Great Iowa Vacation Spots for Families


Smack dab in America’s Heartland, Iowa vacation spots are a perfect location for a family getaway or reunion

Ideally located, Iowa offers various exciting but less traveled vacation destinations that eliminate even the most distant relatives’ excuses.

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Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center

Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center. Photo credit: BarbaraLN/Flickr

Des Moines and a Visit to the State Capital

Iowa vacation spots for families include the impressive capital city. With a population nearing 200,000, Des Moines manages to preserve the small-town attitude that its visitors expect and its residents have come to love. Its attractions, though seemingly modest, consistently draw in a stream of guests that almost always leave satisfied.

The growing Des Moines skyline will never completely shroud the Iowa State Capitol building. A glint of gold from the 23-karat leaf of the dome is visible for miles. But don’t assume you’ve seen it all from the outside. Entrance is free, so check out the magnificent interior; walk up the 298 steps to the top of the dome or marvel at the chandelier, made of 5,600 crystals, in the House Chamber.

Over 15,000 exotic plants burst through the dirt every spring at the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center. Excellent group tours will keep the entire family entertained. Also visit Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a four-and-a-half-acre, sculpture-filled park in the middle of downtown Des Moines. Admission is free.

Other good Des Moines family reunion options include Adventureland Park, which has over 100 rides and attractions and includes admission to Adventure Bay, Iowa’s newest water park. The Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater provide interactive learning opportunities and a jaw-dropping IMAX experience: experiment with dry ice before discovering the Iowa skies in the planetarium. Don’t visit the capital of Iowa without learning a little about the state’s largest industry. Just outside of Des Moines, you’ll find Living History Farms. Highlights include the 1850 working pioneer farm and Walnut Hill, the 1875 frontier village.

Des Moines offers various sports and recreation options. Catch a glimpse of some rising stars at an Iowa Cubs game—the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Test your luck at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, which offers plenty of gambling opportunities and live horse racing all summer long.

Davenport, Iowa Family Vacation Spots

The mighty Mississippi rarely runs east to west, but Davenport, a unique Iowa vacation spot, is one of the few places that can claim to see this phenomenon every day. Located at the unusual bend in the Mississippi River, Davenport is just as unique as the sideways river whose banks it sits on. As part of the Quad Cities, Davenport is a good spot for a family reunion. There is no shortage of activities, especially if you’re willing to cross the Mississippi into Illinois.

The most important thing to do in Davenport is to appreciate the natural setting. Various parks and paths border the banks of the Mississippi, the most popular being LeClaire Park. With nine acres of grass and a shell stage used for concerts and festivals, LeClaire Park is an ideal place to spend time with your family. There is nothing more pleasant than picnicking by the Mississippi River with relatives, especially if you can catch a show.

Music lovers must explore the River Music Experience. A museum, music school and concert venue, River Music Experience dazzles visitors by exposing them to the music of the Mississippi River. Browse through electronic databases that celebrate the lives of Quad City music legends while the kids try their hands at the piano or guitar.

Visit in the afternoon because once you’ve seen, heard and learned enough, you can exit on the Skybridge, a 575-foot-long pedestrian bridge that leads to LeClaire Park. Watch the sunset over the Mississippi through the kaleidoscopic LED lighting that illuminates the bridge and end up at the observation deck, which has spectacular views of Davenport.

Bring the family up the riverbank to Bettendorf, another of the Quad Cities, and poke around the popular Family Museum to learn about everything from the human heart to agriculture. Take a Channel Cat Water Taxi on the Mississippi, which is not only a great way to experience the unique east-west current but also to cross to Moline, Illinois, and discover the art of Midwestern farming at the John Deere Pavilion. This museum not only covers the inventions of John Deere but also modern farming techniques that have revolutionized the world’s agricultural industry.

Spirit Lake’s Outdoor Calls

Planted between the Iowa Great Lakes, the town of Spirit Lake offers multiple outdoor recreational activities. Adventurous families will love the Iowa Great Lakes area for its hiking, water sports and golfing. Over 100 miles of trails cover the area, many of which are directly connected to the town of Spirit Lake and crisscross historical lands and wildlife preserves.

Families that enjoy the water should seriously consider Spirit Lake as a reunion destination. The town is surrounded by three big lakes: Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake and East Okoboji Lake. If a family member owns a boat, bring it so you can enjoy the 15,000 acres of glacier-carved lakes. Fishing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, sailing and kayaking are all popular activities. If you don’t own a boat, there are various companies that rent speed and pleasure boats.

Over half a dozen golf courses are spread around the Spirit Lake area, so don’t forget your clubs. You don’t have to be veteran golfers if you take the family to a par 3 course, where even the kids will be able to participate. If they get bored with real golf, take them to one of the many miniature golf courses in the area.

Iowa City Area Vacation Ideas

The original capital of the state, Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa and close to a variety of exciting places that are unique to Iowa. If you choose Iowa City as a reunion spot, you may be spending time away from the city, but the vibrant nightlife, distinctive cuisine and a beautiful college campus will always call you back. Don’t miss the Old Capitol Museum, which was Iowa’s first state capitol building, or the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which due to a 2008 flood that damaged the building (but not the art collection) is located in various locations throughout the city but continues to offer spectacular exhibits, especially of African and European art. Admission to the museum is free.

Amana Colonies in Iowa

Explore the Amana Colonies in Iowa City, a premier Iowa vacation spot for families. Photo credit: Robert Stinnett/Flickr.

Travel 25 miles to the west of Iowa City to see the Amana Colonies. Established in 1855, the citizens of Amana lived communal lives with joint farm land and community meals until the 1930s. Today visitors continue to flock to the Amana Colonies to experience why they have been listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1965. Craft and furniture shops line the streets, many offering daily demonstrations. Visit the Amana Heritage Museum, explore the cemetery with its rows of uniform and ordered headstones and discover the Amana Church, which continues to be a vital part of the community. Looking for a family portrait? Bring your camera so you can situate your entire family around (or on) the gargantuan rocking chair built at a local Amana furniture shop.

Newton, Iowa is the home to the Iowa Speedway. If your family likes high-speed excitement, check Iowa Speedway’s schedule and plan your trip so that it falls on a racing day. As the home to a BigTen school, Iowa City offers great options for spectator sports. In the fall, wake up early and break out the grills to tailgate before a Hawkeyes football game.

Lake MacBride State Park, only a few minutes north of Iowa City, offers miles of trails that circle Lake MacBride, Coralville Lake and Coralville Dam. Fishing in the park is legal, and there are various boat ramps available for your family if you own or want to rent a boat. If not, spend your time on the trails, bird watching and swimming in the lakes. There are two lodges ideal for reunion groups.


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