Outdoor adventures, historical colonies, fun water parks, and thrilling trails make midwest trips ideal for family fun. Whether your kids love spending nights under the stars while camping or enjoy learning experiences at museums and national exhibitions, Iowa weekend getaways for families have everything you need.
While most of the tourist attractions and Iowa family resorts are open for walk-in visitors, some require prior bookings. This means, if you don’t plan, you can miss out on some of the most amazing things to do in Iowa with kids.
To help you plan your day-to-day itinerary and make the most of your family vacation, here’s a list of destinations you should check out.
Best Iowa Family Vacations & Places to Visit
Let’s face it; it’s not easy to plan a vacation with young kids. If they aren’t being their usual charming, angelic selves, they are usually picky, moody, and downright unpredictable!
Not to mention the expenses that come with planning outdoor excursions, historical trips, and shopping sprees for the whole family, along with accommodation and travel expenses.
If you’re planning a trip on a budget, a cheap family vacation in Iowa is the way to go. Tourist attractions, dining, traveling, and lodging expenses are cheaper in the region than in other destinations in the country.
Besides that, the region offers a variety of fun opportunities ranging from its lush countryside to the bustling Iowa City. The crystal lake cave, Lake Okoboji, the National Mississippi River Museum, and other landscapes make amazing getaways for a family of outdoor enthusiasts.
Similarly, if your family loves indulging in cultural activities, you can spend time at the Grand Harbor Resort or explore the Amana Colonies and Pella. On the other hand, if greenery and scenic views are your callings, there’s a plethora of state parks, resorts, and hiking trails you can visit in Iowa.
If these attractions make you want to pack your bags right away, here’s a list of Iowa family vacation destinations you should try out.
Located along the Illinois border next to the Mississippi River, Dubuque is a picturesque city in Iowa. Apart from its natural attributes and scenic views, Dubuque has a cultural appeal and historical heritage that attracts tourists from across the country.
One of the main attractions in the area is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. The destination makes for an amazing day trip that can keep the whole family busy.
You can book a guided tour for your family and learn about the cultural influence and history of the waterway. After that, you can end your day with a relaxing picnic along the beautiful waterfront in the museum’s vicinity.
Other appealing natural attractions include the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and Crystal Lake Cave. Here, you can indulge in learning experiences with your children and enjoy viewing the beautiful wildlife and scenic greenery.
Most importantly, Dubuque is home to some of the top resorts for family vacations in Iowa. These include the Spain Recreation Area and the Sundown Mountain Resort. However, these places are usually overcrowded during the peak season, so make sure to reserve your spots beforehand.
If your family loves camping and outdoor excursions, then Eagle Point Park in Dubuque is an ideal place to add to your itinerary.
The park has several hiking and biking trails adjacent to the Mississippi River. Here, you can take an adventurous hike while watching the magnificent eagles residing in the park.
For history buffs, the Hotel Julien Dubuque is a must-visit. It is a rustic hotel with a prominent historical heritage you would love to live amongst.
The best part is, you can book hotel rooms that look over to the water and spend your days viewing the serene waters. Besides that, the hotel is located in central Dubuque, so every attraction is easily accessible from the area.
See Related: Best Things to do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
2. Sioux City
Sioux City is another popular tourist destination in Iowa. Known for its art museums and fun-filled activities, Sioux City is ideal for Iowa family vacations.
The most attractive part about Sioux City is that you can find accommodation that suits your budget. Many options suit your family, from luxury hotels such as the Hilton Garden Inn to modest Airbnbs. Meaning, you can explore the city without burning a large hole in your pocket.
Besides that, the city also has a well-maintained public transportation system. So you don’t necessarily have to rent a car or drive your own to explore the city. Most of the attractions are easily accessible through public transport.
One of the best places to visit with young children is the Iowa Children’s Museum in Sioux. Here, you can witness several educational exhibits catered specially to entice young minds. Similarly, the museum also has interactive attractions and activities to help you make amazing memories with your kids.
Additionally, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is something you shouldn’t miss.
It is an educational faculty where you can witness the history of the expansion of the United States with your children. Book a guided tour to enjoy the ultimate learning experience about your country.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Spirit Lake, Iowa
If you have kids who can’t stay still in their seats, there are plenty of things to do with kids in Iowa. First, head to Burlington for its amazing water parks, mesmerizing trails, and children-approved museums.
To treat your kids to a dose of fun water sports, head over to Huck’s Harbor Waterpark for some splashy fun! With amazing water rides, slides, and food stalls, the park is a complete recreational package for adults and kids alike.
On the other hand, if you want to give your kids a learning experience, you can visit the Garrett Phelps House Museum. The building is a 19th-century estate converted into a museum with multiple exhibits.
