The rural state of Iowa is charming, quaint, and beautiful and offers a plethora of fun things to do with kids. Bordered entirely by rivers to the east and the west and home to some of the most beautiful lakes in the country, the Hawkeye State boasts an array of outdoor recreational activities such as the historic Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Spook Cave, and the secluded Wilson Island State Park. The state has a rich history that dates back to the 1600s, which can be explored in interesting museums, art galleries, and historical sites, while outdoor fun can be enjoyed at places like Adventureland Park and classic Arnolds Park. Here are some of the best things to do with kids in Iowa.
© Adventureland Park
Adventureland is a family-owned amusement park in Altoona, Iowa, that features over 100 rides, attractions, and shows for visitors of all ages. The park features a wide variety of trips, ranging from mild to wet-and-wild, ranging from massive rollercoasters, flying red barons, space shots and sky rides to tornadoes, teacups, tilt-a-whirl, and a sky wheel. A new water park called Adventure Bay boasts a wealth of water-based fun with several different sized swimming pools, water slides and rides, a wave pool, river cruising, and splash pads. Adventureland Park also hosts several shows and other entertainment from live music, puppet shows, and stand-up comedy throughout the week, has plenty of concession stands selling a range of food and drinks, and modern restrooms.
305 34th Avenue Northwest | Altoona, IA 50009, Phone: 515-266-2121
2.American Gothic House & Center
© American Gothic House & Center
The American Gothic House & Center is a tourist attraction focused around the house in the world-famous painting, American Gothic by Grant Wood. Also known as the Dibble House, the American Gothic House is a quaint house in Eldon designed in the Carpenter Gothic style with a distinctive upper window that was featured in Wood’s famous painting depicting 20th-century rural Americana life. Built by Charles Dibble in 1881, the private residence was observed and used by Wood in his painting and is now part of a museum complex that includes the original house and a modern visitors center that houses exciting information about the house, the painting, which is one of the most recognized paintings in 20th century art, and the history of rural American. The center features an exhibition gallery, a media room, a gift shop, and prop costumes for visitors to enjoy role-playing.
9654, 300 American Gothic St, Eldon, IA 52554, Phone: 641-652-3352
© Arnolds Park
Nestled in the town of Arnold’s Park in the center of the Iowa Great Lakes resort region, Arnolds Park is a historic amusement park, which features 30 rides, rollercoasters, attractions and shows, and a fun-filled atmosphere for visitors of all ages. The park is home to the famous wooden ‘Legend’ Roller Coaster, a 65-foot high Ferris wheel that offers spectacular views of West Lake Okoboji, a beautiful old steamer called Queen II that offers cruises on the lake, and a maritime museum that showcases rare artifacts and objects from the lake. Live music, shows, and other forms of entertainment are hosted in the Majestic Pavilion and the romantic rooftop garden throughout the week, and the raceway allows budding racecar drivers to test their skills. Arnold’s Park also offers world-class shopping, casual dining at several restaurants and bars, and a beautiful beach and lakeside boardwalk.
37 Lake Street, Arnolds Park, IA, 51331-4501
4.Blank Park Zoo
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Blank Park Zoo is a 49-acre zoological park in Des Moines that is home to over 1,500 animals across 100 species and aims to inspire an appreciation of the natural world. Located near the historic Fort Des Moines, the zoo offers a variety of fun, family experiences such as feeding giraffes and watching lion cubs play. Exhibits at the zoo include the Meredith Alpine Exhibit, which his home to an alpine biome and red pandas, and the Cave, which houses nocturnal animals like Egyptian fruit bats, Cuvier's dwarf caimans, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and boa constrictors. The Free-Range Aviary is home to a variety of tropical forest-dwelling birds, and the Aquarium of the Discovery Center features several aquatic environments such as coral reefs, rivers, waterfalls, and cold oceanic waters. Blank Park Zoo is involved in several conservation projects, such as a Species Survival Plan, the Greater Prairie-Chicken Project, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, and The Great Ape Trust.
