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14 Best Day Trips from Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines is a beautiful and vibrant metropolitan city in Iowa. The best part is, there are a plethora of day trip options accessible from Des Moines. Check out my list of the best day trips from Des Moines to help you find the ideal option for yourself. 

If you’re an outdoor lover, recent years must’ve been a taxing year for you. With Iowa day trips you have plenty of options. Staying cooped up in the house with limited activities is the worst nightmare for someone who loves to travel and indulge in new experiences. 

The good news is outdoor enthusiasts like you can finally get some fresh air while staying safe. I know what you’re thinking. Most of us have tight budgets to work with nowadays, making foreign trips out of the question.  But, what if I told you about a destination bursting with entertainment close to home?

Here’s my list of best day trips from Des Moines, which you can plan for your next weekend’s getaway

Best Day Trips From Des Moines, Iowa

Day Trips from Des Moines

Des Moines is a vibrant city with captivating tourist attractions ranging from natural, cultural, and historical attributes. Even if you’ve already visited the city in the state of Iowa, it is interconnected with many popular tourist attractions that you can visit with friends and family. 

Whether you want to spend a romantic weekend with your loved one, an educational trip with the kids or an adventurous tour with your friends, day trips from Des Moines can facilitate everything for you. 

If that sounds exciting enough for you, let’s start with my list of the top day trips from Des Moines without further ado. 

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If you want to cleanse your soul by experiencing the breathtaking natural beauty Iowa has to offer, visiting Okoboji is one of the best day trips from Des Moines.

Although it will take you three hours to reach your destination by car from the capital city, which can be quite long with kids, the fun activities and scenic beauty are worth it. 

Okoboji has one of the deepest lakes near Des Moines Iowa, where you can take up exciting water activities with the kids. If you’re traveling as a couple, you can go on a romantic kayaking trip at dusk, or visit the numerous art theaters in town. 

Besides that, the town has a vintage amusement park called Arnold’s Park, a vibrant shopping district, and excellent restaurants and pubs with delicious food and wine.

If you have the time, you can stretch your day trip into a weekend getaway by staying in one of the lake-facing hotels or Airbnb offerings and experiencing everything the town has to offer. 

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Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies

For outdoor enthusiasts who want to go hiking near Des Moines, Amana Colonies is an ideal destination for day trips and weekend getaways. Located only 90 minutes away from the main city, it is a cluster of vintage villages created by German settlers. 

Make sure you take your hiking shoes and gear along with you to explore the Lily Lake wildlife trial in the area. You can either hike, run, or even bike along the trail according to your preference while staying safe with social distancing regulations. 

You can explore the dainty artisan shops and family-style restaurants in the colonies and experience the local cuisine at night. If the hiking trip exhausts you and your family, Amana Colonies has some of the most homely cabins near Des Moines, Iowa, where you can feel at home after a thrilling day. The Amana Colonies is one of the best things to do in all of Iowa.

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Pella, Iowa

Founded by Dutch immigrants, Pella is a cozy village located near Des Moines, ideal for a relaxing day trip. It takes around an hour to reach the destination by car, after which you can visit the picturesque local markets and Dutch bakeries. 

The highlight of Pella is a 17th-century windmill located right at its center. The windmill is surrounded by beautiful Dutch tulips, creating a breathtaking sight straight out of a Disney movie. 

Besides that, you can explore Dutch culture and try out their delicacies. Especially if you visit during spring, the harmonious festival parade will leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime. 

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Ledges State Park 

Ledges State Park

If parks and natural tourist spots are your callings, the Ledges State Park is one of the best day trips from Des Moines for you. The famous park is located only 30 minutes away from Des Moines and offers multiple activities to spend your day in.

You can explore the mesmerizing sandstone gorge while hiking across the park and witness the plentiful vegetation, diverse topography, and fantastic wildlife on the way. 

Apart from that, there are many adventurous activities for the whole family to enjoy together as well. These include boating, fishing, and kayaking. 

Most importantly, the park is a safe and secure option for those looking for campgrounds near Des Moines, Iowa. You can picnic throughout the day and set up camp for the night in its vicinity, following strict social distancing rules. Moreover, there are many small towns located near Ledges State Park where you can drop in for a bite of the local delicacies. 

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Grotto of Redemption  

Grotto of Redemption

For those looking for an educational trip with the kids, that’s fun at the same time, the Grotto of Redemption is a great choice. It is one of the largest collections of fossils and minerals globally, which is bound to have your kids awestruck. 

Interestingly, the Grotto is also a religious shrine for Christian devotees. While the artistic and informational aspects are accessible to everyone, a visit to the shrine provides spiritual relief for believers. 

Surprisingly, more than 100,000 people visit the Grotto every year, so you might need a day or two to explore the place properly if you visit during peak tourist season. In this case, you can find many small cabins and hotel options to stay for a day or two nearby and complete your visit.

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Templeton Rye Distillery 

Templeton Rye Distillery building and barrels
Management / TripAdvisor

Liquor lovers looking for wineries near Des Moines, Iowa, should visit the Templeton Rye Distillery. Abundantly known as the place where Templeton Rye Whiskey was created, the town is accessible from Des Moines and ideal for a day trip. 

At the distillery, you can taste the whiskey samples and tour the entire property to witness their production and manufacturing process first-hand. Besides that, the tourist guides provide interesting insights into the history and significance of the drink. 

In case you’re not a fan of whiskey and are looking for other breweries near Des Moines, there are plenty of options for you. Try visiting the Dale Valley Vineyard and the Summerset Winery nearby to explore the secrets of the drink you love. 

