Summer time means school’s out and almost everyone is dying for some time outdoors. Whether you’re looking to entertain the kiddos, or you want to go explore all that our great state has to offer, we’ve made a list of things to do in Iowa to keep you entertained. These summer day trips are great mini vacations without going much further than your backyard.
Prairie Meadows Race Track
Maybe you’ve seen the movie Secretariat before. But have you seen it up close and personal? Head out to the track and watch the horse races. While you’re there, grab a burger or some funnel cake fries. The track is open to all ages so it’s family fun for everyone.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
Explore the Maquoketa Caves right here in Iowa. The park has more caves than any other state park, allowing visitors to step back in time to thousands of years ago to explore the limestone formations and rugged bluffs. The park is complete with a campground, hiking trails and shelters for picnicking.
Blank Park Zoo
This is a must-have for any Iowa day trips list. The Blank Park Zoo is a great attraction for kiddos and adults alike. There’s plenty of attractions, face painting and a petting zoo. They even have Zoo Brew on Wednesday nights for adults to enjoy the zoo kid free.
Clayton County Motor Mill
If you’re into history, this cool 1860’s flour mill is known for its incredible architecture. They offer free tours and they’re located on a 155-acre park that offers hiking, kayaking, fishing, camping, bird watching and more. Make it a day trip or a whole weekend!
Pella’s Dutch Heritage
If you’ve never been to Pella for the Tulip Time festival, it’s an Iowa must-see, but Pella is a neat town to visit all year round. Known for its Dutch heritage, there’s plenty to do and see in this little town. Grab a Dutch letter to snack on and explore the town.
Gray’s Lake has plenty to offer in the summer. With paddle boarding, kayaking, walking trails and beach areas to get in the water (or let the pups swim), there’s a great list of activities you can spend time doing here. If you stay until dusk, you can see the bridge light up at night!
Decorah Fish Hatchery
Your kids will love this one because they can see and feed the many tanks of fish being raised here. Plus, the hatchery is connected to Trout Run Trail that you can walk or bike on as well!
Wineries & Breweries
You may not know how many wineries and breweries exist around Iowa, but there’s quite a few. There are so many you could visit one every day of the summer and still have more to check off your list. If you’re one to enjoy an adult beverage, we’ve made a short list of some of the more popular wineries and breweries around Iowa, but there are plenty more not listed that you can check out too!
- Dubuque Star Brewery, now known as Stone Cliff Winery
- Jasper Winery
- Tassel Ridge
- Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery
- Summerset Winery
- Barn Town Brewing
- Confluence Brewing Company
- Exile Brewing Company
- Firetrucker Brewery
- Peace Tree Brewing Co.
- Toppling Goliath Brewery
If you’re a thrill seeker, this one is for you. Adventureland is the perfect day trip in Iowa for those who love a good rollercoaster. There’s plenty of entertainment and amusement park rides for all ages so it’s the perfect day trip for the family. After you’re done enjoying the park, cool off in their waterpark resort.
Okoboji has a lot of places to see and things to do and Arnolds Park is at the top of that list. This park has over 20 rides to choose from, water wars, gift shops, food and beverage, concerts and more. It’s definitely worth spending the day.
Lost Island Water Park
This gem in Waterloo is the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day. With a bar, water slides, lazy river and more, it’s easy to spend a day here. They even have mermaid shows! It’s waterpark fun for all ages, even the adults.
Loess Hill Lavender Farm
Located in Missouri Valley, this farm needs to be on your list of things to do in Iowa. They have tours and entertainment opportunities, banquet facilities, a gift shop and you can even cut your own bouquet of lavender.
Berry Patch Farm
A berry patch is the perfect thing to do in Iowa because you get to enjoy the sweet berries at the end of this day trip. This berry patch is located in Nevada and they have a great selection of berries to pick including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, cherries and apples.
Seven Oaks Recreation
Probably most popularly known for skiing and snowboarding, this place in Boone also offers fun summer day trip activities. You can canoe, kayak, float the river, paintball or run the Gladiator Assault Challenge mud run. If you’re feeling up to some adventure, this might just be your next day trip in Iowa.
John Wayne Birth Place
History buffs, this one’s for you. Make a trip to Winterset to check out John Wayne’s birthplace. It’s full of rich history and it’s pretty cool to see where a mega star like him was born. The birthplace and museum are open seven days a week, 10 am – 5 pm. The tours are all self-guided with staff accessible to answer questions. Adults are $15, seniors are $14, kids 8 – 12 are $8 and kids 7 and under are free.
Valle Drive-In Theater
Take it back to the good ol’ days with a drive-in theater experience. This drive-in is one of the only ones left in Iowa and it’s located in Newton. It opens at 6:30 and the movie starts at dusk. You can go online or follow their Instagram account to see what movies they’re showing every week.
Iowa Cubs Game
If you live in Iowa and haven’t experienced an Iowa Cubs game yet, you should! Head to Principal Park to enjoy America’s favorite pastime and maybe a hot dog or two. If you go on Friday nights, there are firework shows after every game.
Ledges State Park
This park full of hiking trails and beautiful scenery is located in Ames. The trails lead up and down steep slopes to scenic overlooks and Pea’s Creek “canyon.” The park also has shelters for picnicking and campsites if you’d like to make a weekend of it.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
This is always a fun destination to check off your list. Spend some time in the casino or attend one of their many concerts. There’s also plenty of bars and restaurants to visit nearby.
Iowa Farm Sanctuary
Plan this summer day trip for Sundays because that’s when they’re open to the public from noon to 3 pm. The Iowa Farm Sanctuary provides a safe haven to rescued farm animals and the best part? You can feed, pet and love on them all afternoon. They take a minimum donation of $10 for adults and $5 for kids.
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
Stop through Dubuque to visit this museum and aquarium full of fun activities for all ages. They have touch tanks, a tour of a 1934 steamer and six big aquariums full of river creatures. It’s definitely a summer day trip you’ll want to make.
Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
Offering an hour and 45-minute excursion, 15-mile dinner and dessert rides and two old-time trestles, this is one iconic day trip in Iowa you don’t want to miss. The train has a maximum speed of 12 mph so you can enjoy all the scenery along the way.
Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor & Museum
Visit the ice cream capital of the world right here in Le Mars, Iowa. Enjoy some Blue Bunny ice cream while you learn about the history of Wells Blue Bunny. Don’t forget your photo op outside by the giant ice cream statue.
Charles City Whitewater at Riverfront Park
Go surfing in Iowa… surfing on a short board that is. Charles City has the perfect water activities for a summer day trip. They offer surfing, kayaking, inner tubing and stand up paddle boarding. For the kiddos, there’s also disc golf, hiking trails, public art, a labyrinth and a stone amphitheater.
Picket Fence Creamery
Make this 80-acre family owned and operated dairy farm one of your summer day trips because you will not regret it. This creamery and country store offers skim, 2% and whole milk, chocolate milk, ice cream, whipping cream, cheese curds, Neva’s Cheeseball, local beef, pork, buffalo, elk, lamb, chicken and eggs. They also have farm tours available by appointment. Load up the family and head to Woodward for a day.
If you were looking for things to do in Iowa, you should now have a list full of places to see and ice cream to eat. Who knew Iowa had so many cool places to explore? Cheers to a summer full of adventure.