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Des Moines, Iowa: Things To Do in the Heart of "The Hawkeye State"

If you've ever wondered what there is to do in Des Moines, Iowa, you've come to the right place! Iowans from cities like Ames and Cedar Rapids try to keep their favorite weekend destination a secret. But the cats' finally out of the bag, and Midwesterners from as far as St. Louis are starting to plot fun and affordable getaways. Since FOMO is very much a real thing, we suggest planning your trip today!

Iowa shares a border with six other U.S. states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Due to its central location and range of tourist attractions, it's become a rather popular Midwest destination for those looking to try something off the beaten path. What's more, Iowans are more than happy to welcome guests from all over the USA and beyond to their state's largest city.

Whether you're driving up from Dallas, flying from New York, or time traveling from the future to see what sort of fun North America had to offer before the Alien Federation took over Earth, we hope this travel guide makes your trip more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

What is the Capital of Iowa?

Of course, Des Moines is the capital of the Hawkeye State! That was a gimme. At a little over 90 square miles, it is also the seat of Polk County. Although the population of Des Moines, IA hovers at a modest 215,000 souls, the 6-county metropolitan area it's considered a part of claims nearly 700k individuals.

Although the city of Des Moines grew at a snail's pace around the Civil War, its population began to boom during the last half of the 19th Century. Before this, Iowa cities along the Mississippi River, such as Dubuque, Davenport, and Burlington, outshone the capital in settlement and commerce. Today, the Des Moines metropolitan area is home to a zoo, botanical gardens, and an amusement park with rollercoasters, so we all know who the real winner is.

6 Reasons to Visit Des Moines, Iowa

1. Iowa State Capitol Building

No state capital trip would be complete without a stop at its state capitol building. The state of Iowa's capitol building is primarily intended to serve the Iowa General Assembly. It includes facilities for its state senate, supreme court, and others. But there's more to see here than the legislature. A historical site itself, the capitol more or less doubles as a museum and, as Wikipedia puts it, a "state and international cultural facility."

You might consider visiting other historical political sites in Des Moines, including the Governor's Mansion at Terrace Hill Historic Site along the Raccoon River.

2. Blank Park Zoo

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What Blank Park Zoo lacks in size, it makes up for with exotic offerings. Their protected animals include regal creatures like African lions, Eastern black rhinos, and adorable red pandas. Alongside these animal exhibits, the zoo has a train, a carousel, and camel rides available from Memorial to Labor Day. Admission is relatively affordable, and grounds are available for extensive group trips and private events like weddings.

3. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

The city's botanical garden is located on the east side of the Des Moines River, just north of the East Village Area. Once you've had your fill of zoo fauna, you can balance it out with the garden's collection of impressive world flora. In addition to a vast plan collection that includes rarities like the putrid corpse flower, the gardens also host art, sculptures, and live music.

4. Adventure Land Park

Not every capital city has its own amusement park, but not every capital city is Des Moines, Iowa. Although technically located in the neighboring suburb of Altoona, Adventure Land Park is just a short drive from the Des Moines city center. "Park" is a bit of an understatement. Adventure Land is a full-blown resort featuring several lodging options, rollercoasters, waterslides, and more.

5. City & State Parks

There are a handful of state parks located in and around the Des Moines area. Each is an excellent destination for various outdoor activities, from camping and hiking to fishing, boating, and beyond. The most popular options include the following state and city parks:

  • Fort Des Moines State Park
  • Margo Frankel Woods State Park
  • Walnut Woods State Park
  • Badger Creek State Park
  • Pappajohn Sculpture Park
  • Des Moines Waterworks Park

6. Iowa State Fair

Not surprisingly, the state capital is also home to the state fairgrounds and annual state fair. Of course, since the fair only goes on for 11 days in August, you'll have to plan accordingly if you want to enjoy rides, games, performances, and all that delicious fair fare.

However, many different trade shows, concerts, and other events roll through year-round. So if you're in the area, you should definitely check the fairground's website to see if anything exciting is going on.

Familiar with Des Moines? What did we miss? Let us know what's worthwhile on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

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