As the corn grows taller across Iowa, so too are festivals cropping up all over the state.
But these aren’t your average summer and fall festivals.
With unique themes (you’ll notice food is a major inspiration here in Iowa), legacies, and traditions, these family-friendly festivals are chock-full of small-town charm, tasty eats, and quirky excitement.
The best part is that attendance at most of these eccentric events is free of charge. Just bring along your cash to snap up delectable delights or to enjoy special offerings like road races, carnival rides, vendors, food, and more.
Read on to fill up your summer and fall calendars with these offbeat festivals happening all over the state, now through November. You’re sure to find some spirited fun.
Get ready to get corny! It should come as no surprise that several communities across the state reserve a weekend to celebrate corn on the cob.
While Gladbrook’s Corn Carnival (personally, we think they should have called it a Corn-ival!), already kicked off the corn festival circuit with its 101st annual festival on the last weekend in spring, don’t sweat it if you missed it. Several other communities celebrate the sweetness of corn later this summer.
Mark your calendar to visit Estherville for Sweet Corn Days on August 3-5, Adel for their Sweet Corn Days on August 12, or Cedar Rapids for the St. Jude’s Sweet Corn Festival on August 11-13. No matter which festival you hit up, bring the floss because you’re obligated to eat several ears of buttery sweet corn.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Now through July 4
The city of Cedar Rapids has decided its a community that needs several weeks to celebrate its patriotism, starting on Flag Day and running through Independence Day.
Enter the Freedom Festival, a whole series of events that happen in every quadrant of the city to offer fun for the whole family. There are dozens of events, including a dock dogs jumping competition, a hot air balloon glow evening event, musical entertainment spread across several venues, a parade, a fun run, classic car show, a pancake breakfast, and more.
Many events are free of charge, though some require the purchase of a Freedom Festival button for admission. Check the website for details. And don’t miss the grand finale, a stunning fireworks display in the heart of downtown on the Fourth of July. Let freedom ring!
Burr Oak, Iowa
If you ever dreamed of experiencing life as Laura Ingalls Wilder did in Little House on the Prairie, this festival is for you.
Don a prairie dress and bonnet and head to Burr Oak, where there are children’s pioneer games to play and old time crafting demonstrations. Check out the Little Miss Laura and Young Almanzo contest, the parade, and tours of the schoolhouse where old time lessons will be given. Plus, there’s a smoke-off cooking contest and musical entertainment.
Hosted by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, this celebration is sure to take you back in time.
Calling all Trekkies! You are invited to Riverside, Iowa, the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk (March 22, 2228 to be exact).
Each year this small town in eastern Iowa is the gathering point for Star Trek fans from galaxies near and far. There’s a parade, an intergalactic pet show, trivia contests, costume contests, a fun run, and live music. Make sure to grab a limited edition collectors can of Bajoran Ale, the official ale of Trek Fest 38’s themed Quark’s Bar.
The parade is a fan favorite each year and don’t miss your opportunity for a Star Trek celebrity photo op: This summer, you can meet Chase Masterson, who played the role of Leeta; executive producer and script coordinator Lolita Fatjo; and make-up artist John Paladin.
As you leave Riverside for the weekend, of course they will encourage you to “live long and prosper.”
The World’s Largest Truckstop just happens to be located right off of Interstate 80 in Walcott, Iowa. And where better to host a tribute to long-haul road warriors?
Each year in July, they host the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, an event started in 1979 to celebrate truckers everywhere. It includes the Trucker Olympics, a Super Truck beauty contest (we’re serious!), a Trucker’s Best Friend pet contest, a pork chop cook-out, fireworks, antique truck displays, and a semi-load’s worth more fun. Musical entertainment this year includes Shenandoah and Electric Shock-The AC/DC Show.
It can be especially fun to go in the evening to see all the trucks lined up and lit up.
Who’s ready to toss a hay bale? It’s definitely not easier than it looks.
Solon hosts its annual Beef Days celebration in July each summer. This year is the 50th annual event for the quintessential small town festival.
