An Iowa State Fair Day Trip Itinerary


iowa state fair things to do. Des Moines MomGoing to the Iowa State Fair has become a tradition for our family to head to the fairgrounds for a full day of multi-generational family fun.

The Iowa State Fair started in 1854 and is one of the most recognized and famous state fairs in the United States. On average over one million people visit annually during the 11 days the fair is open. This year the fair is open August 11-21.

Our kids look forward to our annual fair day trip. After so many years of going, we have perfected our full day itinerary. We literally cover the same ground the same way every year, I guess that’s what you call a tradition! To get you ready, I am going to share some must-see attractions and tips to make your state fair experience blue-ribbon worthy!extended family photo at Iowa State Fair grounds

Iowa State Fair Itinerary

Take advantage of discounted pre-sale tickets at Hy-Vee, purchase them at customer service before the fair opens. You can buy tickets at the gates as well. Remember all kids 5 and under are free!

On the day of the fair, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Bring water bottles and take a stroller that moves well on the uneven ground and is easy to maneuver in a crowd. Carpool and take the backroads to avoid traffic from I-235 along University Ave.

Park in any of the state fair lots. We like to park on the north side of the fairgrounds right next to the midway. The fair opens at 7 a.m. but most buildings open at 9 a.m.

Head to Little Hands on the Farm first. It can get busy as the day goes on but it’s one of our kids’ favorite interactive attractions.  It walks children through the process of how produce and meat make it from farm to table!

We let the kids buy a treat with their hard-earned money in the Little Hands store. Then we head over to the Animal Learning Center to see lots of baby animals. If you are lucky, you might just witness a live birth.

Next, stop by the agricultural building to see the world-famous butter cow. Did you know the butter cow tradition dates back to 1911? This year the cow will be accompanied by a John Deere Waterloo boy tractor. While there, make sure to pick up a hard boiled egg on a stick (found on the main floor) and a glass of delicious honey lemonade (found on the 2nd floor).

After a quick snack, head west up the hill toward the wind turbine and stop by the Iowa State Fairgrounds playground. The kids love playing on the large wooden train while the adults rest their feet before stopping at the cultural building. Check out all the judged art and the miniature house collection.

To avoid crazy long lines, eat lunch early (11 a.m.). I suggest heading to the Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters (located north of the horse barn) to get a beef sundae. After lunch, stop by the model train exhibit right next door. Then take a few slides down the giant yellow slide.

Afterward, head south toward the horse, sheep, cattle, and swine barns to witness Iowa’s largest ram, bull, and boar. Walk through the avenue of breeds featuring animals big, small, and every variety. You might catch an animal show while you are there.

Next, get big bucket of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies at the Varied Industries Building. Check out the large sand art exhibit and let the kids get a few tattoos too. If you have time before dinner check out the Iowa DNR building to see lots of different native wildlife species.

For dinner, stop by the pork tent for a pork chop on a stick or pork burger sandwich. If your feet are not aching by that point take the sky glider for an aerial view of the fair. There’s also the kid zone, thrill town, free entertainment on many different stages, the midway and ticketed concerts at the grandstand.

There is no shortage of fun and food on a stick to be enjoyed at our great state fair!

A day at the Iowa State Fair will quickly become a yearly tradition your whole family will look forward to! In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, “Our State Fair is a great state fair, don’t miss it don’t even be late.”

iowa state fair itinerary


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