6 Free Things To Do In Iowa During The Winter

Photo courtesy of University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

By Jessica Lee

January 3, 2023

With winter setting in across Iowa, some are counting the days until spring arrives. But there’s also plenty of fun things to do in the winter to relieve stress and get out of the house. And, you don’t have to break the bank to do it. Here are some free things you can do this winter across Iowa including various museums and some fun outdoor activities. 

Visit the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines

Photo courtesy of Indre Cantero Photography

It might seem like an obvious choice to head to the Capitol Building, but you’d be surprised about the number of people who have never visited their state’s. If you aren’t a fan of outdoor activities in the winter, visiting the Iowa State Capitol building is one of many good choices.

The building is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. You can take a self-guided tour or call ahead to schedule a tour. Taking a tour is the opportunity to learn more about the history of the building, its architecture, and some fun trivia about Iowa.

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Visit the State Historical Museum of Iowa

Photo via State Historical Society Facebook page

If you decide to head to the Capitol, don’t leave Des Moines without stopping in at the State Historical Museum of Iowa, open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum has various exhibits and collections that allow you to learn about Iowa before and after it became a state. Additionally, learn about the state’s natural resources, Iowa’s Hollywood legacy, the role Iowans played in the civil war, and much more. 

Go for a Winter Hike/Snowshoeing 

Photo courtesy of Aaron Huber via Unsplash

Iowa winters are full of several pleasant days giving outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to go for a hike or break out the snowshoes or cross-country skis. Iowa is full of scenic, multipurpose trails that don’t cost a thing. Here are some Iowa trails that offer the perfect backdrop for walking in a winter wonderland:

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Visit the Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center has a large collection of quality exhibits from all over the world. The museum’s primary focus is contemporary art and most pieces come from the 19th century and later. During your visit—open Tues./Wed. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thurs./Fri. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat./Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—you’ll find major works from Francis Bacon, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and many more. Expect to see permanent collections as well as current exhibitions, so even if you’ve visited before, you’ll be sure to find new photos, paintings, sculptures, and more.

Head to Your Local Public Library

You don’t need to be a big reader to take advantage of the fun things to do at your local public library. Of course, you can always go check out a book or two and find a quiet spot to do some reading. But, today’s public libraries serve as community gathering spaces and many offer various programs for kids, teens, and adults. Exact programs vary by location, but some examples of programs you might find at your local public library in Iowa include: 

  • Arts and crafts
  • Story time
  • Book clubs
  • Writing programs 
  • Author visits/talks
  • Movies
  • Games and learning new games like chess and Mah Jongg 

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Visit the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History in Iowa City

Photo courtesy of University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

Head to Iowa City to check out the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. when classes resume in the last half of January. You’ll find various exhibits on a wide range of subjects from archaeology to entomology to the Ice Age. Even if you’ve visited before, consider going again for one of the many programs they run throughout the winter.

The Museum of Natural History has more to offer than stuffed animals and bugs. For example, the museum holds Art & Write Night once per month to welcome artists of all skill levels to get inspired by exhibitions and create, whether writing, sketching, or painting. Also, keep a look out for game night and spotlights on specific exhibitions. 


By Jessica Lee

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