Iowa State Fair: For the Kids

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Iowa State Fair 2023: For the Kids

We are just weeks away from the Iowa State Fair! Before we know it the “Nothing Compares” Iowa State Fair will be in full swing. Families plan their vacations, jobs, and lives around this 11-day event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. From August 10 through August 20, children and families will be taking the day to explore the Iowa State Fair, not once, but several times. Whether it is your first time visiting or the hundredth, it can become overwhelming and expensive, but don’t worry! I am here to help guide you through all the family-friendly fun and what you should think about before attending the fair. 

Take a look at this guide to the Iowa State Fair for families and kids. 


There are a lot of things to do but here is a list of specific activities you may want to check out with the kids. 

Butter Cow

You cannot make a visit to the Iowa State Fair without seeing the Butter Cow! The tradition goes back to 1911 when J.K. Daniels sculpted the Fair’s first butter cow and was succeeded by J.E. Wallace of Florida. Make sure you visit this year’s cow and companion sculptures. 

Elwell Family Park

Elwell Family Park will host the Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulls, Monster Truck Thunder, and Domination Motorsports Demolition Derby. New this year you will find short courses on UTV and ATV racing. These shows require tickets. Take a look at all the options.


The whole reason to attend the Iowa State Fair, right?! Check out the list of new foods this year. Whether you like cotton candy, fried Oreos, craft beer, or funnel cake, fair food is definitely everyone’s favorite!

Giant Slide

The Giant Slide is a fan favorite for all ages. You can not leave without one ride down the big, yellow slide.

Iowa State Fair Parade

The Wednesday evening before the gates open for the fair is the Iowa State Parade. This year it is Wednesday, August 9, and will begin at 6:15 p.m. in downtown Des Moines. You can see 200 floats, animals, vehicles, and more. Parade entrants will then travel west on Grand Avenue to 13th Street.

Kids Zone

The perfect place for the young fairgoers to learn and play! There are tons of opportunities for hands-on fair experience in an interactive way. 

  • Little Hands on the Farm: Hands-on exhibit located in the Kids Zone offers a chicken coop, cattle barn, baby animals, and more.
  • Blue Ribbon Kids Club Tent: For children ages 10 and under. You must register. Take a look at the list of scheduled events during the fair for Blue Ribbon Kids’ Members. These special kids’ club activities are tons of fun!
    • Thursday, August 10 – Make and Take T-Shirt Day at Kids’ Club
    • Friday, August 11 – Iowa Agriculture Literacy Day at Kids’ Club
    • Saturday, August 12 – Meet and Greet with Nash Roe
    • Monday, August 14 – The Food Story: Midwest Dairy Ambassadors
    • Tuesday, August 15 – Craft Day Upcycling at Kids’ Club
    • Wednesday, August 16 – Kids’ Club Gives Back – Sensory Morning
    • Thursday, August 17 – Fruit and Veggie ID Day at Kids’ Club
    • Friday, August 18 – Vet Camp Kids’ Club Style
    • Saturday, August 19 – Meet and Greet with the Iowa State Fair Police


One of my favorite things to see at the fair is the farm animals. With all the kids touching the livestock. Do not miss snuggling a baby animal! Please, make sure they wash their hands.

  • Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center
  • Milking Parlor/Milking Experience
  • Boulevard of Dairy Breeds
  • I Milked a Cow
  • Cattle Corner and view all the Dairy Cattle
  • Avenue of Breeds
  • Pig Place
  • Horse Haven
  • Sheep Stop

Sensory Friendly Morning

The Sensory-Friendly Morning at the Iowa State Fair will be held Wednesday, August 16, 2023, from 8 a.m. to noon. The morning provides an environment designed for children and adults with autism or sensory processing disorders in mind. Special programming is planned with modifications, including the mitigation of sounds and motions as much as possible, designated educational areas, directional signage, and trained volunteers throughout the Fairgrounds. Take a look at more tips for a sensory-friendly day at the Iowa State Fair. 

Sky Glider

Enjoy fun views of attractions and the people from above! A fun way to get off your feet after walking around all day.

Spray Pad

Perfect place for the kids to run and cool off on a super hot day. Bring extra clothes and a towel.


Enjoy STEM Day at the fair on Sunday, August 20 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is a fun and interactive day and is held on Extreme Sunday which is the lowest-priced day of the Iowa State Fair. The day is filled with hands-on activities centered around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Iowa STEM booth on the East end of the STEM exhibits will hand out FREE drawstring backpacks and take-home STEM activities. Once you’ve got hands-on with STEM, take a seat and enjoy a STEM stage performance. 