7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315, Phone: 515-285-4722
5.Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium
© Arkady Chubykin/stock.adobe.com
The Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium is an interactive science center that provides a fun, hands-on experience for children and their families. The three-floor center is a playground for the imagination with over 90 immersive science-centric exhibits that aim to make scientific learning principles. Themed exhibits focus on light and electricity, momentum, liquids, gases, and sound, and include Bottled Lightning, Hot Air Balloon, a Robotix display of how to build futuristic machines, and Plant Genomics, which examines the Earth's most crucial living fauna and flora. The center can be rented for special occasions and functions and is open year-round.
322 Washington St, Waterloo, IA 50701, Phone: 319-234-6357
6.Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum
© Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum
The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum is a heritage railroad in Boone County that operates freight and passenger excursions for the public. The railroad winds through the spectacular natural landscapes of the picturesque Des Moines River Valley in the heart of the Midwest and visitors can enjoy one-of-a-kind excursions in 1920's era coaches and elegant climate-controlled dining cars dating back to the 1950s. The museum explores the history of the railroad, and it's steam, diesel, and electric railroad operations, and offers a selection of train rides for different occasions such as dinner, dessert, and picnic rides, as well as special events such as the Thomas The Tank Engine™ experience, and the Santa Express™. The railroad also runs a short trolley ride and from its station close to the Union Pacific Railroad mainline.
225 10th St, Boone, IA 50036, Phone: 800-626-0319
Brucemore is a pristine 26-acre estate and park in the heart of Cedar Rapids that is home to a beautifully preserved Queen Anne-style mansion, exquisitely manicured formal gardens, a night gardens, a children’s garden, a fruit orchard, and a dense woodland grove. Built between in the late 1800s by the widow of pioneer industrialist T.M. Sinclair, Caroline Sinclair, the estate is named after the second owner of the estate's ancestral home in Scotland, Brucemore. The mansion, known as the T.M. Sinclair Mansion, has three stories, 21 rooms, a steeply gabled roof with several turrets and five chimneys, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403
8.Charles H MacNider Art Museum
© Charles H MacNider Art Museum
The Charles H. MacNider Art Museum, also known as the MacNider Art Museum, features a collection of modern American art and an exclusive collection of Bil Baird marionettes, ephemera, and hand puppets. Established in 1964 and opened in 1966, the museum, which is named after Charles H. MacNider, the father of General Hanford MacNider, the museum boasts several excellent exhibits of paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, textiles, and fused and blown glass. The museum also houses an interactive playground in the Salsbury Room that provides a hands-on experience for children and families during the winter months and on the museum lawns in the summer. Several educational programs are offered such as art classes, workshops, kid’s clubs, and the annual Artoberfest.
303 2nd St SE, Mason City, IA 50401, Phone: 641-421-3666
9.Crystal Lake Cave
© Crystal Lake Cave
One of Iowa’s top attractions, Crystal Lake Cave, features a spectacular array of rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and crystals, such as aragonite, travertine, and calcareous spar. Discovered in 1868 by a lead miner in search of ore-bearing stone, James Rice, the cave was initially called Rice’s Cave and was accessed by descending 45 feet down a shaft in a bucket. After several changes of ownership, the cave was eventually called Crystal Lake Cave by Bernard Markus and developed as a tourist attraction for the public to enjoy. Visitors can explore over three-quarters of a mile of cave tunnels on guided tours, search for fossils and gemstones in the specialized gem mining area and take away unique souvenirs from the gift shop.
6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003, Phone: 563-556-6451
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10.Cypress Grove Nature Park
Cypress Grove Nature Park is a nature reserve with pristine landscapes of dense woodlands, shrubs, flowering plants, and beautiful lake views, along with an array of wildlife and birds. Located just minutes from downtown Jackson, the preserve features a mile-long elevated boardwalk that winds through a cypress forest and is a popular destination for walking and bird watching. Attractions in the park include Killdeer Pond, Wood Duck Lake, the Rockwell Observation Tower, and the Aerie Trail Raptor Center, which is a sanctuary for injured birds of prey and an educational facility that provides classes and programs on nature, wildlife and ecology.
