102 Outdoor Activities To Do in Central Iowa This Summer

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Outdoor Activities To Do in Central Iowa

Iowa comes alive during the summer months. County fairs, outdoor concerts, hiking, water activities, festivals, local culture, fun patios, yearly events, and so, so much more! Most of our favorite outdoor adventures to do in Iowa are right here in Central Iowa, however, it’s pretty easy to get around and there are a lot of popular attractions within a two-hour driving distance from Des Moines. Check out this giant list of outdoor activities to do in central Iowa for the whole family. Can you cross them all off? Here are 102 outdoor activities to do in, near, and around Central Iowa this summer:

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1.) Jasper Winery Summer Concert Series 

It’s family-friendly with fun music every Thursday throughout the summer. The perfect way to close out a summer night.

2.) Valle Drive-In 

(4074 Hwy F48, Newton)

Go the old-fashioned route to see a movie outdoors. Grab blankets (and bug spray!), snacks, and your car to watch a movie this summer.

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3.) Snookies Malt Shop 

(1810 Beaver Ave, Des Moines)

Don’t miss this Beaverdale classic! Our personal favorite is to go after an afternoon at Ashworth Swimming Pool. We love ice cream during the Summer!

4.) Adventureland 

(3200 Adventureland Dr, Altoona)

This amusement park can provide a weekend of sure-to-be wonderful memories for all ages. Enjoy the great outdoors and roller coasters all at the same time.

5.) Adventure Bay 

(inside Adventureland)

We love this water park! There’s so much to do that we often spend full days in the water and enjoying Dole Pineapple Whip. If you don’t purchase season passes, go for a two-day pass to the parks so you can spend one day on the rides and another riding the waves in the wave pool. Adventureland Inn has great rooms and a trolley to take you to and from the park.

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6.) Take a hike at Brown’s Woods 

(260 Brown’s Woods Dr, West Des Moines)

Great trails that are never crowded make for great exploring! Enjoy some exploring and fresh air.

7.) Lake Ahquabi State Park 

(16510 118th Ave, Indianola)

There’s so much to do in this park! Camping, great hiking trails, a beach with boat rentals of all kinds, and fishing. We’ve spent full days hiking different trails followed by a cool-off at the beach.

8.) Pella Square 

(720 Franklin St, Pella)

It never fails that our May’s are so busy that we never make it to Tulip Time Festival. We’ve opted to go a few weeks later each year, so we can still take in the beauty of the tulips, grab delicious Dutch letters and raspberry bread from our favorite bakery, and walk around the little shops.

9.) Valley View Aquatics Sunday night swim 

(255 S 81st St, West Des Moines)

What better way to end your weekend than at a pool that has a few water slides?? It’s busy, but never overly crowded. Check out many other places to swim in the Des Moines metro area.

10.) Downtown Farmers’ Market 

(Historic Court District, Des Moines)

Des Moines has one of the top farmers’ markets in the country and has so much to offer. In addition to your fresh fruits, veggies, and meats, find food vendors (the pupusas are my ultimate), locally made clothing, soaps and scrubs, home goods, and flowers. Shop while you listen to a variety of music on every street corner. Make a visit to another farmers market in the Des Moines metro area.

11.) Valley Junction Farmers’ Market and Music In The Junction 

(Historic Valley Junction 5th Street, West Des Moines)

With smaller crowds than the Downtown Farmers’ Market, but bringing just as much fun is the Thursday evening farmers market on 5th Street. There are not as many vendors as downtown, but still a great variety, plus there are bands that play in the evening.

12.) Archery Field & Sports 

(3726 E 56th St, Altoona)

Featuring an indoor and outdoor range, along with accommodations for all ability levels, our kids have a blast here. We even purchased beginner bows and arrows (and a target bag) from them the first time we were there so the kids could practice in the backyard. While we’re not hunters at all, we all have a blast going. All of the instructors are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful with the kids. Read about our first visit here.

13.) Ashby Wading Pool 

(Ashby Park 3200 38th St, Des Moines)

This seems to be among the most popular wading pools in Des Moines. Great location, fun playground equipment, and a fun wading pool that even my ten-year-old still loves. Evenings during the week seem to be the least busy times to go.

