There are so many fun things to do in Iowa, you could almost never get bored here. There is so much to choose from, and it’s often overwhelming when planning your next trip. So what are the best things to do in Iowa? This post takes a look at affordable places to visit, interesting activities, and popular destinations. Great Things to Do in Iowa = Fun for Everyone.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a must-visit if you are in the Des Moines area. The park is located on the southern bank of the Des Moines River and has over 100 sculptures by local and international artists.
All the works were donated by John and Mary Pappajohn, who also founded the Iowa State Center for their collection. Some of the sculptures are interactive, so be sure to check them out!
Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
The Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad is a non-profit railroad museum that was incorporated in 1970.
It’s located on a section of trackage originally operated by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad and acquired by BNSF Railway (Burlington Northern Santa Fe). The railroad’s mission is to preserve the history of railroading in Iowa through educational programs for adults and children, as well as historical displays at its Boone facility.
The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad started operations in 1971 with just one diesel locomotive built during World War II; it now operates five steam or diesel engines built between 1903 and 1989.
One steam locomotive has been restored to operation since 2010. The rail line travels 15 miles between Boone Depot Station No. 1 and Ottumwa Depot Historical Site No. 2 along an original route laid out by CB&Q predecessor Chicago & North Western Railway around 1870—when it was known then called “Route 3.”
National Balloon Classic
The National Balloon Classic is one of Iowa’s biggest events, and it takes over Indianola during the first week of July.
The event was founded in 1975 and has been held there ever since—and if you’re a hot air balloon fanatic, this is one place you definitely want to be. Visitors can join the fun by taking an aerial view of this beautiful part of the state as they ride in their own balloon or one that’s already launched.
If you’d rather stay on solid ground (or perhaps aren’t ready to take flight), there are plenty of other things to do at this festival: watch performances by live music acts or browse through arts and crafts booths while munching on delicious food truck fare or sipping fancy beers from local breweries.
American Gothic House
The American Gothic House was painted by Grant Wood in 1930, and is one of his most famous works. The house is located in Eldon, Iowa.
It’s now a museum dedicated to the history of the painting and its creator. The painting shows a farmer and his daughter in front of their farmhouse, which is painted white with black shutters and trim.
They’re both dressed in overalls, with the wife wearing a scarf around her neck that reads “My Mother”. Their pitchfork leans against their clothesline as they stand next to an old stove with a quilt hanging above it on which there is another gothic-style cross stitch reading “Home Sweet Home”.
Wood was born in Anamosa, Iowa where he spent his childhood until moving with his family to Cedar Rapids when he was 12 years old after losing his father who died from pneumonia when Wood was just 6 years old (1910).
This would later be seen as one of two major influences on all of Wood’s work: loss – especially losing loved ones early on – deeply affected him throughout both personal experiences (his brother dying from bone cancer) as well as cultural ones (his mother being forced out onto welfare due largely because she couldn’t afford health care for herself or her children).
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument is a good place to picnic and enjoy the scenery. There are many trails around the park, but beware of rattlesnakes that live in this area. The park also has numerous interpretive programs throughout the year.
Brucemore is a historic house museum, public garden and cultural center. It was built in 1916 by businessman and philanthropist Alfred C. Bruce.
The mansion features a variety of architectural styles from around the world, including English Tudor, French Renaissance and Georgian Colonial Revival architecture.
Guided tours are offered daily during regular visiting hours along with special events throughout the year like the spring and fall gardens shows or holiday decorations tours.
Pella is a town in Marion County, Iowa, United States, with a population of 10,352 at the time of the 2010 census. It is home to Central College and the annual Tulip Time Festival.
The community was named for John Pella Jr., a railroad official. The town was incorporated on March 14, 1856 by an act of legislature from part of Belle Plain Township.
Grotto of the Redemption
The Grotto of Redemption is an amazing, underground cavern filled with some of the most beautiful stone formations and gems in the world.
The grotto was carved out by hand over many years, starting in 1920. It’s not only impressive because of what it contains, but also for its sheer size—it’s one of the largest man-made caves in North America!
The grotto has a collection of more than 15 million specimens that are so extensive that they have been put on display throughout all 50 states and several other countries as well.
These include some of the rarest minerals and gems in existence; these include petrified wood from Australia which is over 200 million years old!
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is the birthplace, presidential library and gravesite of former President Herbert Hoover. The property is located in West Branch, IA.
The site consists of five buildings:
- The birthplace cabin,
- Museum and gardens;
- A prairie restoration with interpretive signs;
- A research center where you can watch an orientation video about Mr. Hoover’s life and times;
- Walking paths through forests surrounding three creeks (Crystal Creek, Mud Creek and McKinney Creek) that provide opportunities for bird watching or wildlife viewing.
There are also two picnic areas (one has water access) available on-site as well as hiking trails throughout the park grounds.
Des Moines Art Center
Located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, the Des Moines Art Center is a beautiful space to visit. The building was designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes and features 10 galleries, a sculpture garden, and an art store.
The museum is open Tuesday–Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm; admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students and children.
There are always exhibitions that change every few months, so you never know what to expect! You can check out our current exhibitions here:
National Czech & Slovak Museum
The National Czech & Slovak Museum is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is a museum of Czech and Slovak culture, with an impressive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs from the Czech and Slovak people.
There are also many interactive exhibits to help you learn about the culture of these two countries. This would be a great place to visit if you have an interest in learning more about this region’s history!
Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park is the birthplace of famed director George Lucas. The Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises were inspired by this natural beauty. It’s also home to the Field of Dreams movie site, so you can take pictures with your friends and family in front of the iconic “If you build it…they will come” quote.
The Iowa State Fair is one of the largest fairs in America, bringing millions of people to Des Moines every summer for 2 weeks straight (August 15th – August 24th). You’ll find all kinds of food, rides, games and entertainment here!
Blank Park Zoo has over 500 animals representing 165 species from around the world at its living museum.
The zoo highlights endangered animals that are found right here in Iowa or their natural habitats outside our state borders such as grizzly bears (Alaska) or snow leopards (Tibet). Pay $11 per person or $18 per couple after tax if you plan on visiting during regular hours when most schools are still out on spring break vacation (March 18th through March 31st).
Iowa is truly a beautiful place to visit and the diversity of activities will make sure that you don’t get bored while there. Whether you are visiting Des Moines or just stopping by Iowa (or Nebraska) for a day trip, you should consider checking out one of the many things to do in Iowa, whether you want to enjoy the nature all around you or explore the history of this great state.