If you are looking for a vacation destination in Iowa and you and your family pride yourselves on your love of the outdoors and your sense of adventure, then you can’t go wrong with a trip to Des Moines. If you are not familiar with this location, then you are in for a real treat. Des Moines is the capital of Iowa and has previously been named as the number one place to raise a family in the whole of the U.S.A. Great news for those who are looking for a safe vacation destination for their next family trip.
However, safety is not the only aspect of Des Moines that should encourage you to give this city a try. Des Moines is actually one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the Midwest, with an array of annual festivals and sporting events, plus a whopping 800 miles of hiking and biking trails for you to explore. Are you intrigued yet?
Keep reading to discover the seven best outdoor activities and attractions that make Des Moines the ideal travel destination for explorers and adventurers alike.
1. Hit the High Trestle Trail
Whether you like hiking, biking, jogging, or blading, the epic High Trestle Trail – which stretches 25 miles and covers five cities including Woodward, Madrid, Slater, Ankeny, and Sheldahl – is the perfect outdoor activity for those who love a challenge. Do not miss the High Trestle Trail Bridge that is over half a mile long and 13 stories high and is set above the Des Moines River Valley.
And if you’re visiting at night, the bridge becomes illuminated with blue lights from sunset to midnight from April to October each year.
2. Visit Blank Park Zoo
If you and your family are wildlife fans, then why not head to Blank Park Zoo to see some of the local animals and wildlife?With30 acres of land, this zoo boasts:
- An indoor rainforest discovery center
- A Great Cats complex
- A Sea Lion and Seal pool
- An Australian Adventure section
- The opportunity to feed giraffes
Plus, if you do decide to visit this amazing zoo, a portion of your ticket price will go directly towards the preservation of wild animals around the globe.
3. Go wild at Racoon River Excursions
If you and your kids (over 14s only) fancy a bit of a wet and wild adventure while you are staying in Des Moines, then this is the activity for you. Racoon River Excursions provide enjoyable float trips in tubes down the Racoon River. The trips can last up to five hours, and at only $25 per person, you will be hard-pressed to find a cheaper and more fun day out in Des Moines.
If you have chosen a Des Moines RV rental as both your accommodation and transportation solution for your vacation and are staying in the nearby Dallas County Fair Campgrounds, then Racoon River Excursions will pick you up for your day trip.
However, if you are staying in one of the other local camping grounds in Des Moines such as Iowa State Fair Campground or Walnut Woods State Park Camp, you can simply drive to the site and park there.
4. Get busy at Gray’s Lake Park
An incredibly well-maintained local park, Gray’s Lake Park is the perfect location for a family day out as it offers so many amenities and activities that are fun for all ages. You could simply take the 1.9-mile walk around the park, rent a canoe or paddleboat, or enjoy a peaceful picnic in one of several designated areas.
Although, if you are looking for an outdoor activity that is a bit special, then look no further than the iconic Kruidenier Trail pedestrian bridge that is a huge 1,400-foot-long and takes you over the park’s vast lake.
If you visit this park once darkness has descended, you will be wowed at the sight of this bridge lightup in a variety of rainbow colors.
Please note that this park is hugely popular, with one million people visiting each year, so it is not the best option if you are looking for peace and tranquility.
5. Wander along Des Moines River Trail
The Des Moines River Trail is an epic 100-mile water trail that starts in Fort Dodge, passing Dolliver State Park and finally ending at Saylorville Lake. This is the perfect way to enjoy all that the city has to offer, and you can either choose to leisurely walk along this trail, cycle, or even go for a run if you are feeling energetic.
Some of the must-see sights along the way include:
- The botanical gardens
- The Asian Garden
- The Women of Achievement pedestrian bridge that goes over the river
- A variety of wildlife including deer, foxes, pheasants, and turkeys
6. Immerse yourself in art at Pappajohn Sculpture Park
This incredible sculpture park celebrated its 10th anniversary last year and features artwork from 25 of the world’s most renowned artists. If you are looking for an outdoor activity that is also educational and culturally focused, then Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a must for you when traveling and staying in Des Moines.
The park itself is 4.4 acres and also has a pedestrian-friendly pathway that leads straight into Des Moines if you fancy a bite to eat after checking out the awe-inspiring sculptures.
If you are not a massive art connoisseur but are eager to learn about the artists and their work, there are several tours and guides available, with options for groups, children and adults alike.
You can bring your own picnic if you wish, but alcohol is not permitted.
7. Check out a minor league game
If you are a family of baseball fans, then why not take in a local minor league game while you are visiting Des Moines?
Iowa Cubs’ tickets can be purchased for around $15, and the park itself is clean and well maintained. It is also close to several local amenities such as restaurants and bars if you are feeling hungry after the game.
Don’t miss out on the free ice creams handed out at the end of each game!