Tips for the Iowa State Fair, Des Moines, Iowa, USA

Last Updated on May 26, 2014 by Jody Halsted

It’s listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die as “America’s Most Celebrated Ag-stravaganza”. With a book, movies and a musical written about it,the Iowa State Fair draws millions of visitors each year from all ends of the earth. From the butter cow- sculpted from 550 pounds of butter- to the largest bull; from pork chops on a “stick” to the big pig; from riding behind a tractor to gliding above the crowd the State Fair is great for kids of all ages.

A bit from the official State Fair website:

A proud tradition since 1854, the Fair inspired the internationally-acclaimed
novel, “State Fair,” three motion pictures, plus Rodgers and Hammerstein’s
Broadway musical. Special features include one of the world’s largest
livestock shows, the country’s largest state fair foods department (approx.
900 classes), the state’s largest arts show, hundreds of competitive events
and wacky contests; 600 plus exhibitors and concessionaires selling quality
and tasty treats, and 160 rolling acres of campgrounds.

I’m going to begin with tips.

  • Bring something to push, pull or drag your kids around in if you plan to spend more than a couple of hours here. Wagons are available for rent if you don’t bring one. If the kids are under 8 you will definately use it. We use the Baby Trend Sit N Stand Stroller because it has room for the baby, the toddler and all their gear. We also utilize our harness buddy, which you can read more about in this post.
  • Pack a cooler with water, juice and healthy snacks that your kids enjoy. (Coolers are not usually admitted so hide it in your stroller or wagon. I’ve never had a problem with bringing in a cooler since I have little ones, but why flaunt it?) There are dual reasons for this: 1) it’s spendy to eat at the fair and 2) you really have to bring something to keep little tummies settled with all the fried foods that surround you.
  • Bring a blanket to spread on the grass under a shady tree. It will be hot and you will want to sit and relax. Luckily there are plenty of stages with free entertainment. Seating, however, is mostly on the ground. A blanket is perfect for relaxing.
  • Bring changes of clothing. The fairgrounds have two water features (read: water that sprays out of the ground) that your kids will want to play in. Be prepared and let them.
    Iowa State Fair, State Fairs, State Fair, Iowa
  • Parking can be tough. Plan to pay a local to park in thier yard and walk a few blocks. It’s big business.
  • Wear shoes you can walk in. If you have a stroller it is difficult to hop on one of the tractors that pull trailers full of fairgoers. And the Iowa State Fair is full of animals; you will encounter poo. I suggest tennis shoes- unless you like unidentifiable goo between your toes.
  • Bring your camera. Who knows when you will get to see a 2 ton bull or your child cuddling a baby chick again.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen and hats. It’s August and Iowa is hot and humid.
  • Bring plenty of baby wipes and hand sanitizer. You – and the kids- will be touching plenty of animals, railings and things that others have handled. As well as messy food.

Now, what to do while you’re there…

Kids love animals. It’s just a fact. And the Iowa State Fair is full of animals. Rabbits, dogs, and cats reside on one side of the grounds while pigs, sheep, cows and horses are at the center of the action. The Avenue of Breeds gives you up-close-and-personal looks at everything from elk and llama to miniature cows and goats. You can also hold a baby chick and pet a new calf or piglet.

petting zoo, Iowa State Fair, Iowa, Iowa attractions
Iowa State Fair, State Fairs, State Fair, Iowa

As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of stages with free entertainment which changes by the day. You can check the schedule for the day you are going online or you can pick up a schedule when you arrive at the fair.

Don’t miss the Hy Vee Fun Forest. It’s all about the kids here with a play area, a stage of kid-focused entertainment, and a garden to explore.

For hands on activities sign the kids up for Blue Ribbon Kids online or at the Des Moines Register service center on the main concourse. Here’s part of the press release from 2007:

Young Fairgoers looking for a new adventure with the classic thrills of the Iowa State Fair will want to join Blue Ribbon Kids, the Fair’s free club for children ages 10 and under. The 2007 Iowa State Fair runs August 9-19.

During weekdays of the Fair, kids’ club members will have the opportunity to participate in seven free fun-filled activities. All events start at 10 a.m. and will last 30-60 minutes. Children can sign up at any kids’ club event or at The Des Moines Register Service Center. Blue Ribbon Kids is sponsored by Bankers Trust, The Des Moines Register and KDSM FOX 17.

Also look for Little Hands on the Farm which lets kids 2-10 get involved in all aspects of farming from planting to marketing.

Just south of Little Hands on the Farm is the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center where you can see the miracle of life, up close and personal. Expectant animals will be housed here in the hopes of babies making their debut at the fair.

You won’t want to miss the Butter Cow. There is usually a line to view it and the other butter sculptures (past butter carvings have included Tiger Woods and Harry Potter).

The museum complex will take you back to the fair’s past- including crashing locomotives!

There is so much more… Grandpa’s Farm, Expo Hill, the midway, the Giant slide and sky gliders…

As the song goes, “Our state fair is a great state fair…”

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  1. I actually went here a few years ago. It was the most impressive state fair I have ever seen. I saw the butter cow there too. I also remember that I saw a taffy pull there too! Thanks for reminding me about this event! ~ jb///

  2. Wow, this brought back great memories! We lived in Des Moines several years and actually returned there this July for a family vacation. Not many people vacation in DSM!! It’s a very special place and we always enjoyed the fair.

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