Whether you plan to visit western Iowa over the holiday season, hunker down in central or eastern Iowa, or trek across the state, we’ve come up with a list of the boldest and brightest holiday light displays in Iowa that you simply must see before 2023 comes to a close.
These top light displays should be added to your holiday to-do list to help maximize your holiday enjoyment and instantly boost your holiday spirit. And just for good measure, we’ve added a few Christmas tree farms sprinkled across the state that are also worth a holiday visit. First stop…light displays that will dazzle and delight. Grab a hot cocoa and see for yourself.
It’s been called one of the best spots for Main Street shopping during the holiday season. Once you’ve checked off the needed items from your Christmas list, stick around for the lights to go on and scintillate the quaint Atlantic downtown. From trees to storefronts, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported right into a Hallmark Christmas movie. More than 200,000 LED lights will adorn six downtown blocks through New Year’s Eve. Little ones can also visit Santa in his cabin on Thursdays and Saturdays during December.
This is one family with a whole lot of Christmas spirit. Located on the family farm of Rob and Joyce Scheitler, this festive holiday light display features more than 180 lighted sculptures, inflatables, and more. Plus some 200,000 Christmas lights. Grab some hot cocoa and enjoy what is believed to be the largest rural Christmas display in the region. This annual holiday display got its start some 25 years ago and will entertain visitors again this year through Dec. 31. While the display is free and open to the public, they do encourage donations to support the local Christian Needs Center.
Now through Jan. 7, the Outlets of Des Moines outdoor mall in Altoona has been transformed into a holiday haven, attracting kids and kids at heart to view the spectacular light displays. Created by the Make-A-Wish Foundation more than 25 years ago, the event is a fundraiser that helps make wishes come true for local children. Viewing the lights is free, but other events such as Breakfast with Santa, train rides, and special shopping nights have tickets for purchase.
It looks like someone painted the walls of downtown Oskalooska with lights for this dazzling holiday light display. More than 300,000 LED lights fully illuminate the fronts of buildings in the historic downtown surrounding City Square Park. The first of its kind in the state, this light show can be viewed daily from 4:30 to 11 p.m. now through early January. Be sure to climb up the stairs of the historic bandstand, where you can take in a 360-degree view of the display.
Reiman Gardens in Ames gets decked out for most holidays and Christmastime is no different. Grab tickets to wander through the gardens on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights in December to see the light displays that will make your spirits bright as you wander through tunnels and see light displays magically skip across the water. Walking through the 17-acre park is an enchanting way to celebrate the holiday season.
Set up in Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge, Lights at Kennedy has been a must-stop for many in the area for years. Set to music as you drive through the park, you’ll see festival holiday displays sponsored by local businesses. The free light display is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays leading up to Christmas, then one more time on Dec. 23.
As you approach downtown Dubuque on the banks of the Mississippi River, you’ll see lights on the hillside at Louis Murphy Park. There, from the comfort of your vehicle as you drive through the park, you can see more than 80 lit holiday displays. On Mondays through Dec. 18 you’ll also find Santa in the park. There is a $12 fee to drive through the park, as this is a fundraiser that supports Hillcrest Family Services. It runs nightly from 5-10 p.m. through Jan. 1.
A new winter wonderland has popped up on the west bank of the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids. Now through Dec. 31, McGrath Amphitheater is aglow in holiday lights and decor—perfect for wandering through with your family, partner, or solo. Open from 5-9 p.m. during the week and 4:30-9:30 p.m. on weekends, this free holiday event also features food trucks and live entertainment on weekends. It’s a holiday glow-up for the City of Five Seasons.
The Amana Colonies know how to throw a party and the annual Tannenbaum Forest Festival is perhaps their most magical. On Thursdays through Sundays in December, stop by the Amana Colonies Festhalle Barn to see it filled with more than 60 Christmas trees. There’s plenty of other holiday spirit to enjoy, including the impressive 17-foot German Christmas pyramid. Don’t forget to snap a photo in Santa’s sleigh—it just might become a holiday tradition. But don’t delay—the Tannenbaum Forest Festival only runs through Dec. 17.
The largest holiday drive-thru park in the southeastern part of the state is all set up and ready for holiday viewing in Mount Pleasant. Festival of Lights takes over the Old Thresher’s site with more than 140 holiday light displays to enjoy. You’ll see tractors, candy canes, and more as you wind your way through the 1.6-mile dazzling display. Tickets are $10 for a family vehicle or $30 for a small motor coach and the display runs through Dec. 31.
Take a spin around the lake, or more specifically the West Overlake Campground in Iowa City, as you enjoy the Holiday Lights at the Lake. Relatively new on the scene—this is just their third year of operation—this holiday light display is open nightly through Dec. 31 and entirely run by volunteers. Vehicles can make their way through the lighted display for $10 (or $30 for larger vehicles like RVs and motorcoahes) and all proceeds benefit The Bird House, a nonprofit hospice home in Johnson County. If you’d like to walk through the display for just $5, plan to go on a Wednesday night when it’s closed to drive-thru traffic.
The city of Clinton gets into the holiday spirit with the annual Symphony of Lights display. With some 40 lit displays and an additional 500,000 lights, Eagle Point Park just off Highway 67 is transformed into a magical holiday festival site. Open nightly through Dec. 30, this is another drive-thru light show you can enjoy from your cozy vehicle.
And, if you haven’t yet snagged your Christmas tree to put up your own holiday light display inside your home, you might also think about visiting one of these Iowa Christmas tree farms. Scattered about the state, they offer the opportunity to take home a fresh-cut evergreen tree (one you may even cut down yourself) to bring some holiday cheer to your indoor space. Check each website to verify hours of operation leading up to Christmas Day.
Started in 1980, this tree farm near Morning Sun is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. until Christmas. They also sell wreaths and offer roping services. In fact, since 1986, they have sold more than 10,000 wreaths and 35,000 feet of rope.
Though they are sold out of Christmas trees for the 2023 season, The Christmas Grainery in Sheldon is a great spot to shop for homemade soaps, decor, and local honey. You can also set up a time to make a DIY wreath to add holiday cheer to your home.
Stop in now through Dec. 23 to choose a Christmas tree—there are more than 2,500 of them to choose from spread over 50 acres. Or set up a wreath-making class for you and a group to enjoy.
While their fresh-cut tree location is closed for the season, you can still stop by their lot on the edge of Clear Lake to purchase a beautiful tree. It’s open 24/7, operating on an honor system, so bring along your Iowa nice as you wouldn’t want to make the naughty list this close to Christmas. They also offer porch pots, wreaths, and other holiday decor for sale.
Santa has been spotted wandering through the woods at Miller Tree Farm in Runnells. See if you can spot him when you stop by to cut your own tree or take home one that’s been pre-cut. They also make fresh evergreen arrangements available for purchase daily.
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