50 Things To Do in Iowa This Winter
After our first cold weekend of the season, it got me looking ahead to winter in Iowa. There is no denying that most Iowa winters are spent indoors (which is why we look so forward to springtime). Luckily, we have plenty of indoor options, as well as some fun winter activities to do outside. However, if you are anything like me, you instantly forget all of these great options as soon as someone says “what should we do?”
No worries though! I compacted some of our favorite things to do in colder weather (along with a few best places for weekend getaways and day trips all in Iowa), so there is no drawing a blank this winter. Keep this guide handy for a winter break too!
1.) Grand Harbor Resort (Dubuque, Iowa). Indoor water park ✔ Comfortable rooms ✔ A weekend full of great memories ✔ Plus, it’s located in Dubuque, where there are plenty of restaurants and fun to be had.
2.) Snowshoeing/cross-country skiing. Jester Park now how to snowshoe rentals in the winter months. If you have your own set of snowshoes or cross-country shoes, Ledges State Park (Boone, Iowa) or Pikes Peak State Park (McGregor, Iowa) offers some great trails to explore in the winter months.
3.) Honey Creek Resort (Moravia, Iowa). Rathbun Lake features plenty of outdoor winter activities or you can simply spend all of your time at the indoor water park. It’s an easy drive from Des Moines and makes a fun weekend getaway.
4.) Des Moines Children’s Museum (Valley West Mall, West Des Moines, Iowa). The Des Moines Children’s Museum offers a great space for kids to play, pretend, and imagine their way through the day with tons of interactive exhibits.
5.) Science Center of Iowa (Des Moines, Iowa). The Brick by Brick exhibit is enough to keep kids busy for hours, plus catch one of their many experiments throughout the day.
6.) State Historical Building (Des Moines, Iowa). So many great exhibits to teach kids about Iowa (and adults might learn a thing or two as well). A great time for the entire family.
7.) Iowa State Capitol Building tour (Des Moines, Iowa). You can do a guided tour or tour the capital building yourself. Either way, you will be amazed by this building. Great for kids too (although I do recommend 3+ years).
8.) Wells Fargo Museum (Des Moines, Iowa). Being able to sit in the classic red stagecoach is enough to excite everyone in the family. Plus it is free admission!
9.) Walk (or run) through the skywalks (Downtown Des Moines, Iowa). It is an indoor maze (especially if you let the kids lead the way) that helps to get rid of the pent-up energy in the middle of the snowy, cold winter. A great place to warm up if you have been outdoors exploring.
10.) Coffee Shops. The Des Moines area is filled with local, coffee shops. Grab some books, and coloring items, and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa or coffee with the family. Our family’s favorite coffee shop is Slow Down Coffee in the Highland Park area in Des Moines, Iowa.
11.) Indoor Play. Burn off some energy and enjoy one of the many places to play indoors in and around Des Moines, Iowa.
12.) Climb Iowa (Grimes, Iowa). Get ready for your summer adventure with a safe (and warm) indoor climbing experience.
13.) Check out the Bald Eagles (near Eagle Point Park in Clinton, Iowa). Each winter thousands of bald eagles flock to the northern part of Iowa near the Mississippi River. Do not miss this incredible sight!
14.) Ice skating (Des Moines, Iowa). Brenton Skating Plaza offers a great outdoor skating experience or there are several small skating rinks within Des Moines communities.
15.) Sledding. Huge hills or small hills, sledding is so much fun during the winter season. Personally, we head to the Waveland Golf course when we get a good snowfall.
16.) Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium (Dubuque, Iowa). While you are staying at Grand Habor Resort, bop next door to this awesome National Mississippi River Museum. Full of hands-on permanent exhibits and history.
17.) Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden (Des Moines, Iowa). Always a balmy atmosphere, even on a cold winter day it can feel like summer. Our favorite time to go is Sundays during the winter when there is blues music being played. Dancing, drinks, food, and flowers in perfect temperatures at the botanical gardens.
18.) A day at Merle Hay Mall (Des Moines, Iowa). Merle Hay Mall is so much more than shopping, although with a Target attached to the mall it is pretty hard not to go shopping). Spend some time hopping at Hop-A-Lot, grab lunch at the food court, which features all locally owned businesses (no chains here!), and catch a movie (and a beer) at Flix Brewhouse.
19.) Bowling. We have some great bowling alley options all around Des Moines. Pick a place, rent shoes, pick out your bowling balls, and play. It’s our go-to wintertime family activity on Sunday afternoons.
20.) Rollerskating. Take it back with wheels, disco lights, and bathroom stall doors that do not lock.
21.) Jester Park Nature Center (Granger, Iowa). This gorgeous nature center provides plenty of opportunities for learning and exploring both outdoors and indoors. Do not miss your chance to rock climb on their bouldering wall too!
22.) The Hall (Valley Junction, West Des Moines, Iowa). Go on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon/evening for several food truck options. Grab a game on your way in (or bring your own, as we have done many times) to keep the kids busy. It’s loud, with games on the screens, and fun food and drink options to keep everyone happy. Some nights they have live music too!
