Get to Know: Altoona

The community of Altoona is both a homey dwelling place and high-energy entertainment destination. You’ll find Adventureland Resort — Iowa’s best thrills and the state’s longest lazy river at Adventure Bay water park — as well as Prairie Meadows, a casino, hotel, event center, racetrack and more. Shop at Bass Pro Shops or the Outlets of Des Moines before hitting up dining establishments like The Big Steer Restaurant and Lounge or Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse for a hearty steak and some seafood. The community’s annual Altoona Palooza is for fun games and giving back to the community, and a visit to the gazebo in Haines Park draws locals to Music in the Park concerts all summer long. 

overhead view of Altoona

Altoona at a Glance 

  • Population: 20,705 (2021, U.S. Census Bureau) 
  • Location within Greater Des Moines: East 
  • Distance from Des Moines: 10.3 miles 
  • Type of Community: Suburb 
  • School District: Southeast Polk Community School District (Serves the communities of Altoona, Pleasant Hill, Mitchellville, Runnells and some portions of Des Moines) 
  • County: Polk 

Altoona in one sentence: Altoona melds the best of small-town friendliness with big-time fun and opportunities. 

The top five best things about Altoona: Altoona in Greater Des Moines (DSM) is famous for its thrilling rollercoasters — and they are pretty great! — but Adventureland amusement park is just one thing to love. Altoona is also a great place to raise a family. It’s part of the Southeast Polk Community School District, which boasts a 98.28% graduation rate. Major companies, top retailers and small businesses have put down roots here. There’s big-city shopping at the Outlets of Des Moines and an outdoor-enthusiast’s heaven at nearby Bass Pro Shops. And you’ll be amazed at the wealth of opportunities for fun — whether your idea of a good time is the Vegas-style action and live horse racing at Prairie Meadows casino, exploring miles of bike trails or unwinding with a small-batch, locally made beer. 

Hidden gems and unexpected finds in Altoona: Visit historic Olde Town in the heart of the city for off-the-beaten-path delights: mom-and-pop shops, a farmers’ market on Thursday evenings during the summer, delicious farm-to-table dinners, and the winter wonderland that is Christmas in Olde Town. While you’re there, catch a show at Class Act Productions, the local children’s community theater.  

Community traditions and annual events: When August rolls around, you won’t want to miss Altoona Palooza, an outdoor festival that celebrates summer with mud volleyball, live music and brews.

Best ways to get connected: Explore the Altoona Chamber of Commerce website to find the latest community events. Head to the Altoona Campus, a family-friendly fitness facility with classes and programs, an open gym, a pool, even pickleball competitions. Check out book clubs and crafts classes at the Altoona Public Library. Go on a club ride starting from Rasmussen Bike Shop. Join the Southeast Polk Booster Club or a service organization like the Lions or Rotary Club.  

riding bikes through a tunnel

Big things on the horizon for Altoona: Altoona ranks among the fastest-growing cities in DSM, nearly doubling its population between 2000 and 2020. Plans to annex land near Altoona’s border with Bondurant set the stage for more growth, including industrial development. On the other side of town, a new school is going up near the Sam Wise Youth Complex; it will serve students in sixth and seventh grades starting in the fall of 2024. Work also is continuing in the Spring Creek lakes area, transforming it into a residential center and recreational hub. And, out on Bass Pro Drive, crews recently broke ground for a new Honda auto dealership slated to open by the end of 2023.  

If you’re coming to check out Altoona, be sure to spend your day ... grabbing your morning coffee at Black Silo Coffee Roasting Co. before a run or bike ride down a stretch of the Gay Lea Wilson trail. Browse the shops at the Outlets of Des Moines and come face-to-face with giant fish in the equally giant aquarium at Bass Pro Shops. Grab a bite at one of the exciting new restaurants in the Bass Pro/Outlets neighborhood or go retro with a burger at the Sugar Shack (home to classic car cruise-ins throughout the summer). Spend the afternoon making a splash at the Altoona Aquatics Park or Adventure Bay — or enjoy a round of golf at Terrace Hills Golf Course. Then indulge in an Altoona favorite: the Big Steer Restaurant & Lounge, a supper club-style restaurant specializing in corn-fed prime rib. Cap off the day with a microbrew at Brightside Aleworks where you’ll sip and savor unique fruited sours, seasonal IPAs and more. 

Some of the ways Altoona advances diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): The Enabling Garden located off the Vern Willey II trail, a cooperative effort between the Polk County Master Gardeners and the City of Altoona, demonstrates beautiful designs for barrier-free gardening, opening the hobby to physically impaired individuals. While celebrating diversity today, the Southeast Polk Community School District also looks to the future, offering several clubs and organizations to promote diversity and inclusion. 

image of a rocketship in a park