Iowa is known for many things. From its beaches to even the Hawkeye Football, what’s not to love about this state? It has even contributed greatly to the food industry. In fact, we owe Iowa for the sliced bread, a staple food we all enjoy. While bread has been around centuries ago, it wasn’t until 1928 that Otto Rohwedder, an Iowa-born jeweler, invented a machine that can automatically slice commercial loaf breads.
We also owe Iowa for the Blue Bunny ice cream that we still enjoy today. This is because the ice cream brand started here as well.
Iowa should also be thanked for the modern-day vending machine that we see today. For starters, the first vending machine was invented in London by Percival Everitt. However, it’s not at all perfect as it can only take single coins and couldn’t provide proper change, which left shortchanged customers hungry and unhappy. But luckily, an Iowan named F.A Wittern stepped up and tweaked the first vending machine we’ve gotten used to and the made the modern-day change-dispensing vending machine was born.
Iowa is also the home of Pinterest, our go-to website for various inspirations for home designs, fashion, recipes, cute cats, and more. In addition to that, the state is where Eskimo Pies, red delicious apples, and Quaker Oats (the state houses the biggest Quaker Oats cereal mills in the world) started. Iowa is also Ashton Kutcher’s hometown; it’s also something to thank Iowa for, right? But Iowa is also home to many family-friendly attractions. And they’re definitely the place to take your kids before they’re fully grown.
In case you need suggestions where to go, we got your back. Take a look at some of Iowa’s best destinations for families.
- 1 Iowa’s Family-Friendly Spots
- 1.1 Trout Run Trail
- 1.2 Hitchcock Nature Center
- 1.3 Gray’s Lake
- 1.4 Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library
- 1.5 Squirrel Cage Jail
- 1.6 Arnold’s Park Amusement Park
- 1.7 Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
- 1.8 Pella, Iowa
- 1.9 Blank Park Zoo
- 1.10 Lacey Keosauqua State Park
- 1.11 Fenelon Place Elevator
- 1.12 Matchstick Marvels
Iowa’s Family-Friendly Spots
Iowa is known for many things. And, of course, it also got your back when it comes to family-friendly attractions. Here are some of the best places in Iowa where you can take your whole family to.
1Trout Run Trail
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, the Trout Run Trail is one of the best family-friendly destinations in Iowa that we highly recommend. For families, especially those with younger kids, it’s easy to pass on the idea of visiting this site. This is because many first-time visitors often think that it’s all about hiking. But hear us out first. Apparently, this place doesn’t only offer hiking activities. Here, you can also bike and run as the trail is paved. Some parts of the trail can be a little steep for the younger kids, though. But the site also offers other activities than that.
Trout Run Trail is actually named after its trout hatchery. Hence, here, visitors can also enjoy fish feeding.
Spring also offers a different activity for the trail’s visitors such as birdwatching. Trout Run Trail houses nests for eagles and during the spring season, the eggs of bald eagles often hatch and you can spot eaglets or even full-grown eagles feeding them.
2Hitchcock Nature Center
If you’re looking for another destination where you can enjoy outdoor activities, the Hitchcock Nature Center is not to be missed too. This place offers different outdoor activities. The best part of it is that the site also offers different activities for each season.
In spring, the site sees a great diversity of birds flocking the area, which makes a good time for birdwatching. Aside from that, the nice weather offers a good atmosphere and sight for picnic goers. There is also a playground where kids can play.
In summer, hiking is more ideal. Aside from that, you can also enjoy archery range and camping during warmer days.
And if the sight of bald eagles on the Trout Run Trail isn’t enough, don’t worry. Hitchcock Nature Center is also a place where you can see more of them during fall season. In fact, this place boasts of being one of the top five sites in North America for migrating bald eagles.
The winter season also offers exciting activities. Here, everyone in the family can enjoy snowshoeing and sledding. And don’t worry about the snow. The park highly maintains the roads during winter. Hence, you can enjoy an easy access even in the winter months.
Hitchcock Nature center also boasts of its rolling Loess Hills. Formed by windblown soil for thousands of years, this is by far the tallest hills of its kind in North America, which makes it all the more worth seeing. In addition to that, kids will also love the sight of unique plants and animals, including the Great Plains skinks.
Another place that you shouldn’t miss with your family is Gray’s Lake. Here, you can also enjoy outdoor activities. However, it offers more water-related activities. Here, you can enjoy boating, shorefishing, and paddleboarding. And you don’t have to worry about the pieces of equipment if you don’t have one or if you forgot to bring yours. There are rentals available on the site so there’s no need to fret much about your equipment.
