best things to do in des moines

12 Best Free Things To Do in Des Moines, Iowa for 2022

This guide covers the Best Free Things to do In Des Moines for 2022.

The best things to do in Des Moines, Iowa include the Downtown Farmer’s Market, Historical Museum of Iowa, Lauridsen Skatepark, trails, and several other options found in this list.

Des Moines, Iowa is an up-and-coming city, with a metro population exceeding 690,000 citizens.

One of the best parts about Des Moines is its low cost of living (LCOL). In a previous article, we analyzed the differences in the cost of living between cities.

HCOL vs LCOL Cities

Des Moines, Iowa is an up-and-coming city with a metro population exceeding 210,000 citizens.

Iowa has become one of the Cheapest States to Live in during 2021, and its capital city of Des Moines is a great place to live!

Stemming from the heart of downtown Des Moines, to the surrounding suburbs, there are hidden gems around the area that you may never have heard of before.


Whether you are new to the area, on a budget, or simply curious as to what Des Moines and the surrounding suburbs have to offer, there is something for everyone to do for fun that comes free of charge.

Although this is not an exhaustive list, these are places that are actively breaking the stereotype of Iowa being a ‘Flyover state.’

Below you will find a list of the best free things to do in Des Moines, Iowa for 2022.

Best Free Things To Do in Des Moines

I recommend bookmarking this page to keep you updated on the best free things to do in Des Moines for 2022. This page is updated Monthly for your reference.

The following list was last updated on Mon, Jan, 30, 2023

This list of free things to do in Des Moines, Iowa is not ranked in any particular order.

best things to do in des moines farmers market

1. Downtown Farmers’ Market

The Downtown Farmers’ Market tops our list of best things to do in Des Moines for several reasons.

This Farmer’s Market has been ranked #2 in both the Top Farmers’ Markets in the United States and the 101 Best Farmers’ Markets in America.

Every Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to noon, May 1st through October 30th, you have the opportunity to peruse the vendors, who are selling garden-fresh produce, delectable baked goods, artistic homemade crafts, mouth-watering ready-to-eat prepared food, and so much more.

Spend a Saturday morning browsing the products of over 165 entrepreneurs from around the state of Iowa in the Historic Court District at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market.

Note: Court Avenue is also home to some of the Best Breweries in Iowa and the Best Pizza Places in Iowa!

best things to do in des moines high trestle trail bridge

2. High Trestle Trail Bridge

The High Trestle Trail is a decommissioned railroad line that has been transformed into a paved trail.

It spans 25 miles, through five towns and four counties. The trailhead starts in Ankeny and runs through Sheldahl, Slater, Madrid, and ends in Woodward.

The main attraction is the High Trestle Trail Bridge, just outside of Madrid, Iowa. The bridge is covered by 41 steel frames, representing the support system within a coal mine, that are illuminated by blue lights after dark.

From April through October, the bridge is lit from sunset until midnight, and from November through March, the lights turn off at 9:00 p.m.

iowa state capital best things to do in des moines

3. Iowa State Capitol

Whether you are interested in politics or are just a fan of late 1800s architecture, the Iowa State Capitol is for you.

As one of the only five domed capitol buildings in the United States, it is unique in that the top is covered with thin sheets of pure 23-carat gold.

Inside, it is just as impressive, with a picturesque view of the inside of the rotunda, historical paintings and statues, and spacious chambers where representatives convene for legislative purposes.

This structure houses the Iowa Senate, Iowa House of Representatives, Iowa Senator, Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer, Secretary of State, and even has a chamber for the Iowa Supreme Court.

4. Des Moines Art Route

Those paintings you see on the sides of buildings around Downtown Des Moines aren’t graffiti like you see in other cities.

It is actually a part of the Art Route Des Moines, which spans six miles and includes 87 pieces of public art that are located on intersections and crosswalks. Each of which will cause you to stop and enjoy the creativity.

Follow the path of painted circles on the sidewalk to enjoy the sculptures, murals, and architecture that stem from the Historic Court District into the East Village.

des moines art route map

Note: On the map above the green dots indicate the location of the artwork, and the orange lines display the route.

state historical museum of iowa

5. State Historical Museum of Iowa

The American astronomer Carl Sagan once stated, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” The State Historical Museum of Iowa gives you the opportunity to do just that as you take a glimpse into Iowa’s past.