You can check out its Victorian-era architecture and artifacts along with several medicine-related exhibitions.
Similarly, the Burlington Fire Department Museum is another great destination to visit with kids.
Maintained by a group of retired firefighters, the museum showcases several exhibits regarding renowned fire fighting sessions. Moreover, you can learn basic fire fighting essentials in an interactive space to make a productive trip with your family.
Finally, if you want to end the vacation with a dose of fun and adventure, you should visit Starr’s Cave Nature Center and Preserver at Burlington.
You can explore its multiple hiking trails and conduct activities like spotting wildlife, watching birds, and taking memorable photographs.
See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in Alaska
4. Des Moines
If you’re looking for family vacation ideas in Iowa, then Des Moines, the state capital, is a place you should consider. Offering a diverse array of outdoor sports, cultural activities, indoor attractions, historical exhibitions, and art expeditions.
Start at downtown Des Moines for some of the best activities in Iowa. Namely, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is one of the most notable attractions in the area. Here, you can witness amazing sculptures created by renowned artists from across the country.
Similarly, the State Capitol Building is another attractive place to visit in downtown Des Moines. Known for its golden dome, the building is a great site to take memorable family vacation photos.
Art buffs shouldn’t miss the extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and modern art at the Des Moines Art Center. Developed back in 1948, the building still serves as the region’s main attraction and the center of its art scene.
If you’re looking for educational activities for your children, check out the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines or the Des Moines Civic Center. While both places allow walk-in visitors, it is always best to book a guided tour before heading out from your hometown.
Des Moines is also an amazing place for outdoor enthusiasts. Some of the most beautiful parks include the Rotary Riverwalk Park and the Blank Park Zoo. The former is a properly landscaped downtown public place, while the latter is a 49-acre zoological park, the only accredited zoo in Iowa.
For fun, food, and drinks, you can head over to the famous Iowa State Fair held annually at Des Moines. Some of the best eateries include 801 Chophouse, Centro, Waveland Cafe, and Americana.
For a unique, spooky dining experience the kids will love, check out Zombie Burger + Drink Lab!
See Related: Best Day Trips from Des Moines, Iowa
5. Cedar Rapids
With a combination of fun indoor and outdoor activities, Cedar Rapids is one of the best Iowa family vacation ideas. If you book accommodation in the AmericInn Cedar Rapids, you can easily access many attractions in the region.
Cedar Rapids has around four county parks and three state parks. Here, you can enjoy adventurous activities like hiking, biking, bird watching, camping, and picnicking with your family. Besides that, each of these locations boasts breathtaking natural views that make amazing backgrounds for family photos.
Moreover, if you want your kids to know the natural history of the place you’re visiting, you can easily drop by Ushers Ferry Historic Village.
This perfectly preserved early 20th-century village in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a fun place to learn about the town’s cultural heritage. You can book a guided tour with interactive activities and excursions to ensure your kids don’t get bored while exploring the village.
For those looking for a low-budget vacation, the ‘kids stay free program’ at AmericInn by Wyndham Cedar Rapids is a must-avail offer. You don’t have to pay to bring your kids along to your room. Besides that, the hotel has free breakfast and microwaves. Thus, you can save plenty of bucks and use them to explore the city and conduct family-friendly activities instead.
See Related: Best California Road Trips
6. Iowa City
From the famous Hawkeyes to the world-renowned University of Iowa, Iowa City is an ideal family vacation spot. As a collegiate city, the location has plenty of attractions to keep you and your kids busy throughout the weekend.
If your family loves sports, make sure to book tickets for the Saturday football game at the Kinnick Stadium. Tickets are difficult to come by, especially if you’re visiting during the peak season. There are many Iowa tours to find in Viator.
Other notable indoor family attractions include the Hancher Auditorium and the Stanley Museum of Art. Both destinations take you through an immersive tour of mesmerizing artworks showcasing the cultural aspects of the state.
Similarly, the Old Capitol in the Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus is a must-visit for families with young children.
Apart from being a beautiful piece of architecture, the educational facility symbolizes Iowa City’s stately significance as the first capital of Iowa.
After exploring the building, you can relax in the vast campus gardens and watch your kids play while enjoying light snacks.
Another great attraction at the University of Iowa is the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Known as the top writing program in the country, the workshop has earned Iowa the position of a UNESCO City of Literature. So if you belong to a family of bookworms, this place is an exciting spot to check out.
Downtown Iowa City is an interesting place to explore as well. You can shop at the charming local marketplace, enjoy street food, or view the unique public art installations.