866 Airways Blvd, Jackson, TN 38301, Phone: 731-425-8364
11.Danish Windmill Museum and Welcome Center
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Danish Windmill Museum and Welcome Center is a museum in Elk Horn that celebrates the Danish Windmill, the only authentic working windmill in the country. Built in Norre Snede in 1848, the windmill was moved to Elk Horn in the United States in 1975 and still stands today. The museum brings the windmill to life with an array of exhibits and displays showcasing the history of the windmill and its status as a valuable historical resource. The center also celebrates America's rural cultural, ethnic heritage and has a section called the VikingHjem, which depicts the life of a Viking blacksmith in 900 AD, complete with blacksmith shop and woodworking area where demonstrations and lectures are held.
4038 Main St, Elk Horn, IA 51531, Phone: 712-764-7472
12.The Greater Des Moines Botanical Center
© The Greater Des Moines Botanical Center
Situated on the eastern bank of the Des Moines River, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is a seven-acre public garden in the heart of downtown Des Moines that features progressively designed gardens, dynamic exhibits, and innovative programming. Founded in 1929, the public garden features a variety of beautifully designed gardens ranging from an 80-foot tall geodesic-domed conservatory with indoor plants from around the world, a tranquil water garden, and hillside garden to the Lauridsen savannah, the Meredith terraces, and the French-inspired Ruan Allée. The gardens offer a selection of educational programs for visitors of all ages, from youth and family programs to adult workshops, annual symposiums, and seasonal programs.
909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-323-6290
13.Effigy Mounds National Monument
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The Effigy Mounds National Monument is a nationally significant archeological site that preserves 206 surviving examples of earthen American Indian effigy mounds, 31 of which are in the shape of bears and birds. Dating back over 1,000 years, the mysterious earthen mounds provide an insight into the social, ceremonial, political, and economic life of the Eastern Woodland people who inhabited the region. The sacred site features mounds in all shapes and sizes, including piles of conical, linear, or compound shapes, some of which are burial mounds, and many in the form of animals and birds. The park surrounding the monument boasts beautiful landscapes of forests, rivers, tallgrass prairies, and can be explored on 14 miles of hiking trails that wind their way through the park.
151 IA-76, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146, Phone: 202-796-2500
14.Field of Dreams Movie Site
© Field of Dreams Movie Site
Located at the century-old Lansing family farm near Dyersville in Dubuque County, the Field of Dreams is a baseball field and pop-culture tourist attraction that was initially built for the Academy Award-nominated movie, Field of Dreams. Visitors can explore the Lansing farm, the charming farmhouse, and the famous baseball field on guided 30-minute tours, which explore the history of the farm, how it became the site of the famous baseball movie, the making of the film and the backgrounds of the stars who helped make it memorable. A gift shop at the farm sells a variety of movie memorabilia, ranging from clothing, baseballs, vats, and books to baseball cards, videos, and more, and the farm can be rented for special events and functions.
28995 Lansing Rd, Dyersville, IA 52040, Phone: 563-875-8404
15.Gray's Lake Park
Gray's Lake Park is a 167-acre park along Fleur Drive in Des Moines that features a 1.9-mile walking path that winds around a tranquil lake, which offers water-based activities like boat rentals. The urban gem acts as a gateway to downtown Des Moines and provides a peaceful retreat and plenty of outdoor recreational activities. The park is home to a 100-acre lake where a variety of water activities can be enjoyed, including boating, kayaking, canoeing, and seasonal swimming, as well as an iconic pedestrian bridge, several concessions stands which are open during the summer season, and rental bicycles. The park also has plenty of seating and modern restrooms.
2101 Fleur Dr, Des Moines, IA 50315, Phone: 515-242-2855
16.Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum & Grout Museum of History & Science
© Grout Museum District
The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum and the Grout Museum of History & Science are part of the Grout Museum District, which is a set of museums in Waterloo that also includes the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, the Snowden House, Rensselaer Russell House Museum. The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum honors Iowa veterans from the Civil War to present with 35 interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and an electronic Wall of Honor with over 1,500 interviews collected via the Voices of Iowa Oral History Project. Signature attractions at the museums include Pioneer Hall, the Maytag Car, and the Rath Packing Company Whistle.