There is also a sandy beach where you can lounge. The site also has a picnic area where you can also bond with the whole fam. Gray’s lake also has a playground dedicated for the kids.
In addition to that, another thing that you need to see at Gray’s lake is its bridge. At first glance, you might think it’s just an ordinary bridge. But wait until the sun sets as the bridge starts to light up creating a of mosaic patterns that seem to dance across the walkway. At night, needless to say, it looks more stunning.
4Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library
Of course, when you have kids, it is always best to bring the whole fam to a place where they will also learn. One of the places in Iowa for that is Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library. Here, you can get to have a glimpse of Lou Henry Hoover’s life, from his early life to probably even his last days, through the exhibits that feature his clothes, as well as other items that he used during his term in the office. The museum also features various figures and sculptures that depict some highlights of his career and life. Apart from that, everyone in the family can also get to learn more about the state’s history. Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library also has a visitor’s center where you can shop for memorabilia and other gifts. There is also a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, and Quaker meetinghouse on site that you can get a glimpse of.
5Squirrel Cage Jail
Speaking of educational tour, we also recommend that you bring the kids to the Squirrel Cage Jail. But contrary to its name, this isn’t a jail made for squirrels. Rather, it is actually a jail made to imprison people. Now what’s interesting about this site is its design. For starters, it has three floors of revolving pie-shaped cells inside a cage. It’s like a lazy Susan table version of a jailhouse so that prisoners can be controlled with ease without the necessity of personal contact between them and the guards.
Apparently, this is a rotating jailhouse and it is one of the only three jails of its type left in existence. And, needless to say, it is one of the must-see sites in Iowa. Aside from the fascinating design of the jailhouse, you can also get to see signatures and dates of its notorious prisoners in the cell walls. You can also get to hear stories about them and parts of the history of the place which will also educate the kids more.
6Arnold’s Park Amusement Park
Of course, an amusement park is always on the list for family-friendly destinations. Here, there are a number of rides that adrenaline seekers will enjoy. But don’t worry if you’re not into such kind of rides as there are also more laid back rides waiting for you. The amusement park even has family rides where the whole family can all enjoy. There are also rides that will definitely make the kids smiling all day. But what makes it all the more worth visiting is that Arnold’s Park Amusement Park also has museums on site, such as Arnold’s Park Museum and the Maritime Museum.
For starters, Arnold’s Park Museum is like an extension for all the fun in the amusement park’s ride, especially on a rainy day. Here, kids and even the kids at heart can enjoy a huge slide. This place also features Funhouse Toys’ barrel and sugar bowl. However, they’re there for your eyes only. Still, the slide provides enough fun and thrill already.
Meanwhile the Maritime Museum features rare artifacts of antique wooden boats. The museum also lets you see retro ride parts, signs, and even other souvenirs left from the amusement park’s earlier days.
Here, you can also join events. The amusement park also offers free movie screenings that are kid-friendly. And if you’re lucky, you can even get to watch a concert. Just remember to keep an eye on the amusement park’s calendar of event so you won’t miss out on anything.
7Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
At first glance, a train ride from the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad might look like a mere train ride. But, actually, it’s not your ordinary train ride. Apparently, aside from just sitting on the train while it takes you to scenic spots in the area, you can also enjoy some good food. Yes, you read that ride, because this unique train ride offers a unique elegant dining experience on the rails.
For this experience, you can get to enjoy an enchanting two-hour and fifteen minute ride through the gorgeous Des Moines Valley. Through this ride, you can also get a glimpse of the historic 1950’s passenger cars used on the Union Pacific railroad’s well-known “City of Los Angeles,” as well as the “City of San Francisco” streamliners. Crossing the 156-foot-tall Bass Point Creek High Bridge, you can also get to see a good view of the Des Moines River. You can also get to peek at Iowa’s rich farmland. And, of course, as you enjoy such good view, you will also be served with some good food. This ride is available for both lunch and dinner.
If you want a more intimate bonding time with your family, you can also try out the picnic train ride that Boone and Scenic valley Railroad offers. Here, the train will also take you to the picturesque views in town. However, you won’t be served with some fancy dinner or lunch meals. But, you can bring your own food. It’s a cool and unique travel experience that you sure don’t want to miss.