23.) Beaverdale Confections (Des Moines, Iowa). Of course, you will go for the chocolate, but you can also watch them make chocolate and caramel (if you go at the perfect times, they will even let you sample them). Pick up some classic candies along with your chocolatey goodies.
24.) The Highlander Hotel (Iowa City, Iowa). Just east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the Iowa City area, spend a long weekend at this fun and retro-inspired hotel which offers a huge pool!
25.) Smash Park (West Des Moines, Iowa). Great place for meeting friends (both big and small) and playing games.
26.) Family Museum (Bettendorf, Iowa). This fantastic children’s museum is an easy 2 1/2 hour drive from Des Moines and is sure to keep the kids busy for a full day of fun.
27.) Seven Oaks Recreation (Boone, Iowa). Your place for skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing this winter.
28.) Iowa Children’s Museum (Coralville, Iowa). Another children’s museum right here in Iowa will keep your kids entertained for a full day. There is plenty of variety for all ages, plus it is in the Coralville Mall, so you can enjoy lunch and shopping too.
29.) Get a cabin at Backbone State Park (Dundee, Iowa). Backbone State Park has great hiking in the warmer seasons, but the parks also boast 12 heated cabins. Enjoy a winter weekend at a gorgeous state park and curl up in a cabin.
30.) Go to an Iowa Wild Game (Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa). A fun few hours of hockey, singing, and cheering. The whole family will love this one.
31.) Visit the Des Moines Art Center (Des Moines, Iowa). I was a bit panicked the first time I went here with my kids because it’s not hands-on. However, kids generally enjoy looking at the pieces (if you’re still nervous, strollers are allowed). There are also family events and classes to enjoy (sign up for classes ahead of time).
32.) Bauder’s Pharmacy (Des Moines, Iowa). Swing up a stool at this classic soda fountain shop. It might be winter, but ice cream and sodas can still be enjoyed.
33.) Union Pacific Railroad Museum (Council Bluffs, Iowa). This is a must if you have any train lovers in the house.
34.) Visit your local libraries. Libraries have so much to offer: fun programming, events, books, and movies to check out. Find all Des Moines Public Libraries events here. West Des Moines, Waukee, Grimes, Urbandale, Johnston, Altoona, and other surrounding communities all have great programming events for kids of all ages.
35.) Community centers. Pioneer Columbus Community Recreation Center has Imagination Playschool toys, Valley Community Center has a playground, and Grimes Community Complex has a gym, toys, climbing toys, and more.
36.) Storyhouse Bookpub (East Village, Des Moines, Iowa). This local bookstore is cute and loaded with books for all ages. Whether you are looking to purchase a book or a place to hang out and read, this is the place! They also offer storytimes and other special events.
37.) Blank Park Zoo (Des Moines, Iowa). Going to the Blank Park Zoo in the winter doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. There is now plenty of indoor features (although there is some walking outdoors required) to enjoy the animals indoors. Better yet, book a behind-the-scenes tour of the new giraffe barn for an unforgettable experience.
38.) Glazed Expressions (Clive, Iowa). Paint pottery, make a candle, or take a canvas painting class (most are for all ages).
39.) Open Gymnastics at Sapphire Gymnastics (Urbandale, Iowa or Des Moines, Iowa). Jump, tumble, and flip until you’re (or your children) are worn out.
40.) Ballroom Dancing (Des Moines Ballroom, Des Moines, Iowa). There is an open family dance night each week or you can sign up for weekly classes for all ages.
41.) Des Moines Playhouse (Des Moines, Iowa). Catch a fun show at the Des Moines Playhouse. Shows put on by actors within the Des Moines community. The best way to introduce theater to your child.
42.) Mahalo’s Coffee and Mini Donuts (West Des Moines, Iowa). This can be such a fun and bright breakfast spot for a special morning.
43.) Iowa Hall of Pride (Des Moines, Iowa). An interactive museum that gives kids and adults a chance to learn about those who have excelled in sport, on the stage, and as great ambassadors of their communities.
44.) James H. Andrew Railroad Museum (Boone, Iowa). Another great place for train fanatics!
45.) Iowa Gold Star Military Museum (Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa). Honor Iowa’s veterans with walk-through exhibits that depict Iowa’s military experiences.
46.) World Food Prize Hall of Laureates (Des Moines, Iowa). Walk through the historic building to see exhibits that showcase how agriculture has helped in the fight against world hunger. * There are some very powerful exhibits here, so be prepared to speak to your children about what they are seeing.
47.) Iowa Aviation Museum (Greenfield, Iowa). This museum honors Iowans who have contributed to the growth of aviation. Plus, what kids don’t like to look at airplanes?
48.) Surf Ballroom and Museum (Clear Lake, Iowa). Great for music lovers, where you can jump back in time by simply entering the ballroom.
49.) Old School Pinball and Arcade (Grimes, Iowa). So many classic arcade games to play! Give your kids a hands-on experience of “the good ole days of the ’80s).
50.) Jester Park Sleigh Ride (Granger, Iowa). Not just for the holiday season, but whenever there are at least 6 inches of snow on the ground. Make it a special time with blankets and hot chocolate.
About the Author
Ashlen Sheaffer is a proud Des Moines resident who was born and raised here.