14.) Playscape at Jester Park 

(11407 Jester Park Drive, Granger).

Fun hiking trails, campgrounds, cabins, an equestrian center, golfing, bison, and a fun playscape all within an easy drive of Des Moines. This is a great place for a day trip in nature or a weekend full of outdoor activities with the family. Fox Run and Hickory Ridge Trails are our favorites to hike in the park. When you are done make sure you visit Jester Park Nature Center which offers many interactive exhibits.

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15.) Gray’s Lake Park in the evening 

(2101 Fleur Dr, Des Moines)

There’s no doubt about it, Gray’s Lake offers great outdoor recreation activities right here in the city: swimming, playground, bike trail, boat rentals, concessions, etc. However, nothing beats walking the two-mile loop around the lake after dark when the pedestrian bridge is all lit up. We’ve ended many family fun nights and date nights walking that trail and it’s never any less cool than it was the first time we saw it. Miles of trails meet in this area and it is located at the edge of downtown Des Moines.

16.) 80/35 

(Water Works Park, Des Moines)

Last year was my first time going to this popular music festival and I was shocked to see so many kids in the crowd. The organizers do a great job of making this a family-friendly music festival, just don’t forget the noise-canceling hearing protectors (such as these).

17.) Iowa State Fair 

(Iowa State Fairgrounds E 30th St & E University Ave, Des Moines)

Find fried everything on a stick and celebrate Iowa agriculture, ride the big slide, take in a Grandstand show (or one of the many concerts on one of the many free stages), see a buttered cow, and more. Don’t miss one of the best state fairs in the country every August.

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18.) Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt 

(8700 NE 126th Ave, Maxwell)

Unlike most hiking trails in Iowa, this one involves wetlands, and prairie grass, and provides a great spot for bird watchers.

19.) Take a night hike 

(check the Iowa DNR’s site for a list of guided hikes in Central Iowa’s parks)

Unless you are familiar with trails and local wildlife, I recommend doing one of the Iowa DNR’s night hikes. Typically family-friendly hikes that look for wildlife on safe paths while you carry a flashlight. Don’t forget to wear bug spray!

20.) Tour the bridges of Madison County 

(Winterset, visit the official site here to plan your route).

We did a covered bridge tour with the kids a few years ago in one day and it remains one of our best Iowa adventures. Go on a cool breezy day, ride the open highways with the windows down, and get a feel for country living. Take a look at this fun Winterset itinerary for a day trip!

21.) Pammel State Park 

(1818 Pammel Park Rd, Winterset)

State parks always have something to offer. We fell in love with this park when our friend’s wedding was held there. Not only does it provide gorgeous scenery, but fun hiking trails as well. We included this stop on our Bridges tour, but we’ve also packed a picnic and made a day of playing at the Park. Tons of fun for people of all ages! 

22.) High Trestle Trail Bridge 

(runs across the Des Moines River Valley).

Find parking in Madrid and walk the trail for a few miles or bike. Whether you go during the day or at night when the bridge is lit, it’s impressive as one of the longest trail bridges in the world! A ton of central Iowa bike trails will lead you to this destination. 

23.) Iowa Arboretum 

(1875 Peach Ave, Madrid)

Whether you walk through the grounds and gardens or the kiddos join the Nature Explorers program, there’s a lot of fun to be had at the Iowa Arboretum including a new accessible nature playscape opening in the summer of 2024!

24.) Music In The Park  

There are many options to listen to music outdoors during the summer months. 

25.) Beaverdale Farmers Market 

(4100 Urbandale Ave, Des Moines)

This is a true community farmers market where you go to see long-time friends and neighbors. Smaller than both the Downtown and Valley Junction Farmers Market, Beaverdale Farmers Market still boasts great local vendors and fun every Tuesday during the summer.

26.) Dogpatch Urban Gardens 

(5085 Meredith Dr, Des Moines)

Visit the farmstand for locally produced and locally sourced goods. Take a look at these other local, farmstands for fresh goods!