503 South St, Waterloo, IA 50701, Phone: 319-234-6357
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17.Guthrie County Historical Village and Museum
© Guthrie County Historical Village and Museum
Located on a beautiful four-acre complex on the southwest side of Panora, the Guthrie County Historical Village and Museum explores the history of Guthrie County from the mid-1800s to the early-20th century. Hailed as the hidden gem of Guthrie County, the Village features 12 beautifully preserved and well-maintained buildings, and a range of exhibits featuring thousands of artifacts, items, and objects donated by families in the surrounding communities. Significant features of the village and museum include a rustic log cabin that was built in 1851; a new Bethel Methodist Church dating back to 1913 with a pump organ from St. Cecilia's Catholic Church and a collection of wedding dresses; and a blacksmith shop complete with an anvil, large forge, bellows and tongs.
206 W South St, Panora, IA 50216, Phone: 641-755-2989
18.Indian Creek Nature Center
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The Indian Creek Nature Center is a family-friendly nature preserve with an extensive trail system, a sustainable building with exhibits about the local fauna and flora of Indian Creek, and the importance of conservation and protection of the environment. The Indian Creek Nature Center’s main building and campus center is known as the Amazing Space, which features several interactive and immersive exhibits such as an interactive watershed table, solar panels producing energy, the Bird Room, and the Creekside Shop, which sells a variety of natural products. The Hazelnut Hideaway outdoor play area offers fun for the kids, the amphitheater hosts a variety of concerts, and other activities include yoga classes and educational workshops for all ages.
5300 Otis Rd SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403, Phone: 319-362-0664
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19.Iowa Children’s Museum
© Iowa Children’s Museum
Located in the Coral Ridge Mall, the Iowa Children's Museum is a bright and cheerful museum that offers fun, interactive, and immerse exhibits that encourage learning through play. The 28,000square-foot learning playground aims to inspire imagination, creation, exploration, and discovery in a safe, engaging, hands-on environment for families with children up to the age of 12. Interactive exhibits focus on diverse concepts with plenty of hands-on educational components that encourage problem-solving and, ultimately, learning through the act of play. In addition to fascinating exhibitions, the museum also presents a variety of educational programs, workshops, field trips, summer camps, outreach programs and more.
1451 Coral Ridge Ave, Coralville, IA 52241, Phone: 319-625-6255
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20.Jester Park Natural Playscape
The Jester Park Natural Playscape is a nature-inspired playground with a variety of nature-based elements such as boulders, earth mounds, and water features made with all-natural materials. Designed for young children up to the age of five, the playscape challenges children’s creativity with an array of adventurous natural activities such as climbing rocks, crawling through log tunnels, hiding in the grass, splashing in fountains and other water features, and digging in the sand for eight different types of fossils.
12000-12592 NW 128th St, Madrid, IA 50156
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21.Living History Farms
© Living History Farms
Living History Farms is a 500-acre open-air museum in Urbandale that celebrates the past 300 years of Iowa's rich agricultural history. Established to explore, demonstrate and educate visitors about the Hawkeye State’s long-standing history of farming and agriculture through a range of living history exhibits that showcase the lives of farmers from the 18th to the 20th century, along with various agricultural activities. A tractor-drawn cart takes visitors to different farms where demonstrations of farming activities can be seen, such as pottery-making, tanning hide, candle-making, wool spinning, food preparation and cooking, and canning.
11121 Hickman Rd, Urbandale, IA 50322, Phone: 515-278-5286
22.National Balloon Museum
© National Balloon Museum
The National Balloon Museum celebrates hot air ballooning and gas ballooning and is home to the U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame, which honors the people who have significantly contributed to the pastime and sport of ballooning. Designed in the shape of a hot air balloon gondola, the museum features exhibits from the Balloon Federation of America that spans 200 years of history, including the first hot air balloon to cross the English Channel. Other features in the museum include a children’s play area with books and photographs about ballooning and a library with a vast collection of reading material, books, magazines, and audio. The National Balloon Museum hosts a nine-day long festival called the National Balloon Classic.
