Dropping temperatures, slush in the streets and diminishing daylight isn’t going to slow down Iowans in the winter. There are plenty of activities to do in Iowa that will keep you warm and entertained, all season long. Whether you side on the bit more adventurous, like ice climbing a frozen silo, or you’re more interested in the calm that freshly-fallen snow can provide, Iowa has you covered from stocking cap to snow boot. The time is now to check out these 15 great winter activities to do in Iowa.
Come one, come all to the annual University of Okoboji Winter Games. Established in 1981, this winter fest full of fun activities has been growing stronger ever since, adding new activities and drawing bigger crowds of people who don't let a little cold weather slow them down. Polar Plunges, chili cook-offs, and broomball tournaments, you name it! If it can be done in winter, you'll probably find it at the Okoboji Winter Games. Great for all ages, don't leave this one off the to-do list if you find yourself in Iowa this winter.
Whether you are an experienced black-diamond professional or you're just learning the pizza-pie, french-fry technique, the skiing at Sundown in Dubuque, Iowa, has a little something for everyone. Don't expect avalanche danger at Sundown, or long lift-lines, but do come prepared to have some fun on the 21 different trails that Sundown provides. While you are there, don't forget to warm yourself up with some hot cocoa or a chili dog at the adjoining North Lodge (and don't forget to check out their live music calendar on their website!)
Backbone State Park in Dundee, Iowa, is an outdoor gem of the Iowa State Park system year-round, but traveling there in winter is a truly unique experience. Don't worry about pitching your tents in the snowbanks though, because Backbone State Park has 16 different heated cabins you can rent all winter long, ensuring you can stay warm between your time exploring the park via snowshoe or ski. Twelve of those cabins can sleep four people comfortably, while the remaining four cabins are certified "deluxe" and can accommodate up to nine people.
There are a lot of places to snowmobile across the state of Iowa once the snow hits, but few other trails compare to the trail system managed by the Snow Pioneers of Northeastern Iowa. Besides being well-kept, this trail system links up across this area of the state to provide access to not only some of the most scenic, hilly portions of Iowa, but also is a gateway to many of the small communities and cozy towns that define much of the state.
Many of the towns along the Mississippi River in Iowa will give you a chance this winter to see some bald eagles flying, because the dams and other obstructions in the river give the birds a good spot to catch some fish. But Keokuk gives you the chance to learn about these majestic creatures as well. Complete with exhibits, a woodcarving show and even an insect zoo courtesy of Iowa State University, this family friendly event is an easy way to learn about and appreciate Iowa's nature.
Come celebrate the season this winter in Amana, and partake in a little Winterfest action. Full of family-fun activities that all ages can enjoy, such as mini-golf, a winter wreath toss and a log-sawing competition. Whatever reason you decided to attend, know that it will be a well-spent weekend day in this charming community. Stay until the night and find yourself a date for the annual Snow Ball Dance to cap things off.
For some of the best cross-country skiing in the state, head on over to the quaint town of Decorah, Iowa. With over 25 miles of groomed trails to skate, ski and explore, the only thing better than the fresh Iowa snow in Decorah is the great winter views these trails provide. After you've tired yourself out on the trails, the town of Decorah itself has enough charm and pleasant places to stay to fill out the weekend nicely.
Not far from the University of Northern Iowa campus, one corn silo seems to stand taller than the rest. That's because this corn silo, thanks to an associate professor Don Brigs at the neighboring university, and a whole group of faithful volunteers, this particular corn silo gets turned into an exhilarating opportunity to practice your ice climbing. For $35, every weekend during the winter when the temperature is below freezing, you can rent the gear, get the instruction and have someone (or a family member) belay you to the top of this steep ice climbing route, providing you a memory to keep you warm all winter long.
Feel the holiday cheer with a festive sleigh ride through Jester Park in Granger just north of the state's capital of Des Moines. Offered right around the Christmas holiday time, it doesn't matter what holiday you choose to celebrate to enjoy being pulled behind beautiful horses. Reservations are encouraged for this popular holiday event, and though blankets and rugs are provided, it's advisable to layer up for this mid-winter event.
Grab your helmet and ride on over to one of Iowa's newest annual events, the Frozen Fat Fondo Fest in Davenport. Exclusively for Fat Tire bikes, the FFFFest is a rain or shine, snow or sleet, celebration of the fun you can have in winter. Fat Tires only apply, and as the race instruction goes, no whining allowed!
You don't even have to leave your car to see all the beauty of winter when you drive through Clinton's Symphony of Lights. Standing as a brilliant display of holiday cheer, Symphony of Lights includes over 40 lighted displays and over a half-million supporting lights behind them. A great way to enjoy the winter from the warmth of your car, Clinton isn't the only place to catch such an attraction, but it was one of the few to describe themselves as a Symphony of Lights.
Located just south of the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area and the adjoining Sand Lake offer awesome adventure activities year-round, including ice skating during the winter. Either bring your own pair or rent them from the H20 Center, and skate the day away. Don't expect any Zambonis on this lake however, and be sure to avoid the small collection of ice fishers that also share the space.
While there are plentiful parks to choose from for your snowshoe adventures in Iowa, Pikes Peak perhaps offers the best views. That's because not only are the limestone bluffs that dominate this part of the state clearly visible, but Pikes Peak also provides access to Iowa's tallest point in elevation, a 500-foot bluff that overlooks the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi River. Make this trek in the winter with your snowshoes on tight, and it will be a snow-fueled memory you'll never forget.
The Hitchcock Nature Center, located on the far western border of the state in Pottawattamie County is a sure-fire fun destination to head to all year long, but only in winter can you slide down their notorious chute sledding trail. With a few banked turns and a worthy walk back up the hill, this sledding hill can zap the energy out of even the most experienced snow travelers. While you are there, don't miss the opportunities to snowshoe around the area or stay in one of the wintertime cabins.
There are a lot of quality ice fishing spots in Iowa, and the catches at Big Spirit Lake in northwestern county of Dickinson make it one of the best. Whether you go all out with a portable shelter or stove, or all you need is a bucket and an ice drill, you can expect to catch some sizable Yellow Perch, Walleye and Black Crappie. And with over 5,000 acres of lake to explore, you won't have any trouble finding that quiet action you're looking for.