Thrill Parks

The Iowa State Fair offers Thrill Parks. Thrill Parks consist of Thrill Ville, Thrill Town, and Thrill Zone. If you think you will be riding a lot of rides, then purchasing a wristband is going to be the best for your wallet. Take a look at all the options. You can purchase discounted wristbands advanced online. These wristbands are good for 1-day of unlimited rides Monday through Thursday until 10 p.m. 

  • Thrill Ville: This includes the newest, fastest, and most thrilling rides. This will be located between the Grandstand and Ye Old Mill.
  • Thrill Town: These rides are perfect for little fairgoers and their families. There will even be stroller parking available. The rides are kid-friendly, fun, and clean. It will be located east of Gate 10 and directly north of the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center Lawn. This is perfect so you do not have to navigate through the larger Thrill Park areas.
  • Thrill Zone: These rides are for those seeking breathtaking and heart-stopping rides. This is located on the southwest corner of the Fairgrounds.

Ye Old Mill

Ye Old Mill is the oldest and favorite ride for many families and couples. It is located next to the Midway on Grand Avenue. It offers riders the chance to relax on a smooth boat ride after a long day at the Fair.



8 a.m. to Midnight.; no entry or re-entry after 9 p.m. on Extreme Sunday, August 20


9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Thrill Parks

  • Thrill Ville: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday) (Open until Midnight on Friday and Saturday nights)
  • Thrill Town: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Thrill Zone: 10 a.m. to Midnight

Regular Gate Admission

Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are accepted at the gate.

  • Adults (Ages 12+): $16
  • Children (Ages 6-11): $10
  • Children (Ages 5 & Under): Free

Check out all the discounted admission tickets opportunities. There is still time to purchase punch cards, mega passes, etc. I highly recommend taking advantage of these. It will save you a lot. Check out all the details and don’t delay purchasing. 


There are several places to park and it depends on where you are coming from, how long you will be at the fair, etc.

  • Park on the fairgrounds for $10 per vehicle. 
  • DART Park & Ride: Starts at 8:30 a.m. to midnight every day. $2 for adults, $1 for seniors, disabled & children (6-10 years). Show your advanced Fair admission and get half off. Center
    • Southeast Polk High School
    • Iowa State Capitol
    • Center Street Park 7 Ride
  • Park at someone’s house and/or yard surrounding the fairground. Prices vary. 



Most places do take debit/credit cards, but it is always a bit easier and quicker when you have cash on hand. There will be about 30 ATMs available and scattered throughout the fairgrounds.

Hand sanitizer

There are lots of animals to touch and play with, make sure you have something to clean your hands afterward.

Extra clothes

There is a fun splash/fountain area for the kids to run and cool off in. Make sure you have some dry clothes to change them in afterward.

Food & Water

On the site, it states you cannot bring in outside food & drink. In my past experience, if you have small children, packing water bottles, sippy cups, and small snacks will be fine. I highly recommend doing otherwise water and food will add up quickly. 

An itinerary

Some like to stroll and take in the fair in their own time. If you are wanting to see specific attractions and shows, I would highly recommend creating an outline before going. This way you can see and do as much as you can in one day. There is an awesome resource on the fair’s website. You can check out the complete schedule of events on the Iowa State Fair website and create your itinerary

Iowa State Fair, Iowa State Fairgrounds, Nothing Compares, Des Moines, Iowa, Summer

Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

4 thoughts on “Iowa State Fair: For the Kids

  1. Avatar Diane Stadtlander says:

    You forgot children’s hill!! Shows and activities and playground with the train and regular playground. Art attack in the Cultural building with pottery, beads, painting and much more.

  2. oh yes!! I did forget. I will add that now. Thank you!

  3. Avatar Jennifer Doyle says:

    We are coming from California to visit my inlaws and they are taking us to the fair. I have a 7 month old and 3 1/2 year old. Should I bring my double stroller? Seems like a lot of walking for a toddler…also, what is parking like? Is it far to walk? Thanks!

  4. Yes bring a double stroller it’s a lot of walking. A lot of homes close to the fair offer parking on their lawn, get there early they fill up fast. I’d also bring extra clothing for the kids they usually have a water area for kids to play at. Hope this helps.

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