The Des Moines Register has gathered some of the best 2022 vacation ideas, free activities, things to see and fun things to do in Des Moines and around Iowa this summer.
There are plenty of fun things to do with the family from Adventureland to Blank Park Zoo. Or you could have some fun discovering the outdoors with beautiful parks to see, stunning gardens, bridges to see, cool caves and ways to cool off in the water. Already on a road trip? Stop by these novelty things to see on your way.
If you’re looking for something less nature-involved, there’s food and drinks to be had all around Iowa, not to mention some good shopping. There’s tons of festivals, concerts and ways to get connected with arts, culture and even history.
Along six miles of trails see the natural bridge, balanced rock and Dancehall Cave. Extend your stay by reserving a camping spot at the newly upgraded campground.
Take an underground boat tour through Spook Cave in McGregor. Your guide will teach you about the history of the limestone cave.
Cool bridges to cross
A 3,000-foot-long and 15-foot-wide bridge connects Council Bluffs to Omaha across the Missouri River. Enjoy views of the river and Omaha while walking, running or bicycling.
Enjoy the sculpture on the bridge as well as the views of the Des Moines River valley as you bike or walk the half-mile of trail that is 13 stories high. Located west of Madrid, this bridge is a beauty by day or at night, when it is lit a bright neon blue.
5. I-74 Pedestrian Path
The 1-74 Bridge spanning the Mississippi River between Bettendorf and Moline now has a pedestrian path connecting the two cities. Stop on the 10-foot oculus for a view of the mighty Mississippi or check it out at night when uplighting provides a perfect photo opp.
Consisting of 17 acres in Ames, plan enough time in your visit to explore all 26 garden areas and the butterfly wing.
Full of natural beauty, enjoy the plants both inside the conservatory and in the outdoor gardens. Grab a bite to eat at Trellis Cafe after strolling the grounds.
Discover Iowa’s great outdoors
Located outside of Prairie City, the wildlife refuge has walking and biking trails winding through the natural Iowa habitat and a driving tour where you may spot bison and elk.
9. Cumming Tap ride
The Cumming Tap is 10 miles south of Des Moines on the Great Western Bike Trail and is a popular ride for bicyclists. Follow their Facebook page to find out when they will have food available for purchase.
Go camping and explore the Upper Iowa River by canoe or kayak to experience the beauty of the bluffs, cliffs, eagles and other wildlife near Cresco.
11. Visit the highest spot in Iowa
Hawkeye Point in Osceola County is Iowa’s highest point at 1,670 feet above sea level. Take in the views from the observation deck or wander through the historical farming displays.
12. Decorah’s Trout Run Trail
Bike, walk or run along the Trout Run Trail to see the sights in Decorah. Stop by the Decorah Fish Hatchery and enjoy the art along the trail.
This recreation center south of Dubuque is on 1,437 acres of wooded and prairie land. Before heading out for a hike stop to visit the exhibits at the EB Lyons Interpretive Center.
Spend an afternoon at the Loess Hills Lavender Farm in Missouri Valley during Lavender Stock, July 16-17. There will be music, vendors and craft classes and lavender you can pick to make your own bouquet.
Collect fossils from the time when Iowa was an ocean or hike through native prairie during your visit to the Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve in Rockford.
Located in Harpers Ferry, there are more than 200 known prehistoric mounds. Take a guided tour with a park ranger to learn more about these Native American-made mounds.
See spectacular views of the Mississippi River, enjoy the butterfly garden and look for bald eagles while you enjoy one of the park’s trails in Bellevue.
Learn about wetlands, prairies, woodlands and the habitat of Iowa in the interactive exhibits. Make sure and drive by the visit the Elk and Bison Educational Plaza during your visit to Granger.
Hike or view the elk year-round at this park in Audubon County. From Memorial Day through September you can also visit the museum buildings to learn about the settlement of the area.
Bring your own water bottle and fill up from the artesian well at Spring Park in Osage. You can also explore the two-mile trail, let kids play on the playground or stay at one of the primitive camping sites.
Visit the lilac arboretum at this Des Moines park during the few weeks the flowers are in bloom (usually in early May). While there, take the kids to Ashley Okland Star Playground or play a round of disc golf.
Fun on the water
Located on Big Spirit Lake in Orleans, Ainsworth-Orleans Beach is a two-acre park with a long sand beach, boat ramp, dock and playground. While you’re there you can also visit the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery.
Go for a leisurely walk around the lake, rent a paddleboat or take a swim at the beach at this park located just south of downtown Des Moines.
Go whitewater kayaking at Riverfront Park in Charles City. The course consists of three water features and is three-quarter of a mile long.
See the only water-ski show team in Iowa that performs on the Mississippi River. Shows are free, family-friendly and are held on varying dates from June through August in Bellevue.
26. Go sailing
Rent a pontoon boat on one of Iowa’s 34 natural lakes and en
joy a day on the water. Fish, relax and take in the scenery and don’t forget your sunscreen. The state’s deepest lakes, the Iowa Great Lakes, include Big Spirit Lake, West Okoboji and East Okoboji that combine for 86 miles of shoreline.
27. Splash at a water park
Many towns in Iowa have their own outdoor aquatic parks with waterslides, lazy rivers and more. In the Des Moines area, try out the aquatic parks in Altoona, Ankeny, Clive or West Des Moines.
28. Tour the Mississippi River by boat
Take a day trip on the largest non-gaming riverboat and enjoy the Mississippi River from LeClaire to Dubuque with Celebration River Cruises.
29. Make it a weekend in Okoboji
The Iowa Great Lakes provide entertainment for everyone. Spend time on the water boating, parasailing, water skiing or fishing. If you prefer to stay on land, you can enjoy the shopping, golf and museums in the area.
Enjoy the beach, playground or go fishing off the pier at this West Des Moines park.
Enjoy the beauty of the Lake Okoboji and the thrills of the amusement park rides at Arnolds Park. Take a ride on the Legend Roller Coaster, the nation’s seventh-oldest coaster.
34. Find fun and games at Smash Park
Eat, drink and play at Smash Park in West Des Moines. Enjoy the arcade or play some pickle ball, bocce ball or shuffleboard on the patio.
See giraffes, rhinoceros, lions, tigers and more at Des Moines’ zoo. Through May 30 you can check out the Wild Lights Festival featuring 40 large illuminated lanterns that feature endangered animals and mythical creatures.
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