Taking kids to the Iowa State Fair? Here’s a list of things to do at the fair with kids and my top tips to know before you go.
This post is sponsored by Travel Iowa.
I look forward to the Iowa State Fair each and every year. I used to give speeches and perform on the stage in the 4-H building in middle and high school and practically lived at the fair during two college internships. So as a mom with young kids, I’m excited to make new state fair traditions as a family.
The Iowa State Fair is August 11-21, 2022, and features 11 full days packed with food and fun for the whole family. The fair can be overwhelming, so today I’m sharing my best tips for making the most of a day trip to the Iowa State Fair with younger kids in tow.
Iowa State Fair Fast Facts
- Iowa State Fair Dates:
- 2022: August 11-21
- 2023: August 10-20
- 2024: August 8-18
- 2025: August 7-17
- Location: For GPS and online mapping services, use the address 3000 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50317
- Hours: The grounds are open 8 a.m. to midnight, and the buildings are open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Most of the rides open at either 9 or 10 a.m.
- Admission costs: Admission costs: At the gate, adults (12 and up): $14 and children (6-11): $8. Advance admission tickets are available prior to the Fair for $9 and $5, respectively. Check the Fair’s website, iowastatefair.org, for locations to purchase.”
- Parking: Parking is available on the fairgrounds for $10. Many residents in the area offer parking on their lawns as well. In my experience, traffic can get very heavy and slow and parking lots tend to fill up, so I like to save myself some headaches and utilize the DART Park & Ride. With this option, you park at one of three locations and ride the DART bus to the fairgrounds. This is very economical, helps you avoid traffic, and often saves you some walking since the bus drops you off right at the gate. Fair parking details are listed here.
- Fairgrounds Map: It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the fairgrounds map before your visit so you have an idea of where the parking lots are located. And I keep this pulled up on my phone to reference during the fair.
Visit iowastatefair.org/visit for the most up-to-date visitor information.
This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for details.
Quick Tips For Taking Kids To The Iowa State fair
- Go On A Weekday: If you can make it to the Iowa State Fair on a weekday, I highly recommend it over the extra-busy weekends. Going earlier in the morning is also a good way to beat the crowds.
- Make A Plan: It’s impossible to see everything in one day, so I recommend going in with a plan. Having a list of your group’s must-sees, must-dos and must-eats will be useful. Study the map and plan a general route so you can get to the things you’re interested in without having to backtrack.
- Wear Walking Shoes: The state fair requires a lot of walking so wear your best walking shoes. You will be on your feet the majority of your time at the fair so plan accordingly. I also recommend closed-toe shoes or your feet will be filthy by the end of the day!
- Wear Comfortable Clothes: Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. We normally have some of our hottest weather during the Iowa State Fair so wear short sleeves and shorts and be prepared for a sweaty day. But if you go earlier in the morning or on an unusually cool day, you may find yourself wanting a light jacket. Ponchos are also a smart idea if rain is in the forecast.
- Bring Cash: Debit/credit cards are accepted at most places, but it tends to be easier and faster to pay with cash. Especially if your family is splitting up into lines at different food stands, having smaller bills to give to each family member for food can be helpful. There are ATMs available.
- Bring The Stroller: Definitely bring the stroller or a wagon for younger kids because it will be a long day of walking. Strollers are also so nice to have for stashing diaper bags, sunscreen, water bottles, etc. Strollers and wagons are also available to rent inside Gate #11 and Gate #15.
- Bring A Water Bottle & Snacks: Outside food and water bottles are allowed, so definitely bring water. You may also want to pack a few snacks, especially for little kids. Many of the buildings around the fairgrounds have water fountains where you can refill your water. They can be a little tough to find sometimes so keep an eye out and ask fair workers or volunteers if they know where you could refill your water.
- Don’t Forget Sun Protection: You’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors so don’t forget to apply sunscreen! Hats, sunglasses, and covered wagons/strollers are helpful to have for the kids.
- Pack The Essentials: You will not want to walk back to your car during the day so bring all of the essentials with you. A backpack/diaper bag is a great idea for keeping water bottles, sunscreen, etc. handy.
- Bring Extra Clothes: You might want to pack an extra change of clothes for the kids. This is one more thing to carry with you, but you’ll probably be glad you brought them. There’s a chance your kids will be running through sprinklers in the splash pad or spilling their ice cream down their shirts.
- Restrooms: The largest, nicest restrooms are located in the newer buildings that are air-conditioned.
- Nursing/Diaper Changing Stations: There are two baby diaper changing/nursing stations on the fairgrounds, one in the Animal Learning Center and one in the Walnut Center. If you’ll need to use these, locate them on the fair map in advance so you know where they are.
- Make Safety Plans: Kids wander off or get separated from their group every fair so it’s smart to be prepared. Kid Find bracelets are typically handed out at the information booths at the fair. You can tuck a piece of paper in their pocket with their name, your name, and your phone number. It’s also a good idea to take a current photo of your child(ren) right before you go to the fair and teach them to look for a police officer, fair staff or a mom with children if they get lost. There are some great safety tips in this article.
