A visit to the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum is a great opportunity for kids to see exhibits that highlight Iowa citizen’s involvement in all wars, homeland defense and Iowa service. The museum’s purpose is to collect, preserve and exhibit materials that illustrate the story of Iowa’s military past from statehood to the present. The Iowa Gold Star Museum honors the heroic service of all Iowa veterans.
Know Before You Go
Joint Forces Headquarters, Iowa National Guard • 7105 Northwest 70th Avenue • Johnston, Iowa 50131 • 515-252-4531
- Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm; Saturday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; and Sundays: CLOSED. CLOSED Holidays and Holiday weekends.
- Cost of General Admission: FREE
- Parking: FREE parking is available in front of the museum.
- Food: Food and beverages are not allowed in the museum. Make sure the kids have had a snack before getting to the museum.
- Prior to your visit check out the museum’s website.
While You’re There
The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum is located within the Camp Dodge compound. As you enter you will be stopped by security and the driver will need to show their Driver’s License. No worries the guard was friendly and gave us a list of “must-sees” at the museum.
Once you’ve entered, the museum is located at the back of the complex and you will wind around following museum signs, for about a half mile or so. We made a game out of finding the signs and the kids enjoyed observing the hustle and bustle of the camp.
The day we went, it was pretty chilly. So, we started our tour inside. The museum is not large and we spent about an hour and a half there. I will confess that my six year old can get antsy and she moved from exhibit to exhibit pretty quickly. However, my nine year old was very interested in many of the artifacts, and could have spent more time reading and interacting with the displays. We also would have spent more time outside if the weather had been warmer.
Maps of the museum with a suggested route are available. The suggested tour is a chronological view of Iowa’s military history from the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition to our current era. We went on an early out day and had the museum to ourselves. The curator of the museum was very friendly and gave us a personal tour. He explained everything from how the exhibits were built, where the artifacts came from to the details of flying a WW II bomber.
All of the exhibits are well done and some are interactive. It looks like they are constantly adding and upgrading exhibits. My kids particularly liked the submarine periscope, where you can see outside; the replica of the WWII Flying Tigers bomber, which lights up; and a small flight simulator with actual footage from a WW II bomber. In addition to the main museum, there is an exhibit about Iowa’s armories and an exhibit honoring the Iowa State Patrol. There are also a lot of military vehicles to look at outside.
It was a fun family outing and would be a particularly good visit for kids studying Iowa or American history.
After Your Visit
Depending on where you are coming from there is not a lot of amenities located close to Camp Dodge. If you were wanting a meal before or after your visit, convenience stores and restaurants are about three miles away.
Lastly, I find talking about or explaining war to kids can be challenging. Both of my kids are very inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. If your kids are the same, you may want to be prepared for the discussion.
What are your tips for a family fun day at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum?