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If you live in the United States and hear “Iowa,” you may already envision rows and rows of corn. While the Hawkeye State is the top producer of pork, corn, and soybeans, the state has so much more to offer than only its crops. Despite what you’ve heard, there are plenty of tourist attractions and fun things to do in Des Moines, Iowa, that don’t involve insurance or corn!
Coal and diamond mining brought many settlers to Des Moines in the 1860s. The city experienced economic growth and remains the most populous city in the state today.
There are a few theories on how Des Moines got its name. The popular version is the French Colonist translation, meaning “of monks,” which referred to the Trappist monks in neighboring areas.
Some linguists think the name derives from the Native American word “moingona.” The word may have meant portage or road, referring to the rivers as a passageway for trade.
Des Moines is a hub for insurance and finance companies, and more businesses are looking to put down roots in the city. The midwestern area draws more tourism into the state as economic growth increases, with the annual Iowa State Fair bringing in almost 1 million visitors alone.
This city is still an affordable Midwestern gem, so visit Des Moines and check it off your bucket list before it gets too expensive!
The city and neighboring areas have sports, nightlife, history, and culture-packed activities. Enjoy Iowa’s natural beauty with the various river walks and hiking trails.
Buy some local goodies from the downtown farmers market, or stop and smell the flowers at the indoor botanical gardens. Let Des Moines, Iowa, show you what it offers!
Close to the airport, the Baymont by Wyndham hotel has comfortable suites with kitchenettes. Amenities include a pool, sauna, free parking, free daily breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the airport!
The Des Moines La Quinta by Wyndham is pet-friendly and comes with a fitness center, self-service laundry, a pool, free parking, and free breakfast. It’s next to Interstate 80 for easy access, and there is a Cinemark theater next door.
The Hyatt Place hotel is within walking distance of the Des Moines Civic Center, World Food Prize Hall, Science Center of Iowa, great restaurants, and more! Amenities include a pool, fitness center, free airport shuttle, and free continental breakfast. It is pet friendly, but there is an $18/day self-parking fee.
- Things to Do in Des Moines
- 1. Downtown Farmers Market
- 2. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
- 3. Living History Farms
- 4. Music and Culture Festivals
- Free Things to Do in Des Moines
- 5. World Food Prize Hall of Laureates
- 6. Des Moines Art Center
- 7. Iowa State Capitol Building
- Des Moines Attractions for a Rainy Day
- 8. Terrace Hill
- 9. Iowa State Historical Museum
- 10. Salisbury House and Gardens
- Things to Do in Des Moines with Kids
- 11. Iowa State Fair
- 12. Science Center of Iowa
- 13. Adventureland Resort
- 14. Blank Park Zoo
- Fun Things to Do in Des Moines
- 15. Wells Fargo Arena
- 16. Principal Park (formerly Sec Taylor Stadium)
- 17. Des Moines Performing Arts at Des Moines Civic Center
- Things to do at Night in Des Moines
- 18. Noce
- 19. Hello, Marjorie
- 20. Up-Down Des Moines
- Best Places to Eat in Des Moines
- 21. Hessen Haus
- 22. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab
- 23. Coffee Cats Cafe
- Outdoor Activities in Des Moines
- 24. Rent a Kayak, Paddleboard, or Raft a River
- 25. Hiking Trails
- 26. Holiday Winter Activities
- How to Get Around Des Moines
- Free Public Transportation
- Is Des Moines dog-friendly?
- How easy is it to get around Des Moines, IA?
- What sports teams are in Des Moines, IA?
- Most significant landmark – Iowa State Capitol Building
- Best park – Adventureland Resort
- Free activity – Des Moines Art Center
- Activity for kids – Science Center of Iowa
- Activity for adults – Up-Down Des Moines
- Best food – Iowa State Fair
- Best entertainment – Des Moines Performing Arts Center
- Place to stay – Des Lux
Things to Do in Des Moines
1. Downtown Farmers Market
Address: Downtown Historic Court District, Des Moines, Iowa (300 Court Ave.)
When the snow melts and crops have a chance to flourish, Iowans know the downtown farmers market is just around the corner. Farmers bring their produce from all over the state to showcase their gardening skills.
Artists and other vendors set up tents to entice customers to buy that unique painting or trinket for their homes. The downtown farmers market is popular in the city and runs from May through October.
The market has been a fun-family event since 1975 and has gained national recognition as one of the best farmer’s markets to see in America.
If you have ever been to one, you know going early is when you get all the best produce and baked goodies. Join the early birds at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. in October) for the ringing of the bell to signify the market’s official opening!
See Related: Things to Do in Iowa City, Iowa
2. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309
Visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden year-round and check out what they have in bloom each month. The gardening professionals curate a peaceful and beautiful experience for their guests.
There are several gardens to enjoy, like the Gardeners Show House, where you can admire vibrant tropical plants. Enjoy the city skyline against the lilypads floating in the Water Garden.
Members get in free, but if you are visiting, Adults are $10, children are $7 (ages 4-17), and toddlers are free (3 and under). Book a free guided tour (with the purchase of an admissions ticket), which follows the first-come-first-serve policy up to a group of 12.
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden offers events like the summer series “Music in the Garden,” where local and national music artists come to play for guests. If riding a bike to the event, you can get 10% off to attend “Music in the Garden” during their scheduled Bike Nights!
See Related: Best Wineries In Iowa For Tastings and Tours
3. Living History Farms
Address: 11121 Hickman Rd, Urbandale, IA 50322
Hate the thought of being stuck inside a museum all day, but are you still interested in Des Moines’ history? Living History Farms creates an interactive environment where visitors can learn about rural Midwest life from 1700 to 1900. Adult tickets are $17, and children’s tickets are $10.
There are three farms from each century to explore and see how life and culture changed. Afterward, return to 1876 and explore the quaint Walnut Hilltown.
The town features merchants, a church, and homesteads from that era. Your young kids will love the “Barnyard Readers” series. It includes a children’s book reading, crafts, and exploring the “1700 Ioway Indian Farm.”
Sign up for classes to learn 19th-century trades during those times, like blacksmithing. Other events include interactive period dinners and teas. Who doesn’t want to dress up, experience an authentic 19th-century farm meal, and play parlor games for fun?
If you travel with your dogs like me, you can make this one-stop together! Leashed, behaved dogs are allowed, but livestock is on the property, and dogs cannot go inside the buildings.
See Related: Things to Do in Muscatine, Iowa
4. Music and Culture Festivals
Des Moines hosts different festivals throughout the warmer months to celebrate the different cultures and art and to have an overall good time! The city has a music festival for all different styles, like 515Alive, where you can get your hip-hop, rap, and electronic dance music fix.
Camping is encouraged to get the full experience. The 80/35 festival is for the pop and alternative music crowd, including interactive art and exercise classes to entertain you for two days.
Hinterland combines country, pop, and indie rock artists, and large names like Willie Nelson and CHVRCHES have graced the stage in the past. Norwalk Music Fest will give you a free glimpse into the local music scene.
Bring the family to tour the world’s cuisine at the World Food and Music Festival. The festival is free, and blankets and chairs are encouraged to enjoy the entertainment. Try tasty treats from countries like Bosnia, Laos, and Ukraine, to name a few!
Des Moines organizes internationally inspired events to educate and celebrate different ethnicities. Learn about Bollywood dancing at the CelebrAsian festival or participate in grape stomping at the Ciao! Des Moines: Italian American Heritage Festival. The Latino Heritage Festival will have your kids making their piñatas!
Free Things to Do in Des Moines
5. World Food Prize Hall of Laureates
Address: 100 Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309
With Iowa being a top crop producer for the United States, it is only fitting they have a museum dedicated to agriculture and learning about food security. The World Food Prize Foundation was started in 1986 by Iowan Dr. Norman Baulag.
Dr. Norman Baulag dedicated his life to fighting global hunger and won a Nobel Peace Prize. Today, the foundation provides awards to nominees who have made a significant impact in addressing global food security issues.
The World Food Prize Foundation revamped the aging Des Moines Public Library and turned it into an educational museum to teach others about the dangers of world hunger and how we can help. Take a tour to explore the different historic rooms and enjoy the peacefulness of The Garden, which includes a statue of Dr. Norman Baulag.
Tours are free each Tuesday, but the museum doesn’t allow self-guided tours. Private and group tours can be reserved for Wednesdays and Thursdays.
See Related: Things to Do in Ankeny
6. Des Moines Art Center
Address: 4700 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312 (Art Center); 1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309 (Pappajohn Sculpture Park)
The Des Moines Art Center features 19th-century and contemporary art. You can see exhibits featuring works by Georgia O’Keefe, Francis Bacon, and more. The best part is admission is free!
The Art Center also offers art classes for kids and adults where you can learn how to make jewelry or practice your calligraphy skills. The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park features eclectic outdoor sculptures and is an extension of the Art Center.
Located at the Western Gateway Park, I recommend packing a picnic to admire the installations. Take a peek at the black and white snowmen or the trippy pumpkin by famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (known for the Infinity Mirror Rooms).
While the sculptures look like a fun place to climb and jump, the Art Center asks guests not to touch the artwork to preserve them for others to enjoy.
See Related: Reasons to Visit Franconia Sculpture Park
7. Iowa State Capitol Building
Address: 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319
The impressive Iowa State Capitol is the only five-domed capitol in the United States. The main dome is gilded in gold leaf with four corner domes and 19th-century architecture. It was finished being built in 1886 and took 15 years, but it was severely damaged in a 1904 fire.
The interior comprises several types of wood made in Iowa, and you can find 24 fireplaces and 109 unique rooms. The State Capitol has undergone a few restoration projects over the years and is still used today for Iowa state business.
You can explore this gorgeous building year-round with a free guided or self-tour on most days. I recommend going on a Saturday when you can see more rooms you may not see during the work week.
See Related: Historical Landmarks in Iowa You’ll Want to Know
Des Moines Attractions for a Rainy Day
8. Terrace Hill
Address: 2300 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312
A listed National Historic Landmark, the Victorian house Terrace Hill was built in 1869 as a private residence. The descendants of the grand home’s owners donated it to the state in 1971 so it could be restored to its former glory. It now serves as the Governor’s home and as a museum.
Take a guided tour from March to December (closed on Sundays and Mondays) and walk up the grand staircase as you envision Victorian life in this glorious space. Tours last about an hour, and reservations are required. Tickets are affordable at $5 for adults and only $2 for children (ages 6-17). Children under five get in for free!
The home is 18,000 square feet and sits on eight acres. While you can’t peek into the private areas of the Governor’s family, the first couple of floors are open to the public and for events.
If you are in Des Moines during the Easter holiday, then register your kids for the “Egg Hunt on the Hill!” Kids up to 10 can partake in an easter egg hunt, pictures with the Easter Bunny, and other fun activities.
See Related: Best Gifts for Tour Guides
9. Iowa State Historical Museum
Address: 600 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50319
Located in west Des Moines, the Iowa State Historical Museum educates visitors about the state’s history and culture. The museum also houses a library and archive research center open to the public.
Learn all about the American Civil War’s impact on Iowa residents or what movies feature the Hawkeye state, like the popular Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. They even have mammoth bones on display that were discovered in the Des Moines’ Raccoon River.
The museum also hosts several film festivals around the state throughout the year to get locals and visitors excited about Iowan film and media. See how creative filmmakers get when they have only 48 hours to create a movie and enter it in the “Des Moines 48 Hour Film Project” competition.
The Latino Film Festival aims to celebrate Latino creatives in film, and the event has Latino food, live music, performances, and more!
Free parking is available at the State Capitol Complex parking garage, and free admission. The Iowa State Historical Museum is only open during “banking” hours Tuesday – Friday, so 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
See Related: Best Midwest Festivals Worth Traveling To
10. Salisbury House and Gardens
Address: 4025 Tonawanda Dr, Des Moines, IA 50312
Inspired by a visit to England, the Weeks family took their fortune and modeled the Salisbury House after a centuries-old English manor and stunning outdoor gardens.
The Salisbury House has been around since the 1920s, but it includes architectural elements dating back to the 16th Century. The size of the house is impressive, featuring 42 rooms and 16 bathrooms in this 22,500-square-foot home.
Who exactly are the Weeks? Carl Weeks formed a cosmetics company with his brother and created the first foundation, which remains a key makeup product today. Carl and his family moved into the Salisbury House in 1926 until 1954. Today, you can visit the house and gardens and enjoy the fine art collections around the rooms.
You can reserve a tour with a guide or do a self-guided tour during open public hours. The house is sometimes closed for private events, so check their calendar for the latest open times.
The museum also does fun events around the holidays, like the “Ghoulish Gala” or “Tea at The Castle,” so check if there is anything extra fun on their events page!
See Related: Things to Do in Spirit Lake, Iowa
Things to Do in Des Moines with Kids
11. Iowa State Fair
Address: 3000 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50317
There are state fairs that can pull in over a million visitors each year, and the annual Iowa State Fair is one of them. It is one of the top Des Moines things to add to your list. The fair is held in August and lasts several days to allow visitors to experience the event fully.
What makes the Iowa State Fair special over New York’s or Indiana’s? Two words: Butter Cow. Starting in 1911, a butter sculptor (apparently, it’s a thing) will use Iowan butter to sculpt the 600-pound cow each year.
The sculptor also creates an accompanying sculpture, and in past years, there was a sculpture of Harry Potter, Elvis Pressley, and Snow White – all made out of butter! There have only been five sculptors for the Iowa State Fair, and Sarah Pratt holds that title today.
The Iowa State Fair is known for its “food on a stick.” Sure, you have eaten a corn dog. But have you had a Snickers bar wrapped in a waffle, fried cherry pie, or peanut butter and jelly on a stick? There are at least 60+ foods on a stick you can try here if you have the stomach for it!
While the fair does have campgrounds, some people have been on the waiting list for years due to its popularity, so I recommend booking a hotel close by or trying to get into the Sleepy Hollow campsite. Tickets are affordable at $14 for adults and $8 for children (ages 6-11), but some events are an additional cost.
See Related: What is Iowa known for?
12. Science Center of Iowa
Address: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Des Moines, IA 50309
The Science Center of Iowa is a popular spot for kids to get a hands-on learning experience in STEM. The museum tackles subjects like meteorology, zoology, geology, and astronomy.
They have a planetarium where kids can listen to stories under the stars or learn about black holes. Learn how builders do it in the real world with Lego-themed challenges.
What’s cool about the Science Center of Iowa is they will allow sensory-friendly hours on select days for children with sensory-processing challenges. They even offer specialized backpacks you can rent. The backpacks include noise-reducing headphones, sunglasses, a stuffed animal, and distraction tools.
Tickets are $11 for adults and children, but those under 2 are free. The parking garage next to the discovery center is paid to park, but you can find free lots a few blocks away, like at Court and 2nd Avenue.
See Related: Best Road Trip Games For Couples
13. Adventureland Resort
Address: 3200 Adventureland Dr, Altoona, IA 50009
Also, speaking of other fun things to do in Des Moines, a short drive outside the proper city limits, there is an amusement park with water slides, roller coasters, a water park, and more!
Let the kids spend a day splashing around and running around to all the cool attractions. They didn’t forget about the adults. You can buy alcohol in the park and listen to live music from local and national artists, like Everclear or Sean Kingston!
Each year, the park continues to expand its features, and season passes are an option if you find yourself in Iowa often. Parking is an extra cost and can range from $15-$25, depending on the size of your vehicle.
The amusement park has events throughout the year, like Oktoberfest and Phantom Fall Fest, so check out their events page for the latest fun! If you’re making a family vacation out of it, then consider booking rooms at the Adventureland Inn or their campgrounds. See the Where to Stay section for more information.
See Related: Things to Do in Clear Lake, Iowa
14. Blank Park Zoo
Address: 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315
There are many things to do with kids in Des Moines, and Blank Park Zoo is another great spot that will keep the children happy and occupied. Some animal exhibits included are the Free Range Aviary, the Meredith Alpine Exhibit, and the David Kruidenier Australia Adventure.