Pella, a city in Iowa, is one of the beautiful places in the state all year long. It’s already unique and gorgeous all year. However, it becomes all the more beautiful at Tulip Time. During May, the city comes alive with tulips, parades, food, and more. During this three-day celebration in spring, thousands of locals wear Dutch attire, celebrating their Dutch heritage. It’s like the whole city becomes Iowa’s Netherlands because of this event. On top of that, the atmosphere gets a little different as it makes you travel back in time with the residents donning such costumes and tulips surrounding the area.
Visit this place to witness a unique celebration that everyone in the family will surely enjoy. And the best part of it is that aside from the Instagram-worthy celebration, the city will also give you good historical sites, as well as Dutch architecture that will leave you in awe.
9Blank Park Zoo
Of course, a family vacation won’t be complete without a visit to the zoo. Kids often love to see animals and this is a great opportunity for them to take them to the Blank Park Zoo. Here, kids will not just learn about the animals, their habitats, as well as the environment but they will also get to know how they can contribute to care for them and the environment. Needless to say, they will get a chance to see cute animals up close and personal when they visit the zoo, such as the Blank Park Zoo.
Contrary to what one would think of because of its name, there’s actually a lot to see here. In Blank Park Zoo, kids can get to see lions, tortoises, tigers, and even penguins and sea lions. The zoo also houses rhinos, olden-headed tamarin, and red panda.
The best part of it is that you will not just get to see them on exhibit. You can also get a chance to see what they do behind the scene as the zoo offers Behind the Scenes Tours. Through this, kids, and even adults, can learn more how the animals are taken care of, from feeding to even bathing training them, and whatnot.
But this zoo isn’t just for viewing animals. Blank Park Zoo also offers spaces for special occasions such as birthdays. If the younger members of your family are about to turn a year older, we highly recommend Blank Park Zoo as a venue for their birthday. They will surely have a blast that they will remember forever.
But Blank Park Zoo isn’t just for kids. The zoo also welcomes couples who want to tie the knot. This will surely make your wedding unique.
10Lacey Keosauqua State Park
Aside from the Blank Park Zoo, you can also visit the Lacey Keosauqua State Park too as it is also located in Des Moines. What makes this place worth the visit is that it boasts of stunning views. As a matter of fact, this place is known as one of the largest and the most picturesque among the state parks and recreational areas in Iowa. So if you were to visit this place, we highly suggest that you take as many pictures as you can as the place is very Instagram worthy too.
But aside from that, Lacey Keosauqua State Park is also a must visit for the outdoor recreational activities that it offers. Here, you can hike as it has a number of trails to offer. As you hike, you can also get to see many types of wildlife in the area, including raccoons, opossums, red foxes, as well as numerous species of birds. Apart from that, you can also get to see a variety of plants, shrubs, and trees. Some of them are even more than 200 years old.
Lacey Keosauqua State Park has a lake too. Here, aside from filling your eyes with the picturesque view of and from the 30-acre lake, you can also get to enjoy swimming, especially in summer. Boating activities are also welcome. However, note that boating is only limited to electric motors.
In addition to that, the whole family can also get to enjoy fishing. In fact, the place is popular with fishermen.
Lacey Keosauqua State Park also has a picnic area that’s perfect for a family cook-out. And if you want to stay longer, there are cabins and campsites available too.
11Fenelon Place Elevator
Fenelon Place Elevator isn’t actually the kind of elevator that we are used to seeing in malls and other tall buildings. Rather, it is actually a 3-feet narrow gauge funicular railway. Now what makes it a must see is that it claims to be the shortest and the steepest railroad in the world. Aside from that, another reason why you need to see this is that you’ll be able to see not just one… not two… but three states! It’s a quick but fun ride that will treat you with amazing views of three states without having to ride a place or whatnot. Kids will surely love the thrill of the ride as you the funicular takes you higher to the top of the hill and see an amazing view from the top.
And speaking of jaw-dropping things to see, if you want to see more amazing things, don’t forget to visit the Matchstick Marvels. Here, you and your kids will surely be astounded by the impressive intricately detailed models of life-like structures, complex machines, as well as world-renown architecture made entirely from ordinary wooden matchsticks. Yes, you read it right. The works featured at Matchstick Marvels are just made out of matchsticks glued together, hence the name. See scale models of the Notre Dame Cathedral, Challenger spacecraft, and more – all made with matchsticks. And who knows, this might inspire the inner artist in you or even the younger members of your family.
Iowa has a lot more destinations that the whole family can enjoy. The attractions on this list are just the tip of the iceberg. But we’re sure these places in Iowa alone can make your vacation a lot more memorable. Everyone in the family will not just have a lot of fun but the visit will certainly be educational too. Of course, your experience will be memorable too.