The museum houses more than 80,000 objects and has numerous exhibits to observe.

Whether you are curious about the first settlers, the significance Iowa soldiers played during the Civil War, or want to follow the history of RAGBRAI, there is something that will spark your interest and curiosity around every turn.

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

6. John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

If larger-than-life structures of artwork are what you prefer, walk through the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

Open from sunrise to midnight, the sculpture park features 25 works of art, within the 4.4 acres of land it is set on.

These sculptures vary from geometric shapes that are easily discernible, to those that are complete abstractions.

prairie meadows race track

7. Prairie Meadows Racetrack

If speed is something you desire, consider making an afternoon at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack.

The racing season lasts from April 30th through September 25th and includes both indoor and outdoor seating in the grandstand.

Friday and Saturday races begin at 6:00 p.m., while Sunday and Monday races start at 4:00 p.m.

Both thoroughbred and quarter horse races take place, so there won’t be any shortage of action.

des moines art center

8. Des Moines Art Center

With over 5,600 works of art, the Des Moines Art Center is comprised of 20th and 21st-century works of modern and contemporary art.

Completed in 1985, this building contains three floors of drawings, photographs, sculptures, and paintings that will be sure to capture your attention and admiration.

Lauridsen Skatepark

9. Lauridsen Skatepark

Host to the Dew Tour in May of 2021, the Lauridsen Skatepark is the largest open park in the nation.

Located on the Principal Riverwalk, this skatepark is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. throughout the week.

Regardless of your skill level, or whether you skateboard, ride BMX, or roller blade, this skatepark has something for you.

greys lake park

10. Parks

Throughout the Des Moines metro area, there are 76 parks that span some 4,000 acres.

If you are by yourself, there are plenty of trails to walk on, community gardens to help pull weeds from, or picnic tables to sit and read at.

If you are with a group, you can watch the kids play around on a playground or splash pad, play a friendly game of tennis or basketball, or use a charcoal grill to make a meal for the entire family.

The most notable destinations are Raccoon River Park and Gray’s Lake Park. Each provides access to bodies of water for even more fun. See the link below for the full park directory in Des Moines.

Des Moines Parks Directory

des moines trails

11. Trails

There are 68 miles of paved trails, as well as 19 miles of soft trails, in the Des Moines area. With Des Moines as the nucleus, there are over 600 miles of trails that extend all around Central Iowa.

Whether you just want to get outside and enjoy the weather, hike through the forest and appreciate nature, or prepare yourself for RAGBRAI, there is a trail just for you.

Visit the link below for a complete map of paved trails across Central Iowa

Central Iowa Trails Directory

Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

12. Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

Take a step back in time to appreciate those who have served in the military from Iowa at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum.

The mission of the museum is to “honor and depict the military experience of Iowa citizens in all wars, homeland defense, and Iowa service.”

Whether you have always had a fascination with wars, or want to gather a better understanding of a military conflict a relative fought in, this museum has the stories, exhibits, and expertise to educate you and honor those that served.

Things To Do in Des Moines – More Options

Although these activities aren’t free, some other fun things to do in Des Moines include the following:

  • Iowa State Fair
  • Adventureland Park
  • Iowa Cubs games
  • Breweries
  • Wells Fargo Arena events
  • Science Center of Iowa
  • Blank Park Zoo
  • Jordan Creek Town Center
  • Live music events – 80/35 and 515 Alive

Overall, those are some of the best things to do in Des Moines, Iowa! We plan on continuing to update this guide.

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Free Things to do in Des Moines FAQ

What are the Best Free Things to do in Des Moines?

The best things to do in Des Moines include the Downtown Farmer’s Market, Historical Museum of Iowa, Lauridsen Skatepark, trails, and several other activities found in this guide.

Is Des Moines a Cheap City?

Yes, Des Moines, Iowa is a cheap city when comparing the cost of living index to other cities across the United States.

What is the Population of Des Moines?

The metro population of Des Moines, Iowa exceeds 690,000 citizens.

Is Des Moines Worth Visiting?

If you are into the arts, trails, museums, or parks, then Des Moines is definitely worth visiting!