27.) Pappajohn Sculpture Park

 (1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines)

Grab a coffee from a nearby Starbucks (downtown), play in the water runnel in Western Gateway Park, and walk around Sculpture Park. Let the kids run up and down the hill (or rolling, as mine like to do) and take in the best view of all: the Des Moines skyline.

28.) Clive Festival 

(Clive Aquatic Center)

Food, vendors, inflatables, bands, and a giant slip n’ slide have been the hits in the past.

29.) I Cubs game 

(Principal Park 1 Line Dr, Des Moines)

Take in a good old-fashioned baseball game throughout the summer. Fireworks follow the games on Friday nights.

30.) Mini Golf 

(11949 NW 118th Ave Granger, IA 50109)

One of our favorite places to golf is at Jester Park. A fun course and beautiful views! 

31.) Blank Park Zoo 

(7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines)

Of course, you’re going to go see the lions, tigers, giraffes, and rhinos, but there’s also the train ride, carousel, and a fun playground. Make a day of it and enjoy lunch at the Safari Grille or Macaw Cafe or pack your own and eat lunch in the picnic area outside the zoo while watching the Bactrian Camels.

32.) Drinks at the Republic On Grand 

(401 E Grand Ave, Des Moines)

This is a fantastic date night spot in the East Village with an open-air patio on the sixth floor of the AC Hotel and great views of the city. Wear the kids out with a day at the zoo and get a babysitter for nighttime.

33.) Free fishing weekend 

(the first weekend in June; check Iowa DNR’s website for further info)

The only weekend of the year that you can fish without a fishing license. Grab your dusty poles, and bait, and head to any pond, lake, or river in Iowa. Fishing spots fill up quickly, so go early and keep reminding your children that they’ll scare the fish away if they’re too loud (and then repeat that last one a dozen times).

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34.) National Balloon Classic 

(Balloon Field 15335 Jewel St, Indianola)

If you’ve ever looked towards the sky in Des Moines the last few days in July and the first few days in August, you’ve likely spotted a hot air balloon overhead as they have their competition flights. Go early (I mean early, before 5 a.m.) to see the balloons take off for their flight competitions and/or go for Glow Nights. Check out their site here for a schedule.

35.) Living History Farms 

(11121 Hickman Rd, Urbandale)

Go back in time and see interpreters, demonstrations, and activities of Iowa’s local history. Bring some change for General Store the lemon drops are my favorite.

(1801 Pennsylvania Ave, Des Moines)

There’s enough to do at this park you can easily spend a full day here. At only .50 cents for kids and $1 for adults, ride the Carousel numerous times, wear a swimming suit and play in the wading pool, and go down the Des Moines famous rocket slide.

37.) Field of Dreams 

(28995 Lansing Rd, Dyersville)

While not in Central Iowa, this is an easy drive from Des Moines and an iconic Iowa Road Trip Must! There are hotels or bed and breakfasts nearby the Field or make it a day trip.

38.) Honey Creek Resort 

(12633 Resort Dr, Moravia)

Also not technically in Central Iowa, the resort is an easy, short drive from Des Moines that offers plenty of outdoor summer fun! Sitting on Rathbun Lake, there’s the usual boating, fishing, jet skiing, and kayaking. There are cabins to stay in or the hotel, a restaurant on-site, hiking, DNR-hosted programs, and an indoor water park to enjoy.

39.) Berry picking 

Start checking Facebook pages and websites for updates on berry picking, as picking times can change quickly. Strawberry picking is usually best at the beginning of June, but it greatly depends on the weather we have during the spring. One of our favorite things to do every summer.

40.) Saylorville Reservoir 

(North edge of Des Moines, South part of Saylorville Lake)

Head to the spillway after heavy rainfall and watch the water crash. There’s also camping, fishing, and nearby hiking. Go after dark and look at the stars away from the city lights.

41.) McHenry Park Spraygrounds 

(1012 Oak Park Ave, Des Moines)

There are many splash pads in the Des Moines area, but this is one of my favorite spraygrounds in the city that keeps the kids busy and cool on hot summer days.