In the Free Range Aviary, you will find brightly colored tropical birds to admire. Located at the entrance of the Discovery Center, you can watch the cute red pandas at the Meredith Alpine Exhibit. The David Kruidenier Australia Adventure includes special animals from Australia you don’t typically see, like wallabies and kookaburras!
It’s open daily; tickets are $16 for adults and $10 for children. For an extra cost, your family can have one-on-one time with the zookeepers and certain animals, such as feeding a giraffe or learning all about the black rhino.
It is the only accredited zoo in Iowa, so they are required to adhere to a strict standard when it comes to animal care. If you want to learn more about Blank Park Zoo’s conservation efforts, tune into their podcast, “Saving Animals with Blank Park Zoo.”
Fun Things to Do in Des Moines
15. Wells Fargo Arena
Address: 233 Center St, Des Moines, IA 50309
The Wells Fargo Arena opened in 2005 and can seat up to 17,000 people. Since it can do larger events, this is where big names come to play their concerts. Country music reigns in this area, with Garth Brooks and George Strait holding the largest concerts in the arena in 2014 and 2016.
When the arena is not hosting concerts or other events, the local minor league sports teams use the space. Reserve a seat to go support the Iowa Wolves (basketball), Iowa Wild (hockey), or Iowa Barnstormers (football).
There is plenty of parking around, but parking around the arena is generally paid to park, and vehicles cannot stay overnight. Other options are paid street parking, garage parking, taking the skywalk paths, or the D-Line shuttle that runs between the downtown area and the historic East Village district.
See Related: Best Iowa Family Vacations to Take This Year
16. Principal Park (formerly Sec Taylor Stadium)
While there aren’t any national sports teams, watching the Iowa Cubs at Principal Park is one of those attractions in Des Moines, where you and your friends can enjoy a fun game with some good, midwestern people.
You can’t beat a summer ball game when the stadium is set along the Des Moines River with the city looming in the background. Grab some peanuts and cheer on the Iowa Cubs, a minor-league baseball team and an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
The stadium started as the Pioneer Memorial Stadium and opened in 1947, but by 1959, it was renamed the Sec Taylor Stadium after local sports editor Garner “Sec” Taylor. Following the fate of many aging stadiums and arenas, the Principal Financial Group purchased the building for another renovation. The field itself is still called Sec Taylor Field as a nod to its former name.
The organization will do themed games to make things more exciting. Some past events included $1 Hot Dogs and Dog Days, where you could bring your pup or let kids have a chance to run the bases after the game!
17. Des Moines Performing Arts at Des Moines Civic Center
Address: 221 Walnut St, Des Moines, IA 50309
The Des Moines Performing Arts are the epicenter of entertainment for the city. The theater company is located in the Des Moines Civic Center and next to the World Food Prize Hall, so you can hit both spots in one day!
The theater company organizes events throughout the year, from musicals to symphonies to concerts and more! Not one to be left out, the theater also brings a handful of New York Broadway shows to the Iowan stage. Ticket prices vary based on the show, so check out their website for the latest pricing and shows.
A focus on an arts education is also a key goal for the organization. They offer events like the “Applause Series,” which allows kids to experience live theater for only $1. High school students even win awards for participating in high school musicals.
See Related: Things to Do in Iowa & Places to Visit
Things to do at Night in Des Moines
Address: 1326 Walnut St #100, Des Moines, IA 50309
Get dressed and head to the Noce for some soulful live music. Described as a jazz club and cabaret, the stage welcomes local and national artists.
This one is for adults, as the shows are for 21 and up only. While cocktails are offered aplenty, the club recommends eating at one of the local restaurants before the show, as they only serve light snacks.
If you want to go all out, check out nearby restaurants like Proof or Django. The club streams the Saturday shows, so you can still listen to some great music to remember Des Moines once you have returned home!
See Related: Strange Foods in America You Should Try
19. Hello, Marjorie
Address: 717 Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309
There are some classy joints in the heart of Des Moines, and Hello, Marjorie is one of them. The themed cocktail bar is decorated with eclectic 70s vibes. Neon pink signs brighten the room, saying, “The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”
While the fun decor can provide photos worthy of Instagram, the focus is on cocktails. You can tell the owners take pride in their menu. Who wouldn’t want to sip on an Earl Grey vodka cocktail called “Daydream” while admiring the trippy paintings?
