Trout nibble on little fingers cupping handfuls of fish food. A baseball smacks into the leather palm of a well-worn glove. Hands wave and anticipation breaks as a rollercoaster crests and races downward. Iowa’s outdoors provide all these moments and more. So head out and watch your children blossom and awaken your inner child. Here’s a roundup of places and spaces the editors of Midwest Living recommend.
Bike, walk or run
Loop Decorah on Trout Run Trail, an 11-mile paved, multipurpose path. Stop near the trail’s namesake trout hatchery and let the kids feed the fish—it’s just a quarter for a handful of food and lots of giggles. Look for bald eagles in their 6-foot-wide nest. Springtime brings eaglets and the chance to see mom or dad serving dinner
Swelling from 60 to 200 feet above the flat farmland, the rolling Loess Hills—formed by windblown soils between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago—stretch from Council Bluffs to north of Sioux City. The tallest hills of their kind in North America, the Loess Hills harbor unique plants and animals, such as Great Plains skinks. Before setting out to explore, learn more about this habitat at the hands-on Curiosity Cove in the Hitchcock Nature Center, 14 miles north of Council Bluffs.
Field of Dreams
Come to toss the ball, swing the bat and run the bases at the diamond among the cornfields at the Field of Dreams near Dyersville. Twenty-five years after the Oscar-nominated sports classic was filmed at the century-old farm, the movie magic is still alive. Even the youngest of baseball buffs will have to ask, “Is this Heaven?” No, it’s Iowa
In the shadow of Des Moines’ skyline, Gray's Lake downtown park is abuzz with activity. The lake dominates the 167-acre park. Dip a paddle, sail a boat or stand up on a paddleboard (rentals available). Land-lovers lounge on the sandy beach or walk the 2-mile trail looping the park. The lights on the bridge create a rainbow of mosaic patterns that dance across the walkway at night.
West Branch to the White House
The only Iowa-born president spent the first nine years of his life in a 14x20-foot two-room cottage. It still stands near the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. Today, Hoover’s gravesite overlooks his childhood home. Wander the 31st president’s historical site, which commemorates his life with a visitors center, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and Quaker meetinghouse.
Iowa’s oldest amusement park
Wooden coaster cars clank to the top, where a view of Lake Okoboji and its quintessential amusement park welcome thrill-seekers at Arnold’s Park. For a lingering look at the lake and waterside park, take a seat on the Ferris wheel and wait to reach the apex. Fun houses, Tilt-A-Whirls and bumper cars keep kids smiling all day.
Cheerily painted trains depart from the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad depot for the almost-two-hour chug along the Chicago and North Western Railway. A diesel locomotive pulls passengers—in an open-air railcar or caboose—across a 156-foot-high trestle bridge above the river valley near Boone.
In Pella, blooming tulips are cause for celebration. The sprightly flower has become synonymous with the Dutch heritage shared by many residents. Visit in May to see cloggers tromp down the streets lined with red, yellow and pink tulips, all part of the annual afternoon Tulip Time parade. Find 32,000 long-stem beauties in the garden of the Scholte House Museum, named for the town’s founder.
Field and stream
Winding trails follow the Des Moines River at Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in Keosauqua, in the southeastern corner of the state. It’s one of Iowa’s largest and most scenic parks, with trails running through deep ravines and along cliffs overlooking the river. Plan ahead and reserve a picnic shelter for a family cookout, or bring bathing suits and venture into the lake.
It’s a one-room school with two doors. Why? Because boys and girls entered through separate doors. Melpine School in Wildcat Den State Park near Muscatine shows younger generations what Iowa’s rural schools were like through the early 1900s.
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