What are free things to do this winter in central Iowa?


Would you like to have fun with your family for free this winter? Here are some places and activities that are guaranteed to keep kids busy in the New Year.

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Whether it’s a cozy place to keep warm or an adventure in the frigid, there’s plenty to do for free on the Des Moines subway this winter.

If you have your sights set on checking out family-friendly attractions, To do If the Des Moines Children’s Museum, Blank Park Zoo, Des Moines Botanical Gardens, and Iowa Science Center are on a budget, the Iowa Library Adventure Pass can help keep your outings economical.

All you need is a valid in-state adult library card and valid ID to reserve free tickets for up to 2 adults and 2 children to many of Iowa’s biggest attractions. Details and explanations in Spanish are available on the Des Moines Public Library website.

But while you’re waiting for that reservation to be approved, check out this season’s free family-friendly activities and locations.

Stay in the library for a while, attend a craft class, or join a book club this winter at the Altoona Public Library. Always free, always warm, and plenty of room for imagination.

when: Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.Friday – Saturday 9am – 5pm, Sunday 2pm – 5pm

Where: 700 8th St. SW, Altoona, IA 50009

Ankeny Kirkendall Public Library

If you head indoors from the freezing air this winter, Ankeny’s library hosts teen writing programs and Author Talks series events to help you pass the time.

when: Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Friday from 9am to 5:30pm.Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm

Where: 1250 SW District Dr., Ankeny, IA 50023

Bondurant Community Library

Try your hand at the family escape room during the winter holidays, or keep your grandparents active without facing the cold with Geri-Fit strength training.

when: Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Friday from 9am to 5:30pm.Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm

Where: 104 2nd Street NE, Bondurant, IA 50035

Wonder Wednesdays has something new every week, including crafts, movies, animal lessons, STEAM concepts, and more. Older children and adults have the opportunity to learn how to play Mahjong and more.

when: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Thursday. Friday from 9am to 6pm.Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm

Where: 1900 NW 114th St., Clive, IA 50325

If you want to stay warm indoors and see the work of great artists, admission to the Des Moines Art Center is always free and open to the public.

when: Tuesday through Wednesday from 11am to 4pm. Thursday through Friday, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday 10am-4pm

Where: 4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312

Des Moines Public Library

This winter, all of Des Moines’ public libraries have plenty to check out across the subway, including family story time, gingerbread making, arts and crafts, and more.

Hours and activities may vary by library. This is a list of all Des Moines libraries and their hours, and a collective calendar of events for the library system.

Downtown Des Moines Skywalk

With map kiosks everywhere and the ability to explore the entirety of downtown Des Moines, the Skywalk is a fun, free way to stay warm while exploring Iowa’s capital city.

As you follow the Skywalk’s winding paths in all directions, you’ll take thousands of steps and even land near Papajohn Sculpture Park and Lauridsen Skate Park for some fresh air.

The Skywalk doors are locked at various times, so keep an eye out for signs posted inside the temperature-controlled walkway.

For more information and a map, visit the official Des Moines Skywalk page.

hiking and trails

If the Skywalk’s infrastructure and insulation seem too soft for you, there are plenty of places to do winter hiking in and around Des Moines this winter.

Check out some of the best trails in the area, listed by the Central Iowa Trail Association.

lights, decorations, etc.

Interested in some beautiful light displays before the year is over?

Here are some things you can swing for free in your car via Catch Des Moines.

  • gingerbread lane
  • beaverdale holiday lights
  • historic valley junction
  • Windsor Heights Light
  • dog town lights
  • Waterbury Celebrities, December 24th

Polk County Conservation Efforts

During the winter months, Polk County Nature Preserve continues to teach children about nature with regular events such as homeschool nature lessons.

For more information, visit polkcountyiowa.gov/conservation/events.

Pleasant Hill Public Library

The Pleasant Hill Public Library offers a book club for adults, storytelling times for kids and a monthly scavenger hunt.

when: Monday through Thursday from 10am to 8pm. Friday from 10am to 6pm.Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm

Where: 5151 Dr. Maple, Suite 2

Housed in an Iowa Historic Landmark just west of the Iowa State Capitol in downtown Des Moines, the museum offers a glimpse into Iowa’s past with more than 80,000 artifacts.

Exhibits range from the state’s early settlements, Civil War locations, silver screen legacies, and the beginnings of RAGBRAI, an annual bike ride that spans hundreds of miles. Entry to the museum and research facility is always free, but this winter, renovations are taking place and that may change.

when: Tuesday to Friday 9am to 4:30pm

Where: 600 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50319

The Urbandale Public Library offers typical storytime and creative classes for children, as well as monthly movie nights and bi-weekly classic cinema shows.

when: 9:00 am to 8:30 pm Monday through Thursday.Friday to Saturday 9am to 6pm, Sunday 12pm to 6pm

Where: 3520 86th St., Urbandale, IA 50322

If walking through snow and ice to the library isn’t your thing, there are plenty of online events for kids, teens and adults. There is also a monthly rotating gallery that art lovers can enjoy for free.

when: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Tuesday. Wednesday through Thursday from 9am to 6pm. Friday from 9am to 5:30pm.Saturday 9am to 4pm, Sunday 12pm to 4pm

Where: 950 S Warrior Ln, Walkie, IA 50263

West Des Moines Public Library

Looking for a challenge while curling up with a fire reading this season? Take part in the Winter Reading Challenge from December 15, 2022 to January 15, 2023, or take part in one of the many readings for all ages. Check out one of our winter activities.

when: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Tuesday. Wednesday through Thursday from 9am to 6pm. Friday from 9am to 5:30pm.Saturday 9am to 4pm, Sunday 12pm to 4pm

Where: 4000 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines, IA 50265

Sledding, snow tubing, etc.

You can sled almost anywhere that has hills and enough snow, but here are a few locations at Catch Des Moines that are guaranteed to entertain winter thrill-seekers.

  • West side of the Supreme Court Building
  • waveland golf
  • Old Catholic Church Hill in Indianola
  • Behind Metro Ice Complex
  • Jordan Creek Elementary School
  • Beaver Creek Golf Course

volunteer opportunities

For those who want to keep busy as well as help their community, volunteer opportunities in central Iowa aren’t slowed down by the colder weather. There are hundreds of ways to get involved, such as walking the dog at his ARL location in Iowa, helping with his local food bank, or stacking library shelves.

Here are some resources to help you find the right volunteer job for you. Community Foundations of VolunteerMatch, Volunteer Iowa, United Way, Leadership Link, and Greater Des Moines



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