Are Iowa. December 29, 2020. https://www.weareiowa.com/article/news/local/man-uses-metal-detector-to-uncover-historical-objects-left-buried-in-the-ground-over-a-centruy-agi-on-family-farm/524-c06e6f9b-f7d7-44fb-905a-9eb6dccfb196.
- Iowa Man Looks To Display Historic Treasure He Unearthed. The Gazette. June 8, 2019. https://www.thegazette.com/life/iowa-man-looks-to-display-historic-treasure-he-unearthed/.