Family Vacation in Des Moines, Iowa

When you visit Greater Des Moines, you’ll notice the buzz. The attractions are electric. The trails go whooshing by. The art scene generates applause. Des Moines and the surrounding communities provide big city amenities in a safe and accessible location with all the adventure and reward without the high cost.

Start planning your trip with The Catch List, a list of 14 different itineraries put out by the area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Catch Des Moines, covering over 100 different locations. There are even on-the-go versions that you can print out or download for easy access. If you want to live like a local, check out their Des Best page, with curated “Best of” lists as voted by locals, containing everything from Best Pizza to Best Patios. We could go on, but let’s get into some of the area highlights.


Adventureland in Altoona is an amusement park, water park, and underrated craft beer destination all in one! You’ll want to reserve a whole day (or two) for Iowa’s largest amusement park, with more than 100 rides, shows, and attractions for all ages, including popular coasters, The Monster, and Phoenix. Water park admission is included and features over a half dozen slides, a lazy river, wave pool, Kokomo Kove for the young kiddos, and a swim-up bar for the grownups.

You can also visit lions, tigers, and red pandas at the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. Once you’ve had your fill of animals, head over to the Science Center of Iowa. Located in the heart of downtown, SCI includes permanent exhibits like Why the Sky? (space), Brick by Brick (LEGO), and What on Earth (zoology/geology), along with a host of cool traveling exhibits like the recent appearance by SUE: The T. rex Experience.


With a “post apocalyptic chic” setting, Zombie Burger serves up GOREmet burgers and cereal milkshakes for the whole family. At Smash Park you can enjoy Iowa’s largest outdoor patio with some pickleball or shuffleboard while eating a “Sheet Ton of Nachos.”

Parks and Outdoors

Pack a picnic and spend a sunny afternoon at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Here you’ll be inspired by dozens of works from internationally recognized arts right in the heart of downtown Des Moines. If you want to hit the trails, there is plenty of good hiking, including one of the most popular places in Iowa, Ledges State Park. With sandstone cliffs and dense forests, you can soak in nature’s beauty and feel rejuvenated while your kids wade in the winding creek along Canyon Drive.

Other outdoor activities:

  • High Trestle Trail – 25 miles of exploration, anchored by an illuminated bridge, and never far from a bite or brew.
  • Gray’s Lake – An urban oasis in the heart of the city with a 2-mile trail around the lake and a skyline backdrop.


There are plenty of opportunities to catch a game while you’re in Des Moines! In fact, Des Moines was recently voted the #1 Minor League Market in America, for good reason. Catch a rising star (or a hot dog) with the Iowa Cubs at beautiful Principal Park along the river. See the Iowa Wild on the ice or the Iowa Wolves on the basketball court. Or come springtime, check out world-famous events like the Drake Relays on the iconic blue oval.

Start mapping out your adventure today! Since things are constantly evolving, make sure to double check hours and availability before you go!