When you think of Iowa, what comes to mind? Cedar Rapids? The Mississippi River? State parks? The art buffs amongst you might even recall the iconic painting “American Gothic”. Famously misidentified as heaven, Iowa is a state of real depth and a perfect option for your next family vacation.
Whilst it is a very rural state, do not let those vast winding hills deceive you! In this blog, we’ll prove to you that Iowa is so much more than just another pit stop on your midwestern road trip, rich with excitement and attractions for the entire family.
- Things to know before you visit Iowa
- The best things to do in Iowa with kids
- Conclusion and FAQs
Things to know before you visit Iowa
What is the weather like in Iowa?
Characteristic of its position deep in the middle of the United States, Iowa sees a variety of weather conditions throughout the calendar year. It’s important to keep this in mind when planning your trip so you can be sure to pack everything you’ll need whatever the weather!
During the winter monthsIowa can get pretty cold, with temperatures in January averaging at around 14-20 °F. Even though the air temperatures can reach teeth-chattering lows, the state of Iowa actually receives a good deal less snowfall than its neighboring states!
Snowy weather is a fairly common occurrence between December and March, but this doesn’t tend to stick for long. If your family aren’t too bothered by the cold, then there are plenty of cold-weather activities you can do together. Think sledging, ice-skating, hiking, skiing and more! But, if you’d prefer to escape the icy temperatures, there is a whole host of indoor fun to be had in Iowa, too.
Summers are warm and fairly humid, averaging in the mid-80s and rarely touching highs of 100 °F. With plenty of sun cream and proper hydration, the state comes into its own in the summertime with its green and vibrant landscapes.
Where to stay in Iowa
If you’re planning on staying in Iowa for more than a couple of days then you won’t struggle when it comes to finding accommodation. Across the state, there is a range of wonderful resorts and hotels that are perfect for family vacations. If you want to be right in the heart of the action, it’s best to stay in either Des Moines, Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. If you want to get in touch with nature, there’s a host of quirky countryside accommodations on AirBnB!
Des Lux Hotel
Close to the Des Moines River, the Des Lux Hotel is in a prime location in the state’s capital city. Each guest is offered a free breakfast, and the hotel is a charming option for families and visitors looking for something away from the ordinary.
DoubleTree by Hilton
For its family-friendly facilities, the DoubleTree by Hilton is a great option when taking your kids to visit Iowa. Well-respected for its hospitality, it makes for a great night for the parents, too, who can indulge in a drink or two at the barwhile the kids play. This hotel also boasts a swimming pool, meaning your kids can splash about and burn off any extra energy before settling down for the night.
The best things to do in Iowa with kids
National Mississippi River Museum
Jam-packed with hands-on exhibits and exotic animals, The National Mississippi River Museum is part aquarium, part museum, and part science center.This place has a great selection of fun things to see for children and adults alike, so it’s well worth a visit if you’re looking for an activity that will be sure to entertain people of all ages!
At the museum, guests can feed stingrays, watch a film in the astounding 4D theater and explore the fascinating historical exhibits to delve further into the origins of Iowa. With so much to see, we’d be impressed if you can do it all in one visit!
Top tip: this attraction has a lot of outdoor exhibits, so we’d recommend visiting when the weather is good to get the most out of it.
Iowa State Fair
A celebration of the state’s incredible heritage, the Iowa State Fair is a seasonal festival, usually hosted around mid-to-late August. As far as special events go, this has to top the list.
Each year, well over a million people flock to Iowa’s State Fair to celebrate the region’s achievements in agriculture, industry, and entertainment… All of these make the state the beating heart of the Midwest! The fair is the single-biggest exposition in the whole of Iowa, so it’s definitely worth a visit if your family’s trip coincides with when it’s taking place.
There are many interesting attractions, from authentic Iowa cuisine to fairground rides and live music. The event also has a Kids Zone area that’s dedicated to younger visitors. Here, your little ones can have a blast at Little Hands on the Farm or make new friends at the Blue Ribbon Kids’ Club.
Downtown Des Moines
The cultural hub of the Des Moines area, downtown is known for its vibrant atmosphere and interesting blend of tastes and styles. This area has a breadth of family-friendly local restaurants, a brilliant farmers market and a ton of quirky shops that are perfect for finding that special souvenir to take home.
Top tip: have a wander around Valley Junction, a unique little area that is a personal favourite among many of the locals!
The Science Center of Iowa
Dedicated to making science both fun and educational, the Science Center‘s goal is to be a quality community resource to encourage learning and exploration. Over the years, its become a great spot for children and families to come to embrace science and technology.
Get up close with some of Iowa’s native animals, explore the depths of the universe or build your very own spacecraft. Each exhibit inside the Science Center highlights a specific field of science with fun, hands-on ways for all ages to immerse themselves in learning.
Alongside the library and core exhibits, the Science Center offers workshops for younger children aged 3-5, making this attraction appropriate for the whole family.