Of course you’ll find carnival rides, lots of vendors to shop, and musical entertainment each day and night. There’s a fun run and parade and a bags tournament. The hay bale throwing contest is a crowd favorite. Anyone can sign up to join. It will help you work up an appetite for the steak dinner served Friday evening.
This annual festival is a big dill! Hosted in Walker, a community celebrating its 150th anniversary this summer, Pickle Days is a festival that has been going strong, and tart, for years.
Like in many small towns across Iowa, you’ll find carnival rides, a 5K run and walk, fireworks, and other family-friendly activities. But unlike in most other communities, you can also sign up to enter the pickle-eating contest.
Välkommen to Decorah for Nordic Fest, where you can submerge yourself in all things Scandinavian during the last weekend in July.
You’ll see traditional craft demonstrations and costumes, tour the Vesterheim Museum, and even visit a Viking encampment. There are also bountiful music performances and performances by Nordic dancers throughout the weekend.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to come prepared to eat. There’s a Pannekake (Pancake) Breakfast to enjoy, plus you must try the lingonberry juice drinks: Lefse (Norwegian flatbread), Norwegian meatballs, and the Kringla—a Scandinavian pastry shaped like a pretzel, but sweet with a soft crust.
Don’t miss the parade and the fireworks celebration to feel as if you’ve been fully transported to Scandinavia, if only for one weekend, in northeast Iowa.
July 28 – August 5
We promise we are not full of hot air when we tell you this is a can’t-miss event.
Located in Indianola at the Balloon Field, the National Balloon Classic is a gathering of more than 100 hot air balloons. You’ll be in awe as they take to the sky and dot the horizon over the rolling Iowa farmlands.
There are morning and evening launches of balloons each day offering plenty of opportunities for attendees to view the colorful liftoff.
The event requires purchasing a $10 general admission ticket, which includes parking. There’s also musical entertainment each night and the opportunity to purchase a hot air balloon flight ($250). But do check the weather before you go, as the balloon launches are dependent on Mother Nature’s cooperation.
West Branch, Iowa
Not many small towns in Iowa can say they were the boyhood home of a U.S. president.
West Branch in eastern Iowa takes a whole weekend to celebrate the fact they are the hometown of 31st President Herbert Hoover.
This classic Americana celebration features live music, bouncy houses and other inflatable games, a petting zoo, and the annual Mayor’s Parade. It also includes tasty treats and the opportunity to shop around the historic Main Street district.
You can tour the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum and spend time in the adjacent National Park where you’ll see historic reenactments while checking out vendors and sampling the offerings of local food trucks. Hoover’s legacy is alive and well on the first weekend in August in West Branch.
While you might not hear the phrase all that often anymore, the small town of Britt in Hancock County is doing its part to help others remember a piece of history.
Historically, hobos made their way across the country by freight train. They were homeless by choice; working to travel and traveling to work.
Since 1900, Britt has been hosting a National Hobo Convention. Each August, they put together the hobo festival that includes a parade and entertainment. There’s even the election of the King and Queen of the Hobos.
Royalty aside, modern-day hobos come to town to set up a Hobo Jungle, where they sell their crafts and provide entertainment. While in Britt, you can also visit the National Hobo Museum and the Hobo Memorial Cemetery, where many steam-era hobos have been laid to rest.
The Meskwaki people invite all to join them for their annual powwow celebration each August. The only event of its kind in Iowa, held on the only indigenous settlement in Iowa, this is a truly special cultural event to experience.
Many people are surprised to know that the general public is welcome to attend. The Meskwaki people simply ask that spectators bring their respect and reverence along as they learn about the rich history and customs of the Meskwaki people.
There is a Grand Entry (similar to a parade march) each day at 1 and 7 p.m., during which members of the Meskwaki tribe are dressed in traditional garments and headdresses and demonstrate traditional Meskwaki singing and dancing passed down from generation to generation as they enter the arena. The colors are vibrant, the sounds are enchanting, and there’s so much to learn about the meanings of different parts of the ceremony.