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Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

After the popular feature film starring Kevin Costner was shot in Dyversille, it has been since known by the name the movie Field of Dreams. This makes it a go-to experience for movie junkies and baseball lovers alike for trips in Iowa that cannot be missed.

Located only a three-hour drive from Des Moines, Dyversville offers multiple activities enough to keep you occupied for a weekend or even an entire week. 

You can book a guided tour across the city explaining the historical significance of the place regarding theater and baseball. What’s more, if you’re visiting during peak tourism months, you can take the guided tour for free. 

Since it is a metropolitan city in itself, you can easily find transportation if you’re looking for a day trip. Those staying longer can easily find affordable and luxurious accommodation according to preference. 

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Sac County

Courthouse building at Sac County
User:Magicpiano / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Sometimes a lighthearted escape from your day-to-day routine is all you need to beat the blues. If you’re looking for a fun day trip from Des Moines to pump you up for a busy week ahead, Sac County is the ultimate destination for you. 

From hilarious tourist attractions, including the world’s largest popcorn ball and a rustic amusement park, the town will have you spend the day with a smile on your face. 

Besides that, if you want to end your day with a peaceful, serene experience, you can go kayaking near Wall Lake. The lake is less crowded compared to other destinations nearby, which means you and your family can follow social distancing policies and enjoy yourselves at the same time. 

What’s more, you can take up multiple educational activities with your family as well. These include visiting the birthplace of Andy Williams or touring the Rustic River Winery. 

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Story City

Story City

Story city is a picturesque vintage town located near Des Moines, ideal for a peaceful day trip. Almost an hour’s drive away from the bustling city, Story City offers many attractions for you to spend a relaxing, fun-filled day. 

Whether you go for its 19th-century antique carousel or listen to the tunes from the iconic Wurlitzer band organ, the city is bound to take you on a historical trip down memory lane. 

If you’re looking for souvenirs, you can purchase rustic hand-carved wooden animals from their local markets. Besides that, even though the town doesn’t have any significant chain restaurants, the local street food is delectable enough to entice your palette.

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The Birthplace Of John Wayne

The Birthplace Of John Wayne

Believe it or not, Iowa offers another attraction for movie junkies looking for day trips near Des Moines. The city of Winterset is well-known as the birthplace of the famous actor and is located less than an hour’s drive from the capital. 

Along with exploring Morrison’s hometown, you can visit his original residence as well. The house has been converted into an exciting museum reflecting his ceremonious life. 

You can book a guided tour across the museum and witness the exciting displays, including original movie posters, costumes, personal scripts, and letters. The museum even has one of his cars on display, so if you’re a die-hard fan, it’s going to be an immersive experience for you. 

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Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa

Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa

If you’re planning for camping near Des Moines, Iowa, for a day or two, the Maquoketa Caves State Park is an ideal choice for you. 

The park spans an enormous vicinity and only allows limited visitors per day. So if you’re concerned about social distancing during your trip, you can plan a safe trip with your family to this park. 

You can spend your days exploring the deep caves and witnessing the enthralling limestone formations. Besides that, you can hike through the park and indulge in the scenic beauty or spot unique bird species and wildlife. 

The most attractive aspect is the Dancehall cave which is around 1100 feet deep. However, the park has defined trails, and you can even get a guide to walk along with you while you explore the natural attributes. 

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Villages of Van Buren

Barn covered in snow at Villages of Van Buren County, Iowa
Villages of Van Buren County / Facebook

For those who want to spend the day shopping and indulging in delicacies, the Villages of Van Buren are great options for a rustic getaway. Located almost an hour away from Des Moines, these are a cluster of 12 historical villages dotted at the banks of the Des Moines River. 

The rugged, cobblestoned streets are bound to take you back in time. You can spend the day watching old-fashioned merchandise in the Dutchman’s store or purchase souvenirs from local markets. 

One of the best attractions in the villages is Milton’s Creamery from Cantril. It is a must-visit for cheese lovers and history enthusiasts alike. 

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Davenport, Iowa

Davenport is a fantastic getaway for those who love the fresh breeze in their hair while witnessing lush vegetation and unique wildlife. With more than 50 parks to choose from, Davenport is the ultimate destination whether you’re looking for golf courses near Des Moines, Iowa, hiking opportunities, or a charming town. 

However, the city is almost three hours away from Des Moines, so it’s a good idea to book a hotel or rent an RV in the city to stay for two days or more.

For those looking for safe RV parks in Des Moines, IA, to spend a vacation with social distancing, there are many parks in Davenport that offer these services.

The best part is, the city has mesmerizing festivals and carnivals all year long. So while you’re hiking and biking along natural trails by day, you can dance to loud music and enjoy delicious street food at night. 

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Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids is one of the largest cities in Iowa. The city is the ideal spring getaway for friends and family looking for some fun and immersive activities. 

The best practice while visiting Cedar Rapids is to check the upcoming events in the city online. That’s because it hosts multiple events and festivals throughout the year, so you can visit them and get the experience of your lifetime. 

These festivals include the Houby Days in May and the Maple Syrup Festival in March. Besides that, visiting festivals means affordable activities and food, so who wouldn’t go for that? Similarly, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, Cedar Rapids has social distancing regulations in all its parks and events. This way, you can travel while staying safe. 

Additionally, Cedar Rapids is also an attractive destination for history buffs. It has the Brucemore historical site and the Cedar Rapids Museum of arts, where you can get your history fix in. Similarly, nature lovers can visit the long trails at the Indian Springs Nature Center. Here, you can spot rare plants, birds, and insect species that’ll enthrall your mind. 

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