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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.
We didn’t forget about our sports fanatics, either, with the Field of Dreams baseball game taking the spotlight along with more sporting events.
Take a look:
Caves to explore
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 enjoy 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
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.
30. Float down the Iowa River
Go tubing down the Iowa River (most floats last three to five hours) at Iowa Rock-n-Row Adventures, then relax at the campsite for the night in Eldora.
31. Go fishing
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.
36. See Iowa by train
Choose from a variety of tours in Boone via Scenic Valley Railroad including a basic excursion, dinner, lunch or picnic train and enjoy the scenery while you take a ride on the rails. The 2022 season starts Memorial Day weekend.
37. Go virtual
When it’s too hot to be outside, cool off with bowling, laser tag, virtual reality experiences and video games at Great Escape in Pleasant Hill. Grab a bite to eat and a craft beer while you’re there at Social-Eats & Crafts.
38. See movies outdoors
Featuring two screens, take your pick of double features at this Superior 71 Drive-In Theater, the drive-in movie theater in Spirit Lake.
Ride the roller coasters at Adventureland (or the teacups if that’s more your style) then head to Adventure Bay Water Park (included with regular admission) and cool off in the wave pool or take a few trips down the waterslides. This season features nine new rides.
40. Find enchantment in the Amana Colonies
Learn about the history of the seven villages that make up the Amana Colonies at the Amana Heritage Society to find out more about the area originally settled by German immigrants in 1855, and visit the Amana Woolen Mill, Millstream Brewing Co., multiple wineries or the Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse.
41. Feel the need for speed at the Marshalltown Speedway
Spend a Friday night enjoying dirt track racing in Marshalltown. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and races start at 7:30 p.m.
Part of the Grout Museum District in Waterloo, the Imaginarium is an interactive science center with three floors of exhibits.
43. Take a ride on the Heritage Carousel of Des Moines
Opening on May 28 for the 2022 season, take a ride on the Heritage Carousel of Des Moines. After your ride, visit the Union Park playground.
44. Buddy Holly crash site and Surf Ballroom and Museum
Get a music history lesson at the Surf Ballroom and Museum in Clear Lake, then make the short drive north of town to the farm field where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson were killed in a plane crash in 1959.
45. Danish villages of Elk Horn and Kimballton
Visit the two largest Danish settlements in the United States. See a sculpture of the “Little Mermaid,” an authentic windmill from Norre Snede, Denmark, and learn about the culture at the Museum of Danish America.
Learn what life was like on a 1700 Ioway American Indian farm, 1850 pioneer farm and 1900 horse-powered farm. Walk through the town of Walnut Hill (set in 1876) and visit the general store, blacksmith and the milliner. Find it in Urbandale.
Located in Greenfield, the museum showcases the history of flight in Iowa and visitors can enjoy looking at the vintage aircraft on display.
See how farming has changed through the years and learn about the history of tractors. The museum features thousands of toys, exhibits and displays and is located in Dyersville.
Drive just west of Adair and take your picture in front of a locomotive wheel that marks the site where Jesse James staged his first robbery of a moving train in 1873.
Learn about the life and legacy of the only president from Iowa while you tour the museum. Hoover’s birthplace cottage and grave are also located on the grounds in West Branch.
Located in West Bend, nine separate grottos each depict a scene from the life of Christ. The grotto contains a collection of precious gems and gemstones found anywhere in one location.
Time stopped at the 12 villages that make up the Villages of Van Buren. Visitors can find two National Historic Districts and shopping along with a dose of southern Iowa hospitality. The site includes the Bentonsport Historic Bridge, Douds Depot in Douds, antique and specialty shops.
Cool off from the summer heat with a visit to the Ice House Museum in Cedar Falls. The museum shares the story of ice harvesting and is located in an original ice house.
This free museum is in Council Bluffs and is full of interactive exhibits for all ages. Learn how the transcontinental railroad was built and all about rail travel in the United States.
Take a tour of this National Historic Landmark outside of Lewis in Cass County. The house was built in 1856 by Rev. George Hitchcock and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Hitchcock House is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sundays.
Head to Spillville to admire the hand-carved clocks made by the Bily brothers. Visit the Antonin Dvorak exhibit on the second floor of the building where the Czech composer spent the summer of 1893 with his family.
57. Pioneer Heritage Museum
This museum located in Marengo is a half-block of structures including an 1860’s log cabin, a 1938 Marengo fire truck and a heritage barn.
This educational and historical event runs Sept. 1-5 in Mount Pleasant. You can drive a tractor (or just look at the more than 1,000 tractors on display), visit the museums or take a train ride through the grounds.
59. Stockman House
Fans of architect Frank Lloyd Wright can admire his work by visiting the Stockman House in Mason City. Tours include the exterior and interior of the house. Admission is $10.
When Laura Ingalls was nine years old, her family moved to Burr Oak to manage the Masters Hotel. Take a guided tour of the hotel to learn about Wilder’s life there and then wander along the banks of the Silver Creek.