As part of the powwow, there are also vendors selling Indian fry bread and other treats as well as native arts and crafts. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. It’s a meeting of west and east, and an opportunity to learn about the Meskwaki way of life.
This festival is a battle between states, literally, and it just so happens to take place across the Mississippi River.
Started in 1987, Tugfest is an event that pits the strength of participants in LeClaire, Iowa against those across the river in Port Byron, Illinois. On Saturday afternoon, you can watch as 10 different 20-member tug teams pull at 2,700 feet (that’s 680 pounds!) of rope spanning the Mississippi River to see who wins a spectacular game of tug-of-war.
The winning team takes home a majestic alabaster statue of an eagle in flight; a regal reward for showing some real brawn. You and 35,000 other attendees will watch to see who takes the top prize or who might just get tugged into taking a dip in the Mighty Mississip’!
If you aren’t doing the tugging, make time to enjoy the carnival, parade, fireworks, and other fun and entertainment scheduled throughout the weekend on the banks of America’s great river.
The very idea of this festival might make your nose crinkle.
Make plans to stop by Lisbon for the annual Sauerkraut Days celebration, which has been going strong in the kraut-cutting community since 1909.
As you might expect, there is BINGO, trivia, a 5K race, a parade, an ice cream social, and live entertainment for the whole family. What you might not expect to see are the Cabbage Head Car Show and bathtub races.
Of course, there’s all the Frank’s Kraut you can eat; we recommend it with bratwurst.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Hear ye! Hear ye! There are renaissance fairs to attend!
Grab your chain mail or your favorite gown and head out to the Midlands Renaissance Revel and Pirate Fest.
A favorite event in western Iowa each August, this renaissance fair includes main stage entertainment (jousting, juggling, musing, and more), characters strolling about the festival (including fairies, popes, mermaids, and royalty), and living history encampments to explore, including the festival village and a viking village. Tickets are $8 for children and $15 for adults, or you can buy a family pass for $80.
If you can’t make it to the Revel, thou shall not fret. There are several other renaissance fairs happening across the state as well. Check out the Renaissance Faire at Sleepy Hollow just outside of Des Moines. Events happen during three weekends in September. The Quad Cities Renaissance Faire happens September 23-24. And there’s also the Iowa Renaissance Festival in Amana on October 7-8.
Not much beats an ice cold Coca-Cola on a hot summer day. What better place to enjoy a sip of the sweet, bubbly soda than in the Coca-Cola capital of the state?
Atlantic hosts Coca-Cola Days at the very end of summer to celebrate the beverage that is bottled locally. The event is the second largest mini-convention of Coca-Cola collectors in the United States (second only to Coca-Cola’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia).
There’s a tailgate party Friday night that offers dinner and all the Coca-Cola you can drink for $8. Then on Saturday, check out all the collectors selling and swapping their Coca-Cola t-shirts, mugs, bottles, and other memorabilia.
September 29-October 1
If you can’t be in Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest, we recommend making your way to the Amana Colonies to celebrate stateside.
The festival each fall promises polka dancing, plenty of brats, pretzel necklaces, and pints upon pints of beer. Festhalle in Amana is decked out for the occasion and truly makes you feel transported to Bavaria.
Admission is $10 for a one-day pass and $15 for a two-day pass. Of course, the event kicks off with a ceremonial keg tapping, followed by folk singers, Bavarian Musikmeisters, a brat-eating contest, and plenty of games. While the event is family-friendly, guests must be over 21 to enjoy a brew, of course. Prost!
Oh my gourd! You’ll hardly believe your eyes when you see the size of the pumpkins weighing in to compete at Pumpkinfest.
Held in Anamosa, a small town northeast of Cedar Rapids, each fall, this event is a festival with a true Main Street feel. There are dozens of food and craft vendors, kids’ games, a 5K, and one of the largest parades in all of Iowa.
Sign up for the pumpkin toss, pumpkin roll, or pumpkin carving to take part in the fun. Then tune in when they weigh the giant pumpkins. Last year’s winner weighed in at 2,424 pounds, a new state record!