State Historical Museum of Iowa – Des Moines, Iowa


The State Historical Museum of Iowa is tucked away downtown near the Capitol, and is an amazing free spot to visit. I love that it has lots of natural elements and outdoors-y things to look at and touch; there is also just a lot of open space for exploration and a ton of things to see. There is a new “hands on history” exhibit as of 2017 with an amazing indoor play area for younger kids!

In addition to being open to the public and indiviual visits, they facilitate field trips, The museum also houses many preservation and research resources – one that caught my eye was the historic site & archaeological inventory department, which answers questions about historic buildings and places.

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Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden – Des Moines, Iowa

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Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is a wonderful place to experience nature indoors (and outdoors), with a variety of plants and gardens in their dome-shaped building. There are gardens outside as well, with short dirt paths to explore. Each time we have visited there has been at least one display with hands on materials for kids, and they love looking at the koi fish and all the different plants! It is a great place to play “I Spy” as well.

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Annett Nature Center – Indianola, Iowa

Annett Nature Center indianola, iowaAnnett Nature Center is next to Lake Ahquabi State Park; the three floor nature center is a popular field trip destination, with interactive displays and a small collection of live animals. Outside there is a wildlife viewing blind, trails, a butterfly garden, and observation deck. Please call ahead if you plan on going inside the nature center (as opposed to just hiking outside) because hours may vary depending on the staff.

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Forest Park Museum & Arboretum – Perry, Iowa

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The Forest Park Museum and Arboretum is on 17 acres, with the Raccoon River Valley Trail passing through the arboretum. There are several buildings including a visitor center with live animals, First Nations artifacts, and a rifle collection. Hastie Hall has Dallas County history from the 1800’s to the 20th century, including early transportation, occupations, and common farm/house items. Baldwin Hall showcases the lives and occupations of Dallas County’s early pioneers. Wagner Gallery has a library and collections for architect William Wagner. There is a log cabin, originally built in 1863, a scale house used to weigh grain, and a one room Alton School House, used from 1867-1961.

It is more of a museum complex, with the several buildings existing separate from one another but connected by trails. There are handy “touch here” signs in some of the display halls, but a toddler would get easily frustrated with all the things they aren’t supposed to touch! The spaces are small and densely packed with information and things to look at.

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