42.) Greenwood/Ashworth Park and Splashgrounds 

(4500 Grand Ave, Des Moines)

Walk around the pond, play on the equipment, and/or run around the splash grounds. A great, central spot to meet friends for a playdate during the summer. We are big fans of Greenwood/Ashworth Park!

43.) Art Center Rose Garden 

(4700 Grand Ave, Des Moines)

The Des Moines Art Center is gorgeous and amazing and perfect for a cold, chilly day. But we’re talking summer here, so instead of spending your time indoors, take a walk through the outdoor garden. See the beautiful roses and other plants and flowers and see the sculptures in the garden.

44.) Star parties 

(check the calendar to see if the meet-up is at Ewing Park or SCI)

The Science Center brings the telescope, and you bring yourself and look at the stars and planets.

45.) Have a backyard BBQ/cookout with friends 

Rent a shelter at a local park and cook out while the kids play or host friends. Play backyard games (bags are a favorite here), set up a slip-and-slide, and have a good time with friends and neighbors.

46.) Urbandale 4th of July Carnival 

(Lions Park Prairie Ave, Urbandale)

Rides, street dances, races, a parade the morning of the 4th, bands, and ending with fireworks. Very fun community event. Find parking along the side streets in the neighborhoods nearby.

47.) Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge 

(9981 Pacific St, Prairie City)

Learn about the wildlife found in Iowa, the importance of the prairie, and bison. Drive directly through the bison herd and elk enclosure (but it’s large, so a sighting can be tough). The two-mile loop trail that starts and ends at the learning center takes you right up against the bison enclosure, where we have had an up-close view of them every hike.

48.) Wooden playground at Big Creek State Park

(8550 NW 142nd Ave)

Head to the Big Creek Beach in Polk City. Not only is there swimming, but an awesome wooden playground to run around.

49.) Cascade Falls Aquatic Center 

(2350 SW Prairie Trail Pkwy, Ankeny)

This is more like a mini water park for aquatic center prices. There’s a surf machine, kiddie slides, tube slides, a lazy river, and more.

Half way there!

50.) Knoxville Raceway 

(1000 N Lincoln St, Knoxville)

Take in a sprint car race and cheer on the drivers! We once took our children to a practice night (free, beginning of every April) and our daughter developed a love for car racing. It’s a great way to spend a summer night.

51.) Ashley Okland Star Playground 

(1895 E McKinley Ave, Des Moines)

Situated within Ewing Park, it is an adaptive playground with rubber footing. There are also nature trails nearby, a soapbox derby track, and a lilac garden.

52.) Rotary Riverwalk Park 

(821 River Dr, Des Moines)

There’s not much other than swings and great views of the city at this simple park,  however, it provides easy access to walk across the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge to see the dam, stroll through the Asian Gardens, and walk along the Des Moines River on the trail.

53.) Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden 

(909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines)

This is an easy walk from the Rotary Riverwalk Park via the Riverwalk Trail. Take in the outdoor gardens and sculptures when the flowers are in bloom at the botanical gardens. Make sure you check out the new nature playscape located at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden!

54.) Des Moines Arts Festival 

(Western Gateway Park)

At the end of June every year, downtown becomes every art enthusiast’s dream. Paintings, sculptures, jewelry, food vendors, bands, and a children’s area. This annual event has become internationally known and is always at the top of our summer to-do list.

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55.) Johnston Green Days 

(Terra Park in Johnston)

Celebrate the Johnston community with an annual parade, carnival, run, games, and more.

56.) National Night Out

 (first Tuesday in August; check your local neighborhood association to see where the closest is to you)

Taking place on the first Tuesday of August every year, National Night Out promotes police and community partnerships and the importance of community for the safety of our neighborhoods. The kids (and adults too) get to climb inside police cars, aboard fire trucks, and meet their local officers.

57.) Saylorville Butterfly Garden 

(near the visitor center at 8250 Horseshoe Rd, Polk City)

Park at the visitors center and take a short walk on the bike trail. You’ll soon come to a fun butterfly garden with short trails great for exploring bugs, bees, and butterflies.

58.) Zoo Brew 

(Blank Park Zoo 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines)

Get a sitter for the kids or grab some friends and head to the BPZ for an adult-only night. Listen to a band play, enjoy beer and/or wine, and enjoy the zoo sans kids.

59.) Cowles Commons 

(221 Walnut St, Des Moines)

Once known as Nollen Plaza, the space is now used as an outdoor community event space. There’s an outdoor piano to play, and water features to run through, and is in the center of the downtown happenings. Keep your eyes open on the Des Moines Performing Arts website for free, summer programming throughout the season. 

60.) Raccoon River Park 

(2500 Grand Ave, West Des Moines)

Between the 3 miles of walking trail around the lake, playground, and beach, it’s easy to spend a full day here. There’s also a fishing dock (if you have a fishing permit, or it can be a fun place to go on the free fishing weekend) a bit further down from the beach and playground. Learn more about this fun park!

61.) Loess Hills 

(Western Iowa)

Not in Central Iowa, but an easy drive hour and a half drive along I-80. Let me explain before you make the same mistake I did, the Loess Hills run from western Missouri through Iowa. When I said I wanted to go to the Loess Hills, there’s not just one spot, it’s a land formation over a large area. A unique land formation consisting of a rare type of soil called loess (hence the name). That said, after quite a bit of exploring the area thanks to multiple day trips, our favorite areas include Loess Hills State Park, Preparation Canyon, DeSoto Wildlife Refuge, and Hitchcock Nature Center.

62.) Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo 

(3701 S 10th St, Omaha)

Again, another not in Central Iowa, but this zoo is phenomenal and such an easy drive from Des Moines (the zoo is right off of the interstate too). It’s known as one of the world’s best zoos (not kidding at all), plus if you have a Blank Park Zoo membership, you get in for a half price. I promise you it’s well worth the trip. There are plenty of fun things to see and do!

63.) The patio at Gilroy’s

(1238 8th St, West Des Moines)

Gilroy’s has my favorite patio in the Des Moines area, plus it’s made even better with amazing Moscow mules and a great menu. The patio is incredibly spacious and has small tables, large tables, and couches. We’ve met friends for dinner, brought the kids, and a few small board games for them to play, and have spent a few hours eating, drinking, and talking while the kids were more than happy.

64.) Sargent Park 

(3530 E Douglas, Des Moines)

This was Des Moines’ first natural playscape. It’s a place for kiddos to get messy and explore safely. Wear swimming suits because the fountain is sure to attract the kids, as well as digging in the sand and dirt. A bike path runs alongside the park next to Four Mile Creek.

65.) Races at Prairie Meadows

(1 Prairie Meadows Dr, Altoona)

One Sunday in July features zebra, ostrich, and camel races. It’s our favorite day to go, but it does get crowded.

66.) Picket Fence Creamery 

(14583 S Ave, Woodward)

While their country store is open daily, Sample Sunday is a great introduction to the farm and its products. Happening the first Sunday of every month, there are a few vendors, and calves to see and pet, and chat with the owners. Their ice cream is not to be missed!

67.) Iowa Farm Sanctuary 

(2485 Hwy 6 Trail, Marengo)

Visit during open barn days and see the rescued farm animals and learn about their mission.

68.) Fort Des Moines Park 

(7200 SE 5th St, Des Moines)

Portions of this park housed the Fort Des Moines Calvary Post,  then as the first Officers’ Training Camp for black cadets and the U.S. Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during WW2. There are signs throughout the park and trails explaining the history of the park. Also, because it backs into the Blank Park Zoo, it’s not out of the question to hear a lion roaring while you’re there (and that may or may not convince your children a lion is hiding in the trees).

69.) See the tanker trucks at Camp Dodge 

(NW Beaver Dr, Johnston)

Following NW Beaver Drive up towards Saylorville, you’ve probably seen the tanks sitting there (in what looks like a parking lot area). Pull in, park, and climb up on the tanks. It’s a quick simple thing that tickles kids of all ages. Nearby is the Iowa Gold Star Museum if you’re looking for something more.

