We took an epic family cruise to the Caribbean in January. Let’s just say that little adventure left our vacation bank account in a bit of a “condition.”
But with two wildly energetic young boys, we knew we needed to find fun this summer. So we looked to our own backyard – the state of Iowa – and enjoyed affordable, memory-making adventures ranging from a few hours to a few days.
Start planning your next summer getaways now with this list of the 16 places we explored in 2016, from west to east:
1. Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, Council Bluffs: Admittedly, this Missouri River bridge is half in Nebraska, but who can resist the chance the stand in two states simultaneously?
2. Dixie Quicks, Council Bluffs: Cool cuisine and funky décor come together at our favorite Council Bluffs restaurant. And they provide awesome plastic toy dinosaurs to entertain antsy, hungry kids. Bonus!
3. Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek: It’s hard to know what’s more beautiful here: Taking in the Loess Hills from atop the 45-foot observation tower or exploring them at ground-level along a 10-mile trail system? We loved both!
4. Watson Steam Train, Missouri Valley: This miniature replica of an old-time rail yard offers big fun. Hop aboard the 1948 Ottway steamer for a quaint, less-than-half-mile-long ride.
5. Matchstick Marvels, Gladbrook: My kids love Legos, but Iowa craftsman Pat Acton opts for creating with matchsticks. He’s used more than five million of them to build a mind-blowing collection of intricate scale models. The United State Capitol and the Space Shuttle Challenger were our favorites.
6. Jester Park, Granger: The natural playscape here is a great chance to show the kids that they don’t need wifi or fancy twirling slides to have a blast.
7. Ledges State Park, Boone: So. So. Cool. We spent hours here. I can’t say enough. You just have to go. Beautiful. (Hint: Wear your water shoes for maximum fun!)
8. Iowa State Fair, Des Moines: It’s Iowa’s largest event for a reason. We love the Giant Slide, ugliest cake contest, the cow milking, the Fun Forest, THE FOOD, and everything else. It’s an annual can’t-miss.
9. Johnston Green Days, Johnston: Our hometown rolls out the red carpet each June for one of our favorite local festivals. The parade is the highlight, of course. It’s Americana.
10. Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City: An easy afternoon's drive from our home in Des Moines, a beautiful two-mile hike gave our kids a birds-eye view of stunning natural tallgrass prairie, indicative of Iowa’s native ecosystem. Don’t miss the buffalo!
11. Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, Prairie City: Tell me again who doesn’t love pie and ice cream after a nature hike? Check out the tenderloin too; it was named Iowa’s best in 2009.
13. Maquoketa Caves State Park, Maquoketa: You heard me right-- caves. In Iowa. After some initial coaxing into the dark down-under, my kids couldn’t get enough.
14. Korner Stop Ice Cream Shoppe, Sabula: We ate ice cream. On an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. How cool is that?
15. Happy Joe's Pizza, Le Claire: Did someone say pizza? And hard ice cream? And an arcade? All on the banks of the Mississippi River? This is our kind of place!
16. Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, Walcott: Nothing speaks to little boys like trucks. Located just behind the world’s largest truck stop, this museum displays more than 60 trucks of nearly every size, make and model. (Moms and sisters will like it, too.)