A smiling boy looks on at the Back to the Future exhibit at Matchstick Marvels.

Eight Unconventional Activities for Iowa Families

If your family is looking for something unique to do this summer, check out these eight unconventional activities located across the state of Iowa. 

1) Visit the Prairie Flower Farm in Spencer, Iowa

Located in the Iowa Great Lakes region near Spencer, Iowa, the Prairie Flower Farm is a 500-acre farm dedicated to preserving Iowa prairies and wetlands. Rather than growing crops such as corn or soybeans, the Prairie Flower Farm raises native Iowa flowers and grasses. This farm features 5 miles of mowed trails, allowing visitors to navigate their way through the prairie while taking in the gorgeous views and identifying Iowa wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and insects. Explore the beauty of Iowa at the Prairie Flower Farm.

2) Creek Walk at Ledges State Park in Madrid, Iowa

While Ledges State Park provides a wide range of activities to do, none are as unique as creek walking. Creek walking is similar to hiking on a trail, but instead of following a walkway, creek walkers must follow a source of water. Pease Creek in Ledges State Park is the perfect place for families to try out creek walking, as the water is only ankle-deep. If you decide to creek walk in Pease Creek, be sure to watch out for fish in the water, as well as the occasional snake. Embrace your adventurous side and go creek-walking at Ledges State Park.

3) Explore the Devonian Fossil Gorge in Iowa City, Iowa

If you’re looking for an educational activity, The Devonian Fossil Gorge is the place to go. The Devonian Fossil Gorge is a fossilized ocean floor ecosystem that dates back to 375 million years ago. The gorge consists of fossils of sea creatures that lived during a time before dinosaurs, known as the Devonian period. Uncovered during the floods at Coralville Lake in 1993 and 2008, the gorge is a somewhat recent discovery. Visit the Devonian Fossil Gorge to learn more about the ancient creatures that were preserved.

4) Stargaze at Ashton Observatory in Mingo, Iowa

Located in Mingo, Iowa, the Ashton Observatory provides its visitors with the unique opportunity to learn more about space and the night sky. The Ashton Observatory is open to the public every Saturday night beginning in April and ending in October. Saturday programming starts at 8pm and includes an hour-long presentation before viewing. Visitors are able to look through telescopes in the observatory, as well as telescopes brought in by guests and members of the Des Moines Astronomical Society. Expand your knowledge of the universe and visit the Ashton Observatory.

5) Rock Climb at Climb Iowa in Grimes, Iowa

Climb Iowa provides families the opportunity to explore their adventurous side. Climb Iowa, located in Grimes, Iowa, features 10,000 square feet of climbing, with walls that reach up to 37.5 feet off the ground. Climb Iowa provides services to all individuals over the age of 4, meaning both parents and children alike may participate in rock climbing. For those who are new to climbing, a brief orientation is offered every 30 minutes, and climbing gear is available to rent. If you’re looking for a fun way to stay active, Climb Iowa is the place to go. 

6) Go Geocaching Across the State of Iowa

Geocaching is an exciting activity that allows you to explore the outdoors while working towards a goal. For those unfamiliar with the term, geocaching is an activity that consists of searching for hidden caches. Caches are located worldwide, in both rural and urban areas. In order to find a cache, you must first access a website that lists all of the caches in your area. The website will provide you with essential information about the cache, including its size, the terrain, and the difficulty level. Geocaching is free, but if you decide to take an item from a cache, then you must replace it with another item (ex. If you take a rubber dinosaur from a cache, you must replace the dinosaur with a bouncy ball of your own). Engage with your adventurous side and try geocaching today.

7) Take a Boat Tour at Spook Cave in McGregor, Iowa

Spook Cave boat tours offer individuals the chance to explore an underground cave in northeast Iowa. On the boat tour, guides describe the discovery of the cave, as well as provide information on how the cave was developed. There is no walking involved in this tour - it is taken entirely via boat. However, the boat tour does require extensive bending, so prepare to move around while aboard. Spook Cave tours take place underground, meaning the temperature is consistently around 47 degrees. Wearing warm and comfortable clothing is recommended. Explore Iowa’s unique landscape and take a boat tour at Spook Cave.

8) Visit the Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladbrook, Iowa

If you’re looking to check out an uncommon artform, the Matchstick Marvels Museum is worth taking a visit. The museum features models made entirely out of matchsticks, created by an Iowa artist named Patrick Acton. Some of the different models include a two-headed dragon, the International Space Station, the United States capital, and Hogwarts from the fictional series Harry Potter. Next time you find yourself in Tama County, be sure to stop and take in the wonders of the Matchstick Marvel Museum.