70.) Feed the ducks at Resthaven Cemetery 

(801 19th St, West Des Moines)

The geese at Glendale Cemetery can be vicious, but the ducks at Resthaven are more peaceful and fun to watch.

71.) Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad 

(225 10th St, Boone)

The reason I’m putting this in the summer category is that the train cars aren’t heated or air-conditioned. You’ll want a nice, slightly breezy day for your train ride. A basic train ride is about 2 hours long and has a concession cart on the train (bring cash). Check out the newest attraction Rail Explorers!  A fun way to take in the Iowa scenery and maybe see some bald eagles. 

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72.) Sunday Tunes at Summerset Winery 

(15101 Fairfax St, Indianola)

This is a family event that also has delicious wine and beer available (for the adults). Pack your picnic and listen to the music on Sundays from 2 -5 p.m.

73.) Des Moines Menace Soccer Games 

(4440 Mills Civic Pkwy, West Des Moines)

Cheer on the Menace during their games at Valley Stadium. Find their schedule on their website.

74.) Live Music at the Cidery in Winterset 

(1638 U.S. 169, Winterset)

More of a date night or meet-up-with-friends type of place. Super fun with locally made drinks.

75.) Outdoor pianos throughout the city 

(Des Moines, Windsor Heights, Valley Junction)

Fun pianos around the city that you can play. Visit their website to get the exact locations of the pianos.

76.) Ironwood Park 

(2222 3rd Ave SW, Altoona)

It’s shaped like a pirate ship. What more can you want?

77.) McCollum Waveland Tennis Complex 

(4806 Observatory Rd, Des Moines)

You’ll need your racket and tennis balls, but these courts are well-kept and great for practicing or introducing your kids (or yourself) to the game. Also, travel a bit down the road to see the Drake Municipal Observatory. While it’s only open to the public during certain times in the fall and spring, it’s still neat to see.

78.) Take a walk on the Capitol grounds 

(1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines)

Walk around the Capitol grounds to see sculptures, statues, and the best views of downtown Des Moines looking west. When we did this, we got takeout from Zombie Burger and ate at a picnic table on the grounds.

79.) Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden 

(1716 Locust St, Des Moines)

Only open to the public from noon – 2 p.m. on Fridays, I’m told it’s not to be missed. There’s also a central garden that you can have lunch in.

80.) World Food Prize Hall of Laureates 

(100 Locust St, Des Moines)

While the inside of the hall has amazing exhibits and is incredibly beautiful, the outside of the building sits on the Des Moines Riverwalk and has great walking grounds. My kid’s favorite is the map of the world in the concrete. They like to say “I pushed ____ all the way to Africa!”

81.) Grotto of Redemption

 (208 1st Ave NW, West Bend)

Not in Des Moines at all, and involves a lot of small highways and turns to get there, we were in awe once we saw it. The Grotto kept us busy for a couple of hours, plus there was a playground nearby for the kids because we had to reward them for not picking off the rocks.

82.) Stream hiking at Ledges State Park

 (1515 P Ave, Madrid)

Hiking at Ledges State Park is our favorite, stream hiking is unique and not as crowded as the regular trails. We started in the stream at the beginning of the park and walked until we came to the Des Moines River. We saw tadpoles, minnows, and snakes in the water. Water shoes are a must for this!

83.) Horseback riding at Jester Park 

(11171 NW 103rd Ct, Granger)

Make a reservation for a guided trail ride through Jester Park. A 1 1/2 hour ride is beginner-friendly and great family activity. Plus the guides tell you about the park and horses.

84.) Movies Under the Stars

Several places all over the Des Moines area offer fun nights under the stars including the Valle Drive-In Movie Theater in Newton.

85.) Terra Park 

(6300 Pioneer Pkwy, Johnston)

Play on the newly redeveloped park and/or walk along the bike path that weaves through Johnston neighborhoods.

86.) Reiman Gardens 

(1407 University Blvd, Ames)

There’s so much great programming for kids and families during the summer months. There are summer camps, water days, storytime, and the sculpture exhibit Winds, Waves, & Lights.

87.) Pet and play with some pets. 

Visit one of many locations to pet, play, and feed some furry friends. 