Hiking Trails of Iowa
With its stunning landscape, this is where Iowa comes into its own. There are many great trails in all four corners of the state, but the best ones can arguably be found in the eastern part. Try out Pikes Peak State Park for its stunning nature and water features or Lake Manawa for a refreshing dip by the beach.
If you’re travelling with younger children or anyone who’s not a particularly confident hiker, don’t worry! Iowa has a wide range of easy walking trails that are perfect for little legs and stroller-friendly for if they get too tired. Be sure to visit Backbone State Park for an easy hike that will still provide you with incredible vistas.
To partner with the trails, Iowa has some of the best camping sites in the USA. If you’re wanting to take the kids on a real adventure, check out some of the state’s family-friendly camping grounds where you’ll be able to relax in the fresh air, fire up the barbeque, make s’mores and soak up the wonderful nature that Iowa has to offer.
Blank Park Zoo
With a vast 49 acres of land just south of Des Moines, Blank Park is the only AZA-accredited zoo in the state of Iowa, and it’s a real must-see.
A day out in the fresh air whilst being able to spectate nearly two thousand animals of over a hundred different species, you really can’t go wrong! Fan favorites include red pandas, African lions and the amazing eastern black rhinos.
The staff and keepers at Blank Park Zoo are always on hand to make your visit as enjoyable and memorable as possible, sharing their incredible knowledge about the park’s 1,484 animals (and counting) with visitors, young and old. And, with more interactive exhibits than you can shake a stick at, a trip to Blank Park is sure to be one that the kids will be talking about for years to come!
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
We know what you’re thinking: and no. Pappajohn sculpture park is nothing to do with food, you will find no traces of pepperoni (we’ve checked).
Considered “one of the most significant collections of outdoor sculptures in the United States”, this amazing collection valued at around USD 40 million was donated by local art collectors John and Mary Pappajohn in 2009.
With 28 sculptures to see in a reasonably sized park, this is a great day out for the whole family to enjoy (not to mention, it’s free admission!). Walk around in the fresh air, taking in the weird and wonderful art this park has to offer.
Top Tip: A great way to make this as interactive as possible: start a photo competition between the family, and the winner gets a prize!
Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens
A stunning ecosystem, preserved in a high-tech dome, theGreater Des Moines botanical gardens are a place where you can lose yourself for a couple of hours amongst 12 whole acres of lush green spaces
Although this is a self-guided experience, the staff at DMBG are hugely passionate about their work and offer some great info to anyone wanting to learn more about the wonderful world of horticulture!
A tranquil and calming experience, it’s probably ideal for families with older children, as there are “garden etiquette” rules that some younger children may struggle with!
‘Field of Dreams’ Movie Site
One for the film buffs, the Field of Dreams movie site is a cool nod to a little slice of Iowa film history.
The movie site offers a tour around the famous baseball park and the house beside it, giving lovers of the film a chance to take in the set and hear some fun insights about its production.
Now, this film is a classic, but, we don’t expect kids under the age of around 14 to have watched it.
That being said, the site offers some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that everyone will love, regardless of age and film knowledge. Families can rent this famous space! Making for a perfect sporty day out for everyone.
Alongside this, it’s worth checking out their famous Ghost Players Show, which is always a hit.
The self-named home of “Iowa’s best thrills”, this is one for thrill seekers! Everywhere you look in this theme park, there are fun things to do. Log flumes, train rides and rollercoasters make this an action-packed day out and a top contender for the best things to do in Iowa with kids.
Due to the fact that a fair percentage of the rides involve water, this park’s primary operating months are in Summer, from May to August, with a few special weekend events in September and October.
That’s not all! There’s an onsite hotel and camping facilities to allow visitors to seize the attractions.
Scenic Valley Railroad
A truly special way to spend an afternoon, there’s no better way to take in the state’s mesmerizing landscape than via a trip on this heritage line. It’s a perfect on-off experience, and for that reason, we’d say the scenic valley railroad is suitable for the whole family to attend.
Top tip: we’d recommend getting tickets with the dining option to ensure the family stay happy for the duration of the ride, it’s a long journey around the line and we wouldn’t want anyone going hungry!
Conclusion and FAQs
We hope that this has given you a great grasp of some of the fun places you can visit during your time in Iowa. With so many interesting things to see and do, you may well find yourself back in the area before long!
If you’re looking to make a couple of stops on your family vacation, be sure to check out some of our other USA guides.
What is Iowa known for?
With its immense agricultural and food history, Iowa is notorious for its food! Local favourites include dishes such as Sour Cream Raisin Pie, Iowa Ham Balls, Scotcheroos, Maid-Rite sandwiches, Steak de Burgo, taco pizza, snickers salad, and corn, lots of corn. It’s also the leading producer of pork in the U.S.A.
What is the most popular sport in Iowa?
Football! In a recent survey, the sports measured were baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, football, skiing, tennis, and soccer. American football came on top of this list.
In the state, two college teams are broadly followed by the Iowa population: the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones.
More about our TFVG Author
Ross lives for the sun, sea and SNOW! Anything involving a snowboard, polarised shades and sheddin steep peaks, he is there.