If cocktails aren’t your thing, they also have prosecco and rose on tap. That’s one reason right there for me to go. Beer, seltzer, and wine are also available if you must. The bartenders also put as much love and care into their non-alcoholic beverages. Try the April Showers or a Rosy Paloma for the perfect summer drink!
See Related: Things to Do in Ames, Iowa
20. Up-Down Des Moines
Address: 500 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309
Adult arcade bars are becoming increasingly popular in metro areas. Maybe it’s the playful nostalgia that Millenials and Gen Xers feel now that we are “adults” *shudder*. We can’t get enough of Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Dance Revolution. I am definitely guilty of having this game in the early 2000s. I was a maniac on the floor – well, pad.
So come on down and challenge your friends to a Mortal Kombat 3 battle, all while sipping a local brew! Up-Down has plenty of arcade games, pinball machines, Nintendo 64s, and life-size family games like Jenga and Skeeball.
This is the perfect place to let your inner child have some fun while still being old enough to drink! Check out their other locations if you visit Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, or Oklahoma City!
Best Places to Eat in Des Moines
21. Hessen Haus
Address: 101 SW 4th St, Des Moines, IA 50309
Order the Knock-out Currywurst Burger, a three-meat behemoth of two beef patties, bacon, and knockwurst. Of course, you can’t forget the cheese, onions, and curry sauce to go on top of it!
Hessen Haus serves over 50 German “biers” on tap and is known for its two-liter boots. Go with a group of friends and participate in Hessen Haus’ drinking tradition, the “Passing of The Boot.” A two-liter boot gets passed, and there are certain rules to follow, or you’re buying the next round!
The beer hall is the perfect place to make new friends, as everyone joins in on the polka band’s drinking song. You will feel like you’re right there in Munich during Oktoberfest!
See Related: Best German Food to Try | Traditional Types of Food
22. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab
Address: 300 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309
Order a burger and shake at this local joint while life-size zombie mannequins keep an eye on you! Zombie Burger + Drink Lab likes to have a little gory fun with its menu, and it’s a good spot downtown for a quick bite to eat and drink.
The restaurant focuses on gourmet burgers and shakes but does have salads and other menu items. Adult beverages are also available. Try combinations like the “The Walking Ched” burger and “Human Centipeach” shake – yum, yum!
See Related: Ways To Avoid the Fast Food Trap!
23. Coffee Cats Cafe
Address: 312 5th St, West Des Moines, IA 50265
From the traditional to the outright weird, there’s the perfect eatery for everyone in Des Moines, even for those obsessed with all things feline. If you’re looking for a cuddle with your coffee, head down to Valley Junction in West Des Moines and pop into Coffee Cats Cafe – the ONLY cat cafe in Iowa!
Apart from the standard coffee and tea fare you’d expect to find at any cafe, there is also a bounty of fresh, homemade cakes, cookies, pastries, and doughnuts to be enjoyed here. They also specialize in delicious Italian sodas. The food and drinks are not what this place is all about – despite how good they are.
This joint is the place to go if you are cat crazy or are interested in bringing home a new member to your family. Did I forget to mention that? Yep!
All the kitties you can meet and cuddle with at the cafe are shelter kitties looking for new homes! For Adoption info and reservations (which are necessary) check out their website.
Outdoor Activities in Des Moines
24. Rent a Kayak, Paddleboard, or Raft a River
Address: John R Grubb Ln, Des Moines, IA 50315 (Gray’s Lake Park); 2500 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50265 (Raccoon River Park)
Des Moines comes alive in summer, and there are some great outdoor activities for all ages. Rent a kayak or canoe and check out the local lakes where you can also admire the city skyline.
Once a part of the Raccoon River, Gray’s Lake Park became a recreation park for downtown Des Moines in 1970, and a million people visit it each year. Work up an appetite with kayaks or paddleboards before enjoying a picnic on the beach, where families also enjoy swimming. If you stay until after sunset, you can see the bright lights of the Kruidenier Trail that loops around the lake.