88.) Ashworth Swimming Pool 

(101 45th St, Des Moines)

Not an aquatic center, but a real swimming pool with deep water and diving boards. There’s also a separate toddler pool for the younger crowds.

89.) Water Works Park 

(2201 George Flagg Pkwy, Des Moines)

Located near the Raccoon River, this park offers 1,500 acres to explore. There are biking and walking trails, picnic shelters, horse trails, and fishing.

90.) Biking the trails 

(Des Moines and surrounding areas)

Central Iowa is lucky enough to have an extensive bike trail. A favorite is biking on the Great Western Trail down to Cumming Tap.

91.) The Freedom Rock Tour 

(Visit the website to see all locations)

The original Freedom Rock is located in Greenfield and gets repainted every year as a thank-you to veterans.

92.) Fox Creek Park

(522 NE Westgate Drive, Waukee)

Play, run, and splash at this sprayground located in Waukee. 

93.) Walker Johnston Park 

(9000 Douglas Ave, Urbandale)

This park is huge and has a variety of play structures for kids! There’s also a skate park and a pond to walk around. Be sure to find the wooden play structure tucked into the trees. There are fun spider nets to climb and wooden bridges to walk across.

94.) Ankeny Miracle Park 

(310 NW School St, Ankeny)

A baseball-themed park that is for kids of all abilities.

95.) Grounds For Celebration 


Grab a cinnamon roll and have a relaxing morning on the patio. Roomy enough for kids plus within walking distance to area parks (Ashby, Riley, and Witmer).

96.) Raccoon River Excursions 

(Dallas County Fair Campgrounds)

Tubing down the Raccoon River is great for families with older children (the minimum age requirement is 14 years or older).

97.) Clive Food Truck Fridays 

(Campbell Park 12385 Woodlands Pkwy, Clive)

Food, music, playgrounds, and concessions can make a perfect Friday night.

98.) Saylorville Yacht Club Wednesday races 

(Saylorville Lake)

Each night of sailing is different as the wind changes. Pack a picnic, head to the lake, and spend a relaxing evening watching the sailing races.

99.) Voas Nature Area 

(19286 Lexington Rd, Minburn)

Features include hiking, wildflowers, wildlife viewing/refuge, an observation tower, hunting, and an intriguing youth-only hunting area.

100.) Brenton Arboretum 

(25141 260th St, Dallas Center)

Not only is there a natural play area and great hiking trails for kids of all ages, but there’s also a fun leaf walk to do that helps you identify the trees and their leaves.

101.) Yoga Outdoors

Take your movement and relaxation outdoors. There are a ton of options to enjoy free yoga in the park. 

102.) Principal Charity Classic 

(Wakonda Club 3915 Fleur Dr, Des Moines)

$20 gets you a one-day ticket (good for any day), while kids under 15 get in free. Plenty of concessions are available for great causes!


Sign up for the annual Central Iowa Trek the Parks Challenge. Explore 30 parks across central Iowa and enter to win prizes!

About the Author

Ashlen Sheaffer is a proud Des Moines resident who was born and raised here.   

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Summer in Des Moines, Outdoor, Des Moines, things to do, Iowa, Central Iowa


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!

One thought on “102 Outdoor Activities To Do in Central Iowa This Summer

  1. Avatar Barbra Jotzke-Torrier says:

    Thanks for this great list! I will be turning to it when I get asked – what should we do today?

    There is one place that didn’t make the list that you should know about if you don’t. Whiterock Conservancy. It is located near Coon Rapids, IA and is a little over an hour from Des Moines on highway 141. It is a non-profit that does land conservation – so there are prairies, wetlands, savannas, forests and pastures to explore – but also has recreational opportunities. There are trails that are great to hike or mountain bike, twelve ponds to fish (or look for frogs) in, canoe and kayak rentals, campgrounds etc. It also has a bison herd, sheep, cows and lots of wildlife to see. This place is huge (5,500 acres).

    In all transparency, I work for Whiterock, but I also go there to play (as do my parents, my brother’s family and friends) If you would like to learn more, you can find it at whiterockconservancy.org.

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