Do you have a kiddo that loves Wild Kratts or wants to be a veterinarian when they grow up? I do! We’re constantly looking for fun places where we can get up close with any kind of living creature. Most kids are animal lovers and summer is a great time to get out and visit a few. Read on for 10 spots where kids can go on an animal adventure in the Des Moines area.
7401 Southwest 9th Street • Des Moines, IA • (515) 285-4722
Blank Park Zoo just keeps getting better. With a baby rhino and giraffe, the Australia Exhibit, Discovery Center and more, there’s lots of animals to see. A Zoo Membership gives you FREE admission year-round and is reciprocal with free or discounted admission to zoos across the nation when you travel.
11121 Hickman Road • Urbandale, IA • (515) 278-5286
This working museum features exhibits of Iowa’s early pioneers in agriculture. Your kids will like getting up close and personal with their cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and chickens. Living History Farms is most fun during special events and programs throughout the year.
11407 Northwest Jester Park Drive • Granger, IA 50109 • (515) 323-5300
Have you ever wanted to look a bison in the eye? Visit the Elk and Bison Educational Plaza at Jester Park, where you can watch elk and bison eat and play. You’ll want to note that an electric fence surrounds the Plaza.
9981 Pacific Street • Prairie City, IA 50228 • (515) 994-3400
The Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge is 5,600 acres of restored tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow. Kids will love seeing bison roam free on the prairie and grassland birds and Monarch butterflies in flight. The refuge is FREE to visit and is open year-round.
1407 S University Boulevard • Ames, IA 50011 • (515) 294-2710
Home to 800 live butterflies, The Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing at Reiman Gardens is one of the most astonishing experiences in Central Iowa. They even have an app that will identify the species of butterflies you are seeing during your visit. Kids will love holding out a hand or arm for the butterflies to land on.
6. County Conservation Offices
Dallas County Conservation, Polk County Conservation and Warren County Conservation educate their residents about conservation and are dedicated to the preservation of Iowa’s natural resources. They all offer classes, demonstrations, encounters and information about Iowa’s native wildlife. Visit each of their websites to find park listings, nature centers and a schedule of events.
7. Iowa State Fair and County Fairs
There’s no shortage of opportunities to get an up-close look at animals this summer at a local County Fair or at the Iowa State Fair. Creatures of all kinds make their way to the fairgrounds annually for sensational shows, petting zoos, exhibits and competitions. Children (and adults) will love engaging with these four-legged friends.
8. Animal Shelters
Several animal shelters, in Des Moines, offer tours of their facility where kids can have a meet a greet with their furry residents. And, if there’s anything that instantly lifts a mood, it’s helping out in the community surrounded by puppies. Some animal shelters offer volunteer opportunities to older kids, with an adult chaperone.
9. Bird Watching
Kids can see wildlife in their own backyard. We’re constantly looking out our windows during meal time to see who’s visiting. If you’re a good neighbor to your feathery friends and hang out a birdfeeder, or two, you may be surprised by how many show up. We’ve had particularly good luck hanging a Humming Bird feeder on our deck and have several visit during their late summer migration.
10. Working Farms
We live in Iowa, for Pete’s sake, so of course there are plenty of working farms that kids can visit.
Here are some samples:
Howell’s has a Greenhouse, Pumpkin Patch and Tree Farm and hosts several events throughout the year. Kids can visit and feed their goats and enjoy pony rides on select weekends.
Picket Fence Creamery hosts their monthly Sample Sunday where you can see their calves and cows and also get some ice cream and other tasty treats.
Black’s Heritage Farm hosts kid’s birthday parties, tours of the farm and different events throughout the year, including Fall Fun. They have several farm animals that are fun for the kids to see.
Did we miss your family’s favorite animal adventure in Des Moines? Let us know in the comments below!