Indoor Nature: State Historical Museum of Iowa

The State Historical Museum of Iowa is so much fun! It might sound crazy to take a 1.5-year-old to a museum, but I loved taking my son here when he was that age, and my daughter had just as much fun. This is a great spot to enjoy and learn about nature/outdoorsy things without actually being outdoors. Admission and parking are free and there is a ton to look at; it is stroller friendly with lots of open space and stairs for toddlers to climb.

Editing to update – they have a new exhibit just for little Iowans click below to learn more.

Hands on History – new exhibit at State Historical Museum of Iowa

You can see more specific details on the State Historical Museum of Iowa page below or check out its location on the interactive map.

State Historical Museum of Iowa – Des Moines, Iowa


It’s a big brown, striped building. We usually go to this entrance, that is facing the free parking ramp, although there is another entrance on the opposite side as well.


The most iconic exhibit is the mammoth! They found bones when digging for a Nationwide building downtown, and donated them to the museum. There are a bunch of cool photographs and bone fragments, along with a button to push that plays what a mammoth might have sounded like. My husband and I got married here – so this mammoth is in the background of some of our wedding pictures!


Here you can see the main floor/atrium. There’s a ton of open space and a few planes up in the air to look at. I will admit, it can be tricky to navigate and figure out where all the exhibits are but keep your eyes open and check out every nook and cranny.


Last winter there were some neat rock and fossil displays in the hallway up by the front/glass door entrance of the museum, this time there were some bird mounts. Those ducks were tagged from the 1930s! Pretty cool. My daughter really liked seeing the hummingbirds.


More mammoth bones and other fossils/bones in a display case, crazy to see their size compared to her!


There are quite a few animals lurking – these were her favorite, the elk.


I think there is a really nice mix of things to look at and things to touch – here are a few of the more hands-on options with a coal mine drill, old school plow, and the large Native American dwelling made of bark (you can go inside).

There are several other exhibits that aren’t necessarily nature-inspired, but they’re still fun to look at! We ended up here on Monday because I forgot the Science Center was closed, but I’m glad we did, after having fun visiting. We try to get outside as much as possible, even when it gets colder, but it’s nice to have some indoor places to play and explore without losing the nature element. Hope you get a chance to check out the State Historical Museum of Iowa this winter!

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