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’s 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’re 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 weekend getaways and day trips all in Iowa), so there’s no drawing a blank this winter.
1.) Grand Harbor Resort (Dubuque, IA). Indoor water park ✔ Comfortable rooms ✔ A weekend full of great memories ✔ Plus, it’s located in Dubuque, where there’s plenty of restaurants and fun to be had.
2.) Snowshoeing/cross country skiing. Jester Park now how snowshoe rentals in the winter months. If you’ve got your own set of snowshoes or cross-country shoes, Ledges State Park (Boone, Ia) or Pikes Peak State Park (McGregor, Ia) offers some great trails to explore in the winter months.
3.) Honey Creek Resort (Moravia, Ia). 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 (Upper level in Valley West Mall, West Des Moines, Ia). While it’s only a temporary location, the DSM Children’s Museum offers a great space for kids to play, pretend, and imagine their way through the day.
5.) Science Center of Iowa (Des Moines, Ia). 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, Ia). So many great exhibits to teach kids about Iowa (and adults might learn a thing or two as well).
7.) Iowa State Capitol Building tour (Des Moines, Ia). You can do a guided tour or tour the capitol building yourself. Either way, you’ll be amazed by this building. Great for kids too (although I do recommend 3+ years). [read about our visit here]
8.) Wells Fargo Museum (Des Moines, Ia). Being able to sit in the classic red stagecoach is enough to excite everyone in the family.
9.) Walk (or run) through the skywalks (downtown Des Moines, Ia). It’s 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.
10.) Urbandale indoor swimming pool (Urbandale, Ia). Kids will be thrilled to go swimming in the middle of winter.
11.) GlowGolf (Jordan Creek Town Center, West Des Moines, Ia). 18 holes and/or a laser maze. There’s plenty to keep everyone busy for quite a while.
12.) Climb Iowa (Grimes, Ia). Get ready for your summer adventure with a safe (and warm) indoor climbing experience.
14.) Ice skating (Des Moines, Ia). Brenton Skating Plaza offers a great outdoor skating experience or Metro Ice Sports Facility (Urbandale, Ia) offers a great indoor option (limited open skate hours).
15.) Sledding. Huge hills or small hills, sledding is so much fun. Personally, we head to Waveland Golf course when we get a good snowfall.
16.) Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium (Dubuque, Ia). While you’re staying at Grand Habor Resort, bop on next door to this awesome Museum. Full of hands-on exhibits and history.
17.) Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden (Des Moines, Ia). Always a balmy atmosphere, even on a cold winter day it can feel like summer. Our favorite time to go is Sunday’s during the winter, where there’s blues music being played. Dancing, drinks, food, and flowers in perfect temperatures.
18.) A day at Merle Hay Mall (Des Moines, Ia). MHM is so much more than shopping, although with a Target attached to the mall it’s 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 catches a movie (and a beer) at Flix Brewhouse.
19.) Bowling. We’ve got 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 don’t lock.
21.) Jester Park Nature Center (Granger, Ia). This newly opened nature center provides plenty of opportunities for learning and exploring both outdoors and indoors.
22.) The Hall (Valley Junction, West Des Moines, Ia). 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’ve done many times) to keep the kids busy. It’s loud, games on the screens, and fun food and drink options to keep everyone happy.
23.) Beaverdale Confections (Des Moines, Ia). Of course, you’ll go for the chocolate, but you can also watch them make chocolate and caramels (if you go at the perfect times, they’ll even let you sample them). Pick up some classic candies along with your chocolatey goodies.
24.) Hot chocolate at Freedom Blend Coffee (Des Moines, Ia). The concept behind Freedom Blend is fantastic, but the coffee and hot chocolate are really good in a cozy atmosphere.
25.) Smash Park (West Des Moines, Ia). Great place for meeting friends (both big and small) and playing games.
26.) Family Museum (Bettendorf, Ia). 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, Ia). Your place for skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing this winter.
28.) Iowa Children’s Museum (Coralville, Ia). Another children’s museum right here in Iowa that will keep your kids entertained for a full day. There’s plenty of variety of all ages, plus it’s in the Coralville Mall, so you can enjoy lunch and shopping too.
29.) Get a cabin at Backbone State Park (Dundee, Ia). 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 curling up in a cabin.
30.) Go to an Iowa Wild Game (Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Ia). 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, Ia). 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’s also family events and classes to enjoy (sign up for classes ahead of time).
32.) Bauder’s Pharmacy (Des Moines, Ia). 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, Ia). 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.) Backyard Adventures (Urbandale, Ia) and Rainbow of Iowa (Grimes, Ia). Both feature open-play times during the weekdays (and open for birthday parties on the weekends). Great places for kids to practice their gross motor skills during the winter months.
37.) Blank Park Zoo (Des Moines, Ia). Going to the BPZ in the winter doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. There’s 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, Ia). Paint pottery, make a candle or take a canvas painting class (most are for all ages).
39.) Open Gymnastics at Sapphire Gymnastics (Urbandale, Ia or Des Moines, Ia). Jump, tumble, and flip until you’re (or your children) are worn out.
40.) Ballroom Dancing (Des Moines Ballroom, Des Moines, Ia). There’s an open family dance night each week or you can sign up for weekly classes for all ages.
41.) Barnes and Noble (West Des Moines, Ia). Pick out new books, look at books, or participate in one of their numerous events. Be sure to check out their events section to get the full calendar.
42.) Mahalo’s Coffee and Mini Donuts (West Des Moines, Ia). This can be such a fun and bright breakfast spot for a special morning.
43.) Iowa Hall of Pride (Des Moines, Ia). 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, Ia). Another great place for train fanatics!
45.) Iowa Gold Star Military Museum (Camp Dodge, Johnston, Ia). Honor Iowa’s veterans with a walk through exhibits that depict Iowa’s military experiences.
46.) World Food Prize Hall of Laureates (Des Moines, Ia). 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, Ia). 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, Ia). Great for music lovers, where you can jump back in time by simply entering the ballroom.
49.) Old School Pinball and Arcade (Grimes, Ia). So many classic arcade games to play! Give your kids a hands-on experience of “the good ole’ days of the 80’s).
50.) Jester Park Sleigh Ride (Granger, Ia). 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.