The 10 Best Summer Activities in Iowa!

No season drums up the same kind of excitement as summer, and whether it’s the longer days or warm weather, perhaps even the break from school or work, summertime usually provides the most time for exploration and adventure. If you happen to be enjoying the summer in Iowa, there is no shortage of fun activities to do. Whether you like crawling through caves or catching a ball game, there is something for every member of your family to enjoy during an Iowa summertime. Check out these 10 best summer activities in Iowa.

1. Catch a baseball game at Principal Park

Once known as Sec Taylor Stadium, Principal Park in Des Moines provides nine innings of a quintessential summer pastime. Home to the Iowa Cubs, besides hosting Triple-A baseball, Principal Park also host many extra-inning activities like fireworks and car shows throughout the summer, making it a great place for baseball fans and community members to celebrate in the summer heat. 

2. Ride across the state with RAGBRAI

One of the best adventures in the entire state of Iowa, the Register’s Annual Great Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) has been sending thousands of bike riders across the state for over 40 years. Every moment of this week-long event creates memories to keep for a lifetime. RAGBRAI isn’t a competitive race by any means, and it’s the communities of bikers and the small towns on the route that really define the experience. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a biker, RAGBRAI is one Iowa summer event that everyone should experience themselves.

3. Hike at Mines of Spain State Recreation Area

Pack your trail mix and extra water and head on over to Mines of Spain State Recreation Area for some of the best hiking you’ll find in the state. Featuring over 10 miles of trails that meander through Mississippi River bluff land and shore, Mines of Spain draws big crowds throughout the summer, and for good reason. With nature trails accommodating anyone interested in hiking, and longer trails like the Eagle Scout Trail for the more practiced hiker, there is something for everyone to explore at this National Historic Landmark, just don’t forget the sunscreen.   

4. Watch a movie at the Valle Drive-In

Nothing quite embodies the summertime spirit like a drive-in movie. Perhaps it’s that nostalgic remembrance of the past, or the glow of the big screen against the hood of your car, but sitting in your car seat and watching a movie will always prove to be a summer memory in the making. There are a just a few remaining drive-in movie theaters in Iowa, including the Valle Drive-In in Newton—the state’s oldest automobile accessible movie theater. 

5. Canoe the Upper Iowa River, Decorah, IA

There are many destinations in Iowa that allow you to get a canoe or kayak on the water, but for one of the most scenic paddling experiences you can find in the state, it’s well worth your time to head northeast and drop in through the town of Decorah. There are plenty of outfitters in Decorah to hook you up with a canoe, kayak or tube, plus shuttle services to make your Upper Iowa River adventure easy to facilitate. When you are done paddling the day away, Decorah itself provides many great places to cap the day with a delicious meal or fun place to stay. 

6. Visit the Iowa State Fair

Occurring for 10 days of August each year, if you are a long-term resident of the state of Iowa, attending the state fair is almost your civic duty. Nationally recognized and packed full of events and attractions, the Iowa State Fair pays homage to much of the culture that defines the state of Iowa. Whether you attend the fair for the many different foods found on sticks, or the daily live music and performances, or even just to simply soak in the sights, smells and overall friendliness of Iowa, the state fair is one the top summer activities you can find in Iowa. 

7. Backpack and camp at Yellow River State Forest

Featuring one of the few backpacking opportunities in the state of Iowa, if you really want to jump into nature, Yellow River State Forest is right for you. Located in Northeast Iowa and featuring over 25 miles of established trails, any backpacking outing at Yellow River is free to use and has many first-come, first-serve backcountry campsites that can set the mood for an adventurous time. Whether you just spend one night, or extend your trip into a week or more, if you are looking for backpacking in Iowa, get your gear ready for Yellow River State Forest. 

8. Cool Off at Lost Island Waterpark

There are few better ways to tame the dog days of summer than splashing around on waterslides and swimming pools. For the best water park experience you can find in Iowa and perhaps the entire Midwest, Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo can keep you cool all summer long. Featuring a long list of fast-flying, rip-roaring and awesome water slides, plus dozens of other nautical attractions including an in-house mermaid that pops out of the water on the weekends, there is more to do at Lost Island that can done in a single day, making for multiple visits to this amazing waterpark a summer must. 

9. Explore caves at Maquoketa State Park

One way to beat the heat this summer is by popping down into the different caves that comprise Maquoketa Caves State Park. That’s because all caves are climate controlled, maintaining a moderate temperature throughout the year, making for a cool time exploring underground. With over 12 caves to explore, Maquoketa Caves is one of the most unique state parks in Iowa, and with caving options ranging from underground tunnels large enough for cars to drive through to caves that will have you crawling on your hands and knees, Maquoketa Caves has something everyone in the family can enjoy. Just be sure to follow all regulations involving cave travel and wear some clothes you don’t mind getting a little dirty. 

10. Take in the beauty at Reiman Gardens

There is always something in bloom throughout the year at Reiman Gardens in Ames, and for an excellent summer adventure, it’s recommended for the whole family to check out this botanical hot spot. Featuring native and tropical plants, insects, and variety of eye-catching attractions, all spread out over 17 acres and 26 distinct gardens, Reiman Gardens has something for everyone to enjoy for a full day or quick stop. However you choose to enjoy Reiman Gardens, be sure to stop and smell the flowers as you do.

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