The Prairie Lights Cafe in Downtown Iowa City is a great destination for literary buffs. Additionally, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum is worth checking out as it pays tribute to the Iowa-born soldier and president of the US.
See Related: Best Places to Travel in Your 20s in the US
Located around 40 miles away from the state capital, Des Moines, Pella is a dainty picturesque town that makes for a perfect laid-back getaway. If you want a taste of Europe in your homeland, Pella is the best place to head over for a vacation!
The town attracts most of its tourism through its Dutch heritage. Places such as the Vermeer Windmill, Historical Village, and the astounding Dutch letters are amazing cultural aspects to discover with your kids.
However, the best time to visit Pella is during its annual Tulip Time Festival. Hosted by the city itself, the festival includes a complete weekend of parades, costume parties, breathtaking garden displays, and local food.
It takes place on the first weekend of May every year. But, even if you miss the event, you can witness the tulips in full bloom one week before or after the event. Besides that, the quintessential town has historic buildings made of bricks, windmills, and canals that remind you of fairytale towns and cities.
One of the best family-friendly recreational spots in the town is the Howell Station Prairie Trail. Set at the lake ground adjacent to Lake Red Rock, the park has several hiking trails and campsites where you can enjoy it with your family.
The trails go through beautifully restored prairies, transverse timbered areas, and pine plantations. You can go through these locations with a knowledgeable guide to turn the trip into a learning experience for your kids.
8. Loess Hills
Located on the western side of Iowa, Loess Hills is a breathtaking town surrounded by serene natural beauty. The ultimate destination for nature lovers, Loess Hills, has fun activities and beautiful landscapes to enjoy with your family.
Its fine soil deposits and prairie environment make up astounding sceneries that are natural wonders in Iowa. Besides that, the scenery is quite photogenic, so you should remember to take a camera along if you’re traveling with your family.
The best place to enjoy the mesmerizing views and fresh air is the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. You can drive your car on the route or rent one from the main city.
While cruising through the beautiful byway, you will encounter multiple tourist areas such as the Hitchcock Nature Center and Loess Hills Lavender Farm. Here, you can indulge in several outdoor activities to make your family vacations memorable.
Similarly, you can visit the Loess Hills State Forest or take an excursion across the Preparation Canyon State Park for other outdoor adventures.
Decorah is a modest and relaxing destination for weekend getaways in Iowa for those seeking some time away from the hustle of city life. Decorah is an amazing place to create memories with your family from stunning sceneries, exciting water activities, and colorful festivals.
You can go fishing, canoeing, hiking, and hunting on the riverside. Or, you can book your tickets for the upcoming nature festivals and events in the vicinity to enjoy music, dancing, and food with the locals.
Another great activity to conduct in Decorah with your kids is visiting the Verstergein Norwegian-American Museum. Here, you can learn about the region and its history through interactive exhibits and guided tours.
10. Grand Harbor Resort
Not far from Dubuque, Iowa, The Grand Harbor Resort is one of the best Iowa vacations for families. The superb location has an amazing indoor water park that can keep your kids busy for the whole day.
They can recline in the lazy rivers or have fun using the numerous splash pads. Also, the park has a fun wave pool and thrilling slides that make it an adventurous destination for the whole family.
Besides that, the resort also has a fully-equipped indoor gaming arcade and children’s play area called the Kidz Club. So whether you have young adults or toddlers traveling with you, you can drop them off at this location and head over to your business.
If you want to tantalize your tastebuds with some Iowa cuisine, the resort’s on-site restaurant is a must-visit. Named Tony Roma’s, the hotel restaurant has a casual atmosphere with many exquisite dishes to choose from.
Mainly, the restaurant is popular across the state for its fresh seafood and delectable ribs, so make sure you try them out during your visit.
- Best Places to Visit in the Midwest
- Historical Landmark in Iowa You’ll Want to Know
- Must-Have Tips to Avoid Having a Boring Vacation
Lock In Your Travel Now
Find Cheap Flights
Use Skyscanner to find flight deals. As my personal favorite flight search engine, Skyscanner scours websites and airlines across the globe, leaving no stone unturned to help you find the best deal possible. And if you really want to take your savings to new heights, pair Skyscanner with Going (Formerly Scott's Cheap Flights). With access to exclusive mistake fares delivered straight to your inbox, you'll be packing your bags and jetting off on your next adventure before you know it.
Travel insurance is a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Cover yourself against illness, injury and theft, and protect the arrangements you've made with our flexible travel cancellation insurance. My favorite options for travel insurance are:
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!
Discover the Best Travel Tools
Be sure to visit our page on our favorite travel resources to learn how you too can visit over 10 countries in year.