Arts and culture opportunities
61. Shakespeare on the Lawn
Take your picture in front of the house that inspired Grant Wood’s iconic painting. While there, stop at the visitor center to learn more about the artist in Eldon.
Open year-round in Winterset, the Iowa Quilt Museum has two exhibits this summer. Until June 26 check out “Midwest Modern,” which features modern quilts from the last decade. The exhibit “Marti Michell, Yours Truly” will open June 28 and honors Iowan Marti Michell’s contributions to quilting.
On May 27 and 28 experience more than a dozen Asian villages featuring food, entertainment and educational activities without leaving Iowa. The festival is held Western Gateway Park in Des Moines.
From June 24-26 in Western Gateway Park in Des Moines, find the next piece of art for your home. Spend time enjoying the performance art, interactive art, music, food and other activities the festival has to offer.
Learn about America’s waterways in this museum located on Dubuque’s Riverwalk. See what kind of animals live in the Mississippi River and take part in the interactive exhibits. The exhibit River of Innovation features a 19th-century belt-driven machine shop.
Listen as Iowans tell true, first-person stories centered around a common theme. June 14 at Hoyt Sherman Place the theme is “Voyages: Life-changing experiences through travel.”
Bring a picnic and enjoy the art spread across 4.4 acres in downtown Des Moines. If you want to learn more about the art, guided tours are available by request online.
The Czech Innovation Expo will be on display until June 26 at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. It is an interactive exhibit using an app on smart devices that focuses on inventions and scientific discoveries of Czechs.
Located in downtown Iowa City, the Iowa Arts Festival features more than 110 local and national artists, food vendors and activities for kids. It will be held June 3-5.
The wild world of sports
71. Take in a baseball game
Enjoy a day (or night) at the ballpark at any one of Iowa’s professional baseball teams. Watch the Clinton LumberKings, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Burlington Bees, the Sioux City Explorers, the Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport or the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines.
72. Go ziplining
Enjoy 462 miles of biking through central Iowa during RAGBRAI. From July 23-30, bicyclists will ride from Sergeant Bluff to Lansing during the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.
74. ‘Field of Dreams’ in Dyersville
Open year-round, the “Field of Dreams” movie site gives fans a chance to walk around the field or get tickets for a tour of the house. On Aug. 11 Major League Baseball will be back at the field when the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds play.
75. Take a swing
Break out your golf clubs and take a swing at one of Iowa’s more than 440 public golf courses. Some of the state’s best include Spirit Hollow in Burlington, which was built on a 400-acre cattle ranch; The Harvester Golf Club in Rhodes, ranked as high at 40th nationwide; Blue Top Ridge designed by famed architect Rees Jones in Riverside at the Riverside Resort & Casino; The Preserve on Rathbun Lake in Moravia, which even has a resort with activities around Rathbun Lake and an indoor water park; or The Falls Golf Course in Larchwood, also designed by Jones with a 30-foot waterfall that feeds into a lake.
Located in Grimes and the East Village in Des Moines, Climb Iowa offers indoor climbing experiences for everyone. It’s the perfect activity for a rainy summer day in Iowa.
Play tennis on a lawn tennis court that was built on a family farm outside Charles City in 2003. Reservations are required.
78. Join a team
Check with your city’s parks and recreation department to see what sports are offered. Many cities offer slow-pitch softball, sand volleyball and kickball leagues.
Festivals for everyone
From July 29 to Aug. 6, the sky will be filled with balloons in Indianola. Enjoy morning and evening flights, the Nite Glow Extravaganza, fireworks and more.
The 43rd annual Sweet Corn Festival in Adel takes place on Aug. 13. There is a 5K run, parade, vendors and free sweet corn.
81. Rhubacue on the River & 5K
On June 11, Rhubarb Fest and Riverfest in Manchester are coming together for one big event. Try some rhubarb pie or maybe a rhubarb brat. Learn about the White Water Park while watching demonstrations from the shore.
From Aug. 2-6 head to Sidney for PRCA saddlebronc riding, steer wrestling and specialty act The Cowgirl Sweethearts.
83. Classic Car Day
Check out vintage cars, enjoy music, food and activities at Kinney Pioneer Museum in Mason City on June 5. The event runs from noon to 5 p.m., and adult admission is $10, children 12 and under $5.
Head to the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Webster City May 27-28 for JunqueFest where you will find all things vintage, upcycled, metal, and repurposed. There will also be food, wine and kids’ activities.
85. Great River TugFest
Join in the fun in LeClaire at TugFest Aug. 11-13. Enjoy free admission Thursday night, fireworks on Friday and a Tug of War across the Mississippi River on Saturday.
Music at festivals
86. Entertainment at the Iowa State Fair
From August 11-21, celebrate the best Iowa has to offer at the Iowa State Fair. This year’s grandstand entertainment includes Alanis Morissette, Brooks & Dunn, Nelly and more.
