Des Moines Travel Guide

USA  
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Courtesy of Monte Goodyk/Getty Images

Free Things To Do in Des Moines

If you have extra time, Iowa State Capitol is worthwhile.
  • #2
    Things to do in Des Moines
    View all Photos
    #2 in Des Moines
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    In 2009, John and Mary Pappajohn, a Des Moines venture capitalist and his wife, provided funding for and donated more than 30 sculptures to the Des Moines Art Center. Their donation transformed an assortment of dilapidated buildings into the attractive sculpture park that stands today. One particular highlight of the 4.4-acre park is Jaume Plensa's Nomade sculpture, a 27-foot-tall hollow human form composed of white steel letters arranged next to and on top of one another.

    Past visitors called the sculpture park a must-see sight in Des Moines. Many also recommended packing a picnic to enjoy among the sculptures.

  • #3
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    #3 in Des Moines
    Free, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Stretching 25 miles and winding its way through five cities, the High Trestle Trail is a decommissioned railroad line that has been converted into a multiuse trail. Due to the trail's origins, it's relatively smooth and flat, making it ideal terrain for joggers and bicyclists. For many visitors, the trail's main highlight is the High Trestle Trail Bridge, which is located between the cities of Woodward and Madrid. The 1/2-mile, 13-story bridge crosses the Des Moines River valley and features six overlooks with interactive panels explaining the area's cultural and natural history. After dark, a section of the bridge's steel cribbings illuminate with a blue light. From April through October, the bridge is lit from sunset until midnight. From November through March, the lights shut off at 9 p.m.

    Past visitors raved about the trail, especially the photo-ops at the bridge. Several recommended arriving at night when the bridge is illuminated.

  • #4
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    #4 in Des Moines
    Free, Monuments and Memorials
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Monuments and Memorials
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Iowa State Capitol is a favorite of sightseers and history buffs thanks to its grand exterior and ornate interior. Completed in 1886, the capitol building has undergone several restorations. Among its architectural highlights are 29 types of marble, 12 types of wood (all native to Iowa, except mahogany) and the 23-karat gold-covered dome that stands 275 feet above the capitol grounds. Not only is the building home to the governor's offices, the legislature and the old Supreme Court room, but it also shelters several artifacts, including a model of the USS Iowa battleship and several monuments and memorials.

    According to past visitors, the capitol building should not be missed thanks to its impressive interior and artwork. Though you can tour the building on your own, some reviewers recommended opting for a guided tour, which can be prearranged by calling the Iowa Capitol Visitor Center.

  • #8
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    #8 in Des Moines
    Free, Shopping
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Shopping
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    It started in 1976 with just 15 vendors and has since grown to nearly 300 vendors and an average of 25,000 visitors each Saturday. The Downtown Farmers' Market is the place to go to sample local produce, pastries, cheese and more.

    Past visitors raved about the market and advised looking for long lines at vendors to determine which ones are the best. They also suggested coming hungry to make the most of the market's smorgasbord of food.

  • #9
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    #9 in Des Moines
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    A companion site to the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Des Moines Art Center features a collection of 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century works of modern and contemporary art. Other artistic styles, including Renaissance, impressionism and post-impressionism, are also on display here. Artists featured in the center's 5,000-work collection include Georgia O'Keeffe, Henri Matisse and Edward Hopper, among others.

    Past travelers enjoyed visiting the Des Moines Art Center, though a few were unimpressed with its size. Some recommended opting for a guided tour to make the most of your visit. If you aren't able to arrange one, you can also access an audio tour at any time via your mobile phone.

  • #11
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    #11 in Des Moines
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    For a taste of the outdoors, head to Gray's Lake Park. Situated about 2 miles southwest of downtown by the Raccoon River, Gray's Lake Park features a 167-acre lake with a 2-mile pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly trail encircling it. Along with the walking and biking path, the park also offers a playground, a boat ramp and facilities like restrooms. Available boat rentals include canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and stand-up paddleboards.

    Locals and visitors alike offer favorable reviews for the park, saying it's a great place to bring kids. Others praise the park's cleanliness.

  • View all Photos
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

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  • View all Photos
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

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  • View all Photos
    Free, Sports
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Sports
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

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