14 Best Day Trips from Des Moines, Iowa

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Des Moines City view

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 your ideal option. 

If you’re an outdoor lover, recent years must’ve been a taxing year. 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 next weekend’s getaway

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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Okoboji

Okoboji

If you want to cleanse your soul by experiencing the breathtaking natural beauty Iowa features, visiting Okoboji is one of the best day trips from Des Moines. Although it will take three hours to reach your destination by car from the capital city, which can be pretty lengthy 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 enjoy 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 VRBO vacation rentals, allowing you to experience everything the town offers. 

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Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies

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

Make sure you take your hiking shoes and gear 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 an exciting day. The Amana Colonies is one of the best things to do in all of Iowa.

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Pella  

Pella, Iowa

Founded by Dutch immigrants, Pella is a cozy village 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 from 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 forever. 

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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, the whole family has many adventurous activities to enjoy together. 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 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 awaken your kids. 

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. 

You can taste the whiskey samples at the distillery 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, you have plenty of options. 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 filmed in Dyversille, it has been known by the name 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 three hours from Des Moines, Dyversville offers multiple activities to keep you occupied for a weekend or even an entire week. You can book a guided tour across the city explaining the place’s historical significance regarding theater and baseball. Moreover, you can take the guided tour for free if you’re visiting during peak tourism months. 

Since it is a metropolitan city, 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 your ultimate destination. 

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 also take up multiple educational activities with your family. These include visiting the birthplace of Andy Williams or touring the Rustic River Winery. 

See Related: Things to Do in Spirit Lake, Iowa

Story City

Story City

Story City is a picturesque vintage town near Des Moines, ideal for a peaceful day trip. Almost an hour’s drive away from the bustling city, Story City offers many attractions 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 will 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 has no 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 famous actor’s birthplace and is less than an hour’s drive from the capital. 

Along with exploring Morrison’s hometown, you can also visit his original residence. 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 will be an immersive experience. 

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Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa

Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa

If you plan to camp near Des Moines for a day or two, the Maquoketa Caves State Park is an ideal choice and one of the best state parks in Iowa. 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. 

Allocate time to your days exploring the deep caves and witnessing the enthralling limestone formations. Besides that, you can hike through the park and indulge in the picturesque landscapes or spot unique bird species and wildlife. 

The most attractive aspect is the Dancehall cave which is around 1100 feet deep. Nonetheless, the park has defined trails, and you can even get a guide to walk along while exploring 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 from Des Moines, there are 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. 

See Related: Things to Do in Iowa City

Davenport

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, 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 booking a hotel or renting an RV for two days or more is a good idea. Many parks in Davenport offer these services for those looking for safe RV parks in Des Moines, to spend a vacation with social distancing.

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

See Related: Things to Do in Ankeny, Iowa

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 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 May Houby Days and the March Maple Syrup Festival. Besides, visiting festivals means affordable activities and food, so who wouldn’t go for that? Additionally, Cedar Rapids is also an attractive destination for history enthusiasts.

It has the Brucemore historical site and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Arts, where you can get your history fixed. Similarly, nature lovers can visit the long trails at the Indian Springs Nature Center. Here, you can spot rare plants, birds, and insect species enthralling your mind. 

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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