Is Iowa a Lame Family Road Trip Destination?


Our family of 6 loves a good road trip. This year though, we weren’t sure where to go. Trip Option A was to go to Ohio and Michigan, or Ohio and Indiana to cross two states off our map at once- we have a goal to cross off all 50. This was going to be a 10 day trip and cost us more than we were comfortable spending by the time we figured in tourist fees like hotel and gas. Not including food or souvenirs, of course.

Trip Option B was Iowa. I know when we told people our idea, everyone rolled there eyes and said, “What is even IN Iowa?! Corn fields?!”, and they weren’t totally wrong. We’ve only driven through it on our way to Missouri or Nebraska, and both times it was…boring. I don’t know if we even saw towns, it was just flat and nothing. But, because that’s all we’ve done we couldn’t cross it off our map, and it’s this glaring unmarked state on our map. So Trip Option B was the winner, and when we narrowed our stops to Des Moines and Dubuque, we calculated our trip would be about a third of the cost of Trip A, and only for 5-6 days.


Iowa it was. (This is when everyone gave me less than enthusiastic, almost painful, smiles.)


It’s inevitable that someone will need a bathroom break or space to stretch, so we often use This website is how we found ourselves at the Jolly Green Giant Statue Park, which is an actual place, with an actual giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota. What the website doesn’t mention is that it has a great park, plus an area with steel structures that make lovely sounds. There is a gorgeous trail that you can walk, a free museum all about Green Giant canning (it is cooler to see than it sounds), and had we had more time to explore, there is a scavenger hunt for that smaller statue, Sprout. I guess there are Sprout’s all over town and you can drive around looking for them. If ever you’re driving through southern Minnesota, that’s a really great stop to make. Plus it’s next to an ice cream store so you can use it as bribery, and I’m not above bribery.

You’d think that I would have utilized this resource sooner considering I’m a content contributor for Duluth Mom, but it occurred to me that the best way to find family friendly things to do is see if either city was a part of the City Mom Collective. Luckily, Des Moines was and I hit jackpot!

I found information on fun little shops, including a place called Storyhouse Bookpub, which had the cutest children’s book corner. Not to mention, the entire neighborhood that it was in was incredibly kid-friendly and had a great mural for photo ops! We learned about the Blank Park Zoo and also the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and Museum. I saw mamas rave about the Science Center of Iowa, so I added that to our to-do list and they absolutely were not wrong!

I had found more articles referencing Dubuque, which is how I started looking for things to do there and wow- I wish we had more time to spend there! Lots of moms talked about the city being full of murals and how the hunt for those is an experience of its own, and they were right! The number one rated kid friendly attraction was looking like the National Mississippi River and Aquarium, which is very similar to Duluth’s own Great Lakes Aquarium, it just focuses on the Mississippi River, so my kids found lots of connections and similarities. Many also recommended the world’s shortest and steepest train ride, which was such a strange but equally fun (and fast) activity to fill some time. We managed to find another bookstore with a wonderful children’s area and again, the friendliest store owner and neighborhood.

We walked around communities and neighborhoods, found cute little shops and met interesting people, and found a little free library! On our drive home, we took a couple of side trips to a swinging bridge that was absolutely terrifying, and we found the Effigy Mounds and learned that we are all grossly out of shape. Well, all of us except the six year old who kept telling us to try harder, and we learned that a career as a motivational coach is probably not in her future. 

Our Iowa adventure may have been short, but we packed it full of memories. We all went into this vacation thinking maybe it would be a dud, but we would have gone on an adventure this summer together and that’s what would matter, but it turned out to be a real favorite for everyone.

The next time you are looking to go on a vacation, or maybe you’re just visiting family in a new place, I highly recommend checking the City Mom Collective map to see if there is a Sister Site for that area. I also recommend not setting a destination aside based on word of mouth, it doesn’t matter where you go, you can make it a fun adventure for everyone, you just have to get creative and be open to new experiences – even in Iowa.