Check out the Blue Heron Lake at River Raccoon Park in West Des Moines. Many people come here to fish, bike, swim, kayak, and more. The lake is a no-wake zone, so it’s perfect for paddleboarding and kayaking.
Lower Pigeon River is known for its rafting fun, and even kids can come along because this section typically has calmer waters. If you have never done water rafting before, then this is a good spot to get your feet wet!
25. Hiking Trails
Address: 4640 NW 66th Ave, Johnston, IA 50131 (Sycamore Trail); E. University Ave./John Pat Dorrian Trail just west of E. Sixth St. (Neal Smith Trail); 7200 SE 5th St, Des Moines, IA 50315 (Fort Des Moines Park),
Isn’t Iowa too flat to have good hiking? Nonsense! While there may not be peaks like the Rocky Mountain range, the state does have rolling hills and tons of walking/hiking trails. You don’t have to travel far to feel like you stepped out of the city and immersed yourself in nature.
If you want a decent route where you can bring your dog and only take a couple of hours, then check out the Sycamore Trail (7-mile roundtrip). This one is shaded in many spots for those hot summer days.
The Neal Smith network of trails will give you views of the river, city, wildflower meadows, and forested areas. There are some hills and elevations if you are looking for something with a bit of a challenge.
Near the Blank Park Zoo, there is a park called Fort Des Moines Park, where you can explore a few short hiking trails (around 1.5 miles). There is a 14-acre pond in the middle of the park, so visitors also come to fish, kayak, and paddleboard.
See Related: Best Family Road Trips in the US
26. Holiday Winter Activities
Address: 520 Robert D. Ray Drive | Des Moines, IA 50309 (Brenton Skating Plaza)
The winter in Des Moines is cold, with December through February as the coldest months. Yet, locals don’t let the frigid temperatures stop them from having fun outside.
From November to March, lace up those ice skates and spin at the Brenton Skating Plaza along the Principal River Walk. The outdoor rink can only hold up to 220 people, so reservations are recommended!
Starting after Thanksgiving, the historic Valley Junction district in West Des Moines decorates the shops and streets with over 125,000 holiday lights. During this time, the stores will extend their hours on Thursdays to give customers more time to find that perfect gift. Shop local and buy something unique your loved one can treasure forever.
The Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines knows how to get into the holiday spirit. Their annual holiday lights competition features over 50 homes; some are interactive for extra entertainment.
Pack up the kids and enjoy how creative each home gets to win the monetary prize and neighborhood bragging rights! Other events include lighting a central Christmas Tree, a festive bike ride, and a costumed bar crawl!
The Waterbury neighborhood also hosts its lights competition, with about 120 homes participating. Check out both for an extra dose of festive fun!
See Related: Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit
How to Get Around Des Moines
Des Moines is a walkable city, so renting a car or RV would be better suited to see other areas of the state. If staying downtown, I recommend renting a bike from Des Moines BCycle to get around or taking the free public transportation!
Free Public Transportation
The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) has 150 buses to help visitors and locals get around the Greater Des Moines area. The D-Line shuttle hits all the popular Des Moines attractions on Locust Street and Grant Avenue every 15 minutes Monday – Saturday. The LINK shuttle travels mostly north to south in the downtown area and runs every 15 minutes Monday – Friday.
See Related: Best Bike-Friendly Cities in the World
Is Des Moines dog-friendly?
Yes! There are several outdoor spots where you can take your friendly furbaby, like Living History Farms, Gray’s Lake Park, and the Downtown Farmers Market, to name a few. Stay at the Surety Hotel, where they do dog happy hours when the weather is nice!
How easy is it to get around Des Moines, IA?
The downtown area is very walkable, but there are many transportation options to get around downtown Des Moines, like free shuttles, buses, and bikes.
What sports teams are in Des Moines, IA?
Des Moines is home to the minor league teams, the Iowa Wolves (basketball), Iowa Wolves (hockey), Iowa Barnstormers (football), and Iowa Cubs (baseball). Buy tickets to see them at the Wells Fargo Arena or Principal Park!
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Sheena McGuire is an experienced travel writer, narrating captivating tales from remote corners and bustling cities alike. Your passport to the world.