Things To Do At The Iowa State Fair With Kids
Food is one of the main attractions of the fair, so let’s talk about all the good food first! There are so many food vendors around the fairgrounds ranging from your classic corndogs and fried Oreos to more interesting items like the new Chicken Bacon Ranch Waffle On A Stick and Deep Fried Meatballs On A Stick.
Some of my must-have foods are the Hot Beef Sundae, fried cheese curds, and Barkesdale’s warm chocolate chip cookies (I usually buy a bucket when I’m leaving to take home). I also like the tater ribbon fries, fresh squeezed lemonade, Caprese salad on a stick, and the peppermint bar from Bauder’s Ice Cream.
It’s always fun to look at the list of new fair foods in advance and pick out a couple of things you’d like to try. They give awards to the top new foods each year so those are good ones to seek out, too.
Everything you need to know about Iowa State Fair food is on this website. There are also details there about healthy choices and gluten-free options.
Little Hands On The Farm
This is a must-do activity with your kids! Children ages 2 to 10 get to pretend their farmers in this interactive exhibit.
Kids are given a basket to collect various foods along the path, like “harvesting” vegetables from the garden, picking apples from the orchard, gathering eggs in the chicken coop, etc.
Then at the end, they get to “sell” their items at the market for play money that can be redeemed for a small treat in the grocery store. It’s so fun and totally free! Here’s a map with details about the exhibit.
The Giant Slide has been a state fair staple since 1971 and a favorite for fairgoers of all ages. You grab a mat, climb up the steps of the 45-foot-high slide, and slide down the iconic yellow and green slide. The cost is $3. Very young kids can ride with their parents.
Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center
Stop here to see adorable baby animals like newborn piglets and tiny chicks. There are also usually a few baby calves born during the fair so you might get lucky and see a cow and her new baby.
Quick Tip: This is a nice building with air conditioning, water fountains, and good restrooms.
There’s free entertainment, shows, and demonstrations sprinkled throughout the fairgrounds. Look at the daily schedule for free shows on the various stages and free activities taking place that day.
For example, the 4-H Exhibit Building often has make-and-take craft activities and the Anne & Bill Riley stage hosts all sorts of free shows. The Fun Forest Stage has live kid-friendly entertainment throughout the day and a playground area nearby.
Here’s a list of all the free entertainment at the Iowa State Fair.
Your kids will have fun seeing all the livestock around the fairgrounds. There are opportunities to see cute baby animals and even pet some of them:
- Avenue of Breeds
- Boulevard of Dairy Breeds
- Cattle Corner
- Horse Haven
- I Milked A Cow
- Milking Parlor/Milking Experience
- Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center
- Pig Place
- Sheep Stop
You can walk around the livestock barns and see lots of animals and I also recommend walking through the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center to see if there are any horse shows to watch. Some shows require paid admission, but earlier in the day there’s often something going on that’s free to watch. The building has great seats and air conditioning so it’s a nice spot to take a break!
There are three thrill parks at the Iowa State Fair. If you plan to ride a lot of rides, consider getting a wristband for the rides. Discounted wristbands can be purchased online in advance. Learn more about the rides and purchase tickets here.
- Thrill Ville: Buckle your seat belt for the newest, fastest, and most thrilling amusement rides. Thrill Ville offers a clean and family-friendly atmosphere but focuses on the spectacular, jaw-dropping, and super-speed screams of the best of today’s rides. Thrill Ville is located between the Grandstand and Ye Old Mill.
- Thrill Town: Little Fairgoers and their families will find loads of fun and stroller parking in Thrill Town. Thrill Town features kid-friendly rides in a fun, clean, and convenient location without having to navigate the larger Thrill Park areas. Thrill Town is located east of Gate 10 and directly north of the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center Lawn.
- Thrill Zone: Fairgoers seeking breathtaking, heart-stopping, hair-raising adventure will find it in the Thrill Zone. These unforgettable attractions will have you talking about the Iowa State Fair for months to come. Thrill Zone is located north of Gate 11 on the Fairgrounds.
The butter cow is one of those Iowa State Fair traditions that you have to stop and see. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a cow carved out of butter.
The butter cow is located in the Agricultural Building where you can usually find free hard-boiled eggs on a stick and buy a cup of honey lemonade from the Iowa Honey Producers upstairs. There are also giant pumpkins on the lawn in front of the building.
The sky glider is a ski lift that gives you a birds-eye view of the fairgrounds. It’s a fun way to see the fair and give your feet a break. The $4 one-way ticket is a nice shortcut to get to the other side of the fairgrounds or do the $7 round-trip for a relaxing ride.
Learn more about the Iowa State Fair at iowastatefair.org.
Looking for more Iowa travel ideas? Take a look at these blog posts:
- 10 Things To Do At Pella Tulip Time With Kids
- 10 Things To Do At The Iowa State Fair
- A Taste Of Culture At Three Pines Farm (Northeast Iowa Travel)
- A Creative Retreat to the Scenic Boone River Valley (North Iowa Travel)
Have a fantastic day!