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Day Trips from Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa is such a great community with so much for families to do, but sometimes it’s also fun to go on a little adventure and take a day trip to another town or city. 

Check out my list of perfect day trips from Des Moines.

Mom with a baby in a baby carrier and boy hiking through the woods.

Day Trips from Des Moines


Winterset is an easy 40 minute drive from Des Moines that is absolutely gorgeous. The rolling hills and countryside that you will see as you make your way to Winterset is so stunning.

Winterset, located in Madison County, is known for being the filming location of much of the movie, Bridges of Madison County

Another fun fact about Winterset is that it is the birthplace of John Wayne. 

On your day trip visit to Winterset, you may first want to stop by the Madison County Chamber and Welcome Center. At this Welcome Center, you can pick up a map of the Bridges of Madison County or you can download one here.

While at the Welcome Center, you can take this opportunity to explore the quaint downtown of Winterset or come back to it later to have some lunch. 

Next, you may want to visit at least a couple of Madison County’s famous bridges or if you came to see ALL of them, you can definitely do that too.

I recommend taking a drive to visit the Roseman Covered Bridge as it is a famous bridge in the Bridges of Madison County movie and is also considered to be haunted. 

Additionally, make sure to visit Winterset City Park. This park is home to the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge.

Winterset City Park also has a cool hedge maze, playground, and Clark Tower which looks like a castle.

If you have time, you may want to check out the John Wayne Birthplace Museum. 

Finally, if you are looking for a sweet treat, stop at Frostee’s Ice Cream Shop.

There really is so much to do and see in Winterset!


Another unique day trip from Des Moines is Pella. The drive to Pella from Des Moines is about 50 minutes. 

Pella is most known for its Tulip Festival that occurs in early May. Thousands flock to Pella for this festival and to view these precious flowers.

Fortunately, Pella is a wonderful community to visit at other times of the year as well!

Downtown Pella is super quaint and feels like you left Iowa and entered Holland. 

On your visit to Pella, make sure to visit Pella’s Historic Village as well as the Veneer Windmill which is the tallest working windmill in the country.  

You can take a self guided tour of the Historical Village which may take you about an hour or so to see everything. The kids will enjoy seeing all of the different buildings and artifacts in this village.

The Windmill Tour is a guided tour and is only at certain times during the day. I highly suggest taking a tour and seeing the inner workings of this windmill. It is super cool!

While in Pella, also make sure to check out the Klokkenspel which is a musical clock with dancing figures. You do not want to miss this either!

Additionally, make sure to visit Molengracht Plaza which is meant to resemble a Dutch canal with a drawbridge. This area is so charming!

Also, see the Sunken Garden which has a windmill and a pond shaped like a wooden shoe.

Even more, downtown Pella also has many great restaurants and shops to check out.

Make sure to try a Dutch letter at the Vander Ploeg Bakery. 

Check out my post on on things to do in Pella for even MORE fantastic ideas and details!

Ledges State Park

Ledges State Park is another awesome day trip from Des Moines. 

We love to go to Ledges both in the summer and in the fall. It is just a 45 minute drive from Des Moines.

In the summer, the kids LOVE creek walking in Pea’s Creek. If there is a lot of water, a popular activity that the kids get a kick out of is standing on the side of Canyon Drive and getting splashed by the water from the cars that drive past. 

During the fall, we enjoy hiking among all of the changing leaves. The canyon views are absolutely stunning.

There are so many great hikes that are perfect for families. The hikes are short and interesting enough that the kids will enjoy them too!

Ledges State Park is a great place to have a picnic during your visit so plan on packing a lunch!

Make sure to wear some good shoes for hiking and maybe a change of clothes in case the kids get wet in the creek.

Also, bring plenty of water with you.

Note: If you have some extra time, I would recommend taking a little detour to the High Trestle Bridge on your way to or from Ledges State Park. The High Trestle Bridge is just about 5 minutes off of your route in Madrid. 

This bridge goes across the Des Moines River, and the views from it are amazing. To find the closest parking spot to the bridge, put in 2335 QF Lane, Madrid, Iowa into your GPS.


Ames, home to Iowa State University, is another fantastic day trip from Des Moines. It is just a quick 45 minute drive up Interstate 35. 

Iowa State University is a gorgeous college campus to explore. 

Additionally, make sure to visit Reiman Gardens which has spectacular plants both inside and out as well as a butterfly wing. 

Make sure to visit Elwood the Gnome on your visit to Reiman Gardens as well as the Children’s Garden.

Additionally, downtown Ames has many cute shops to check out.

If you are looking for something special to eat, many people love the Filling Station or Hickory Park


We love taking a little day trip up to Boone to visit the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad. 

You can plan on taking a train ride across the amazing Des Moines Scenic River Valley.

There are a number of different unique train rides to choose from. They even have special holiday train rides throughout the year.

I would make sure to check the schedule on their website and purchase tickets ahead of time. 

With your train ticket, you can also visit the Railroad Museum. It is a neat museum to see as well!

Another fun activity is the Rail Explorers which is a 2 hour railbike experience. You will want to book this ahead of time on the website as these are popular and fill up very quickly. 

5 Great Day Trips from Des Moines

I really think these five day trips from Des Moines are excellent options for your family or friends. 

The drive to each of these places is less than an hour so driving won’t take up the entire day. Even more, each of the day trips are very unique and have fun things for your group to see or experience. 

Looking for more to do in Des Moines? Check out my list of free things to do in Des Moines and the best museums in Des Moines.

SAVE and PIN this post to refer to it when you plan your Des Moines getaway or vacation.

May you love your adventure! KW

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