Things to Do In Des Moines for Kids and Families

a family grouped together smiling

Recognized as one of the safest places to live and a top city for work/life balance, it’s truly no surprise DSM is also recognized as a Top 5 Best Place to Live for Families (U.S. News & World Report, 2022-23). It makes sense that parents with children find DSM is the perfect place to be, as Des Moines is full of things to do with kids and fun family activities.

In addition to amenities and things to do, the area school districts, public libraries and parks departments offer plenty of programs and events focused on enrichment, education, sports, recreation and of course, good ol’ fun.  

Family Attractions in Des Moines

There is always so much to explore around DSM! Both the young and young-at-heart will find there is never a dull moment here. Below is just a sampling of what you’ll find to do in DSM: 

  • Adventureland — both an amusement park, water park and hotel, Adventureland is an awesome spot to snag season tickets for your summertime family entertainment 
  • Blank Park Zoo — the zoo is a great little getaway for the day and suitable for the whole fam 
  • Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden — the geodesic indoor conservatory is full of tropical plants and educational programming, and the outdoor gardens provide picturesque views of the Des Moines River and Downtown skyline 
  • Heritage Carousel — this wooden carousel from the 1930s is a beloved staple in DSM, where rides are just $0.50 for kids and $1 for adults! 
  • Jester Park – With a nature center, fishing ponds, horseback riding and more, Jester Park is a nature-lovers paradise.  
  • John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park — a 4.4-acre open air park featuring more than two dozen artful sculptures and a favorite to include in a Des Moines day of family-friendly activities 
  • Living History Farms — step back in time to explore Iowa’s history on the farm at this 500-acre open air museum 
  • National Balloon Museum – explore the world of hot air balloons in Indianola (and be sure to add the National Balloon Classic to your calendar!) 
  • Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge – Drive winding roads to spot bison and elk, stop by the visitors center and hike the trails as you experience 6,000 acres of native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow 
  • Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum – Get a glimpse of what Iowa was like in the 1800s at this spot just north of Oskaloosa 
  • Science Center of Iowa — hands-on science exhibits offer unique learning for all ages 
  • State Historical Museum of Iowa — A great spot for older kids and parents to explore more than 1,000 artifacts representing Iowa’s history, dating back to prehistoric times (and admission is free!) 
  • Valley Community Center — free and open to the community, you’ll find indoor play spaces ideal for kiddos, an outdoor playground, community garden, coffee shop and much more; parents find this is a great outlet for active kiddos during cold winter days 

Active Family Activities Around Des Moines

a family playing in a park

In addition to all the great parks and sports programs available, be sure to add these activities to your active family’s list of must-dos: 

  • Climb Iowa — Iowa’s largest indoor climbing and training center, also offering classes for all ages 
  • Great Escape — you’ll find bowling, laser tag and arcade here 
  • Pole Position Raceway — indoor go-karts…enough said 
  • Toad Valley’s Field of Greens — enjoy family-friendly Des Moines entertainment at this mini golf course 
  • Urban Air — kids can dodge, dip, dive, duck and doge at this indoor trampoline center where dodgeball is a big hit! 

Family Outings to Parks, Trails and Outdoor Recreation

Get out and enjoy the sprawling landscapes and parks around the region! A trail system made up of 800+ miles of connected pathways for biking, walking and running creates a network of park systems with waterplay and nature play that will satisfy the active needs of any high-energy kiddo. 

Seasons of Entertainment

Greater Des Moines is a four-season region: beautiful springtime blooms, vibrant events and waterplay during the summer months, outdoor recreation and the season’s harvest in the fall then snow-centric recreation each winter. Take a look at a few favorite seasonal ways to enjoy DSM as a family: 

Spring Family Activities

Make your Spring Break a staycation and plan an itinerary filled with Greater Des Moines family attractions, enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the annual Hops and Hoops March Madness viewing party. Visit Pella around Tulip Time to see the thousands of blooming flowers throughout the community. And find indoor activities for still-chilly days such as shopping at Jordan Creek Town Center and a free tour of the Iowa State Capitol.  

Summer Family Activities

a family playing with a football

Spend your Saturday morning at the Downtown Farmers’ Market. Hit up one of many aquatic centers like Cascade Falls or Valley View. Go for a dip at Saylorville Lake or bike out to the seriously stunning High Trestle Trail bridge. 

Fall Family Activities

Take advantage of Iowa’s deep agricultural roots by visiting a farm — you can even pitch in with the harvest! Get your fill of you-pick strawberries from Upstream Gardens, try fresh apples and apple treats at Wills Family Orchard and select your perfect fall pumpkins at Howell’s farm. 

Winter Family Activities

Sledding hills, ice skating and snow tubing, oh my! Locals love spending wintertime with family at Brenton Skating Plaza, an ice rink beneath the stars and shiny Downtown DSM skyline. Or exploring a fresh snowy trail at Jester Park where cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are fun family activities to try. Family-friendly events like Christkindlmarket and Jolly Holiday Lights are sure to be on your bucket list each year, as well!