On July 29 to July 31, enjoy a weekend of music in Strawberry Point. This year’s musicians include Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, The Savage Hearts and The Family Sowell.
Enjoy a day of free music July 2 in Sioux City. The 2022 lineup includes Buddy Guy, Elle King and the Avett Brothers.
This country music festival is held at the Guthrie County Fairgrounds. From July 28-30 you can see acts including Sawyer Brown, Sara Evans and Clay Walker.
Find more than just music at this two-day festival in downtown Des Moines. Buy some art, take the littles to the kids zone for free activities and enjoy the food while listening to the music on the free and paid stages. The 2022 lineup July 8-9 includes Father John Misty, Iowa’s own Maddie Poppe, and Charli XCX.
Listen to live music at the Lauridsen Amphitheater in Des Moines’ Water Works Park. Fitz and The Tantrums take the stage June 24.
Head to the Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater in St. Charles for three days of music, Aug. 4-7. The lineup includes Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Phoebe Bridgers, and Glass Animals. There are also craft vendors, art, and family activities to enjoy.
Don’t miss the world premiere of the opera “A Thousand Acres” on July 9. The opera is based on the novel by Jane Smiley and is set in Iowa.
Dubbed one of the best country music festivals in the country, this music festival brings 20,000 fans to Forest City to see Trace Adkins, Travis Tritt, Sawyer Brown and more June 10-12.
Kick off the Fourth of July with two stages with jazz musicians when they take over downtown Iowa City July 1-3.
Eat and drink your way through Iowa
96. Enjoy a craft beer
97. Satisfy your sweet tooth
Snookies Malt Shop is a favorite summertime stop for people in the Beaverdale neighborhood in Des Moines. Get a cone, float, or shake and treat your furry friend to a puppy cone while you’re there.
Head to the Western Gateway Park in Des Moines Sept. 17-19 to try food from around the world, wine and craft beers. Stay for the cooking demonstrations and live music.
Located in Le Mars, the Wells Visitor Center gives fans of ice cream a chance to watch a movie about the history of Wells. After that, make sure to grab a sweet snack at the Ice Cream Parlor.
100. Pick your own berries
Spend a morning or afternoon picking strawberries, raspberries or blackberries. Days and times vary depending on the weather each year, and it’s best to call ahead. A list of U-Pick farms in Iowa is online at visitiowafarms.org.
101. Farmers markets
Support local farmers, producers and artists at your local farmers’ market. In central Iowa visit Valley Junction Famers’ Market on Thursday evenings or the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.
102. Shop ’til you drop
Spend a day at the Outlets of Des Moines in Altoona and shop at some of your favorite brand name stores such as the Coach Outlet, Express Factory, Lane Bryant, Nike Factory Store and J Crew Factory.
103. Iowa’s Antique City
Head to Walnut for some shopping at antique stores and specialty shops. The Barn Mall, constructed in 1894, features more than 30 antique vendors with an entire floor filled with vintage chairs. The Granary Antique Mall, the area’s largest antique shop, has two levels of treasures from furniture to pottery.
104. Story City shop-a-thon
Story City has several boutique shops, an antique mall and a restored 1913 Herschell-Spillman antique carousel featuring hand-carved wooden animals that dance to music from a 1936 band organ.
105. Do some picking in LeClaire
Antique Archeology, the shop made famous on “American Pickers,” gives fans a look at some of the treasure Mike Wolfe picked across America.
Find more than 140 specialty shops, boutiques, art galleries and antique shops in this West Des Moines shopping area centered on an historic railroad district originally founded in the 1890s.
This historic Mississippi River neighborhood is brimming with shopping, art and cafés, such as Lagomarcino’s, a chocolate shop that features an 1880s walnut back bar from the Snow White pharmacy in Maquoketa, Iowa,
Novelty, the largest and shortest things
When you’re traveling along Interstate 80 in Eastern Iowa, stop for gas at the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Walcott. Shop, eat and stretch your legs before you hop back in the car.
Find out what a 9,300-pound popcorn ball looks like in Sac City. While you’re there, visit the Sac County Freedom Rock on East Main Street.
Ride what is described as the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. It takes visitors from Fourth Street in Dubuque up 189 feet to Fenelon Place and affords views of three states and the Mississippi River.
See models made of thousands of matchsticks including the Mars 2020 Rover Perseverance, Notre Dame Cathedral and the U.S. Capitol. The museum is located in Gladbrook.
Take a 26-mile drive between Adair and Dexter along White Pole Road. There are more than 500 painted white poles along the route that was once known as the Great White Way.
Located in Burlington, Snake Alley has been designated “Unbelievably Crooked” by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Visit on Father’s Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and enjoy art, music and food during the Snake Alley Art Fair.
114. The Full Grassley
It might not be able to be done in one summer, but make an effort to visit all 99 counties, just like U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and other Iowa politicians to every year.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Things to do in Iowa during summer: Places to visit, activities, more