1601 N Jefferson Way, Indianola, IA 50125, Phone: 515-961-3714
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23.National Farm Toy Museum
© National Farm Toy Museum
Located in Dyersville, the farm toy capital of the world, the National Farm Toy Museum collects, exhibits and preserves vintage toys, scale models, and replicas of farm equipment dating back to the 1800s. Founded in 1986 as part of the annual National Farm Toy Show, the museum showcases the rich history of agriculture in America through exhibits of farm-focused toys created by toy companies such as Scale Model Toys and SpecCast Collectibles. Toys on show in the museum include a replica of a 1919 All-Wheel Drive tractor, a John Deere tractor made from trash by kids in Zimbabwe, Russian and Brazilian toys, and vintage pieces dating back to the 1800s. Other features in the museum include a play area for children, a 10-minute video about the history of toy manufacturing, and an exhibit on how toys are made.
1110 16th Ave SE, Dyersville, IA 52040, Phone: 563-875-2727
24.Sanford Museum and Planetarium
© Sanford Museum and Planetarium
Located in Cherokee, the Sanford Museum and Planetarium focuses on the fields of astronomy, archeology, art, natural history, and paleontology through a range of informative and educational exhibits, displays, and demonstrations. The museum is home to the Sanford Room, which is designed as a time capsule complete with period furnishings that take visitors back in time to experience the lives of people living in the mid-19th century. The East Gallery boasts several exhibits that explore the history of the area, and a wall of art that features a rotating selection of art every month, and the lower level of the museum details the prehistory of Northwest Iowa with a collection of prehistoric artifacts and fossils on display.
117 E Willow St, Cherokee, IA 51012, Phone: 712-225-3922
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25.Science Center of Iowa
© Science Center of Iowa
The Science Center of Iowa is a science-focused learning center with several interactive galleries and learning labs, a planetarium, and a state-of-the-art IMAX cinema. Opened in 1970 as the Des Moines Center of Science and Industry, the Science Center of Iowa features a variety of informative and interactive science-based exhibits and displays where visitors can explore the cosmos, discover some of Iowa’s native animals, build a rocket, and create a stop-motion animation video. The Brick by Brick exhibit features spectacular LEGO®-built structures and offers hands-on building challenges that bring architecture, engineering, and construction to life. The Science Center's planetarium has a 50-foot display and presents a range of shows throughout the year.
401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-274-6868
25 Best Things to Do in Iowa with Kids
- Adventureland Park, Photo: Adventureland Park
- American Gothic House & Center, Photo: American Gothic House & Center
- Arnolds Park, Photo: Arnolds Park
- Blank Park Zoo, Photo: Nadine Haase/stock.adobe.com
- Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, Photo: Arkady Chubykin/stock.adobe.com
- Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum, Photo: Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum
- Brucemore, Photo: Brucemore
- Charles H MacNider Art Museum, Photo: Charles H MacNider Art Museum
- Crystal Lake Cave, Photo: Crystal Lake Cave
- Cypress Grove Nature Park, Photo: chalermphon/stock.adobe.com
- Danish Windmill Museum and Welcome Center, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
- The Greater Des Moines Botanical Center, Photo: The Greater Des Moines Botanical Center
- Effigy Mounds National Monument, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Field of Dreams Movie Site, Photo: Field of Dreams Movie Site
- Gray's Lake Park, Photo: ArmadilloGrafix/stock.adobe.com
- Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum & Grout Museum of History & Science, Photo: Grout Museum District
- Guthrie County Historical Village and Museum, Photo: Guthrie County Historical Village and Museum
- Indian Creek Nature Center, Photo: Manuel Capellari/stock.adobe.com
- Iowa Children’s Museum, Photo: Iowa Children’s Museum
- Jester Park Natural Playscape, Photo: Oliver/stock.adobe.com
- Living History Farms, Photo: Living History Farms
- National Balloon Museum, Photo: National Balloon Museum
- National Farm Toy Museum, Photo: National Farm Toy Museum
- Sanford Museum and Planetarium, Photo: Sanford Museum and Planetarium
- Science Center of Iowa, Photo: Science Center of Iowa
- Cover Photo: MNStudio/stock.adobe.com