The crisp air of fall signals that autumn has arrived in central Iowa. As we venture out to enjoy leaves bursting with brilliant hues, patches filled with plump pumpkins and scary haunts, Des Moines rolls out the red carpet with plenty of seasonal treats and fall festivities. Check out our list of the top 30 ways to celebrate fall in Des Moines and get ready for a deliciously good time.
#1 – Pick a Perfect Pumpkin
Autumn in Des Moines means a trip to the pumpkin patch. Find the perfect pumpkin to carve or decorate at a local central Iowa farm. Don’t forget your camera – pumpkin patches are the perfect backdrop for fall photos.
#2 – Go Hiking in the Woods
Hiking is best when the air is crisp, and the leaves are changing. Hit one of these hikes led by conservation naturalists at a local park to experience the beauty of the season.
#3 – Visit One of Des Moines’ Largest Haunted Attractions
If you like things that go bump in the night, Sleepy Hollow Haunted Scream Park is the place to get your thrills. Put your nerves to the test and explore ten attractions at this frightfully fun park.
#4 – Eat a Thanksgivingesque Sandwich
Why wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy turkey? Drake Diner’s blueplate sandwich special features slow roasted hand carved turkey sandwiched between two slices of good white bread and covered with homemade gravy.
#5 – Take the Scenic Route
Venture outside of Des Moines and travel along the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway. During late September and early October, the changing leaves paint the roadside foliage in breathtaking reds, oranges and yellows, creating stunning views in all directions.
#6 – Tailgate at a Football Game
There’s nothing quite like grilling hamburgers and sharing your score predictions before a highly anticipated football game. Tailgate and cheer on your favorite central Iowa college team.
#7 – Experience the Paranormal
Visit the “Haunting at Farrar”. The old Farrar Schoolhouse is a “known” haunted location in the Des Moines area. Spend the night and document evidence of ghostly activity. If you’re not up for an overnight, you can also visit during the day. Visit the website to make a reservation.
#8 – Go Fishing Amidst Fall Beauty
Learn how to cast a line and soak in the beautiful colors of changing leaves for an afternoon of ultimate relaxation during Johnston’s Fishing Friday on September 20, 2019.
#9 – Indulge in Caramel Apples & Seasonal Chocolates
There’s no better way to satisfy your craving for fall sweets than with a gooey, delicious caramel apple. Stop at Chocolate Storybook in West Des Moines for a gourmet caramel apple and pick up some autumn-shaped chocolates too.
#10 – Take a Cemetary Tour
Experience the historic past of Des Moines’ Woodland Cemetery. Join local historian and educator Archie Cook on a tour through the grassy knolls and stately trees of one of our city’s oldest treasures. Tours (rain or shine) are recommended for those ages 10 and up, last approximately 2.5 hours and are free.
#11 – Roast Hot Dogs & S’mores
Cozy up around a warm fire on a cool fall evening at Geisler Farms in Bondurant and roast hot dogs and s’mores at one of their firepits. It’s the perfect end to a day filled with hayrides, pumpkin picking and wandering through a cornfield maze.
#12 – Pulverize a Pumpkin
Watch as pumpkins are destroyed at Center Grove Orchard in Cambridge. During their annual “Pumpkin Destruction” event on November 2 and 3, 2019 they’ll be smashing them and bashing them, dropping them from a crane and more!
#13- Stay in a Cozy Cabin
Fall is an ideal time for a county park cabin stay. Book your trip via My County Parks and stay at one of the many quaint cabins surrounded by fall’s glorious foliage. Building a fire, wrapping up in a blanket and enjoying a cup of hot cocoa at one of these beautiful locations makes for the perfect fall getaway.
#14 – Relax at a Coffee Shop
Warm up on a cold autumn day with a cup of coffee or hot tea at Scenic Route Bakery. Stop in for a dose of morning fuel and grab one of their amazing pastries to complement your seasonal favorite.
#15 – Navigate a Corn Maze
Bring the whole family and take on the challenge of navigating the Pumpkinville Corn Maze in Mitchelville as quickly as you can. With over 20 acres of twists and turns, you may be tangled up in seven-foot corn stalks for a while.
#16 – Get Festive at a Fall Festival
Celebrate all things autumn at a local fall festival. Tempt your taste buds with festival faire, participate in demonstrations and shop for fun gifts from vendors.
#17 – Dine with Zombies
It’s always a good time to visit Zombie Burger in the East Village, but it’s even more fun during the fall. Order your favorite “Goremet Bashed Burger” and wash it all down with a seasonally inspired Pumpkin Pie or S’More shake.
#18 – Trick-or-Treat at the Zoo
#19 – Relish the Season on Horseback
Enjoy crisp fall weather, the great outdoors and riding trails at Jester Park. Schedule a guided fall horseback ride with Jester Park Equestrian Center for a day of fun and exploration.
#20 – Gobble Up Pumpkin Cupcakes
For the best seasonal cupcakes in the Des Moines area, visit two local sweet shops for a sugary treat. Grab the Perfect Pumpkin Cupcake at Crème Cupcake, or enjoy the Pumpkin Spice Cupcake at Molly’s Cupcakes.
#21 – Search for Antique Treasures
Fall is a great time for hunting antiques and vintage goods. Hidden gems are waiting to be found at local antique, arts and crafts shows.
#22 – Celebrate All things Apple
Each fall, Living History Farms in Urbandale welcomes families to celebrate the arrival of fall during Applefest. Try your hand at stirring the copper kettle of apple butter, take your turn cranking the cider press, and try some tasty apple fritters. Family fun also includes apple bowling, cooking demonstrations, bobbing for apples, and a special visit from Snow White.
#23 – Get into Costume
Dress up in your favorite costume and celebrate the creepiest holiday of the year. During the month of October, attend one of the many Halloween themed events happening in the Des Moines area for a scary good time.
#24 – Feast on Fall Treats
Stop by one of these local businesses in Des Moines during autumn and pick up a seasonal favorite. Some of the items on the list will only last until the last leaf has fallen from the trees, so be sure to grab your treat, sooner rather than later.
#25 – Snap Pictures of Fall Foliage
Grab your camera and venture out to a local park to capture colors in nature that only come around once a year. Photos of fiery reds and oranges from changing leaves and towering pines make excellent keepsakes.
#26 – Gather Seasonal Produce
Fall brings a new palette of flavors full of herbs, squash, sweet potatoes, jams and special salsas. Local Farmers’ Markets have everything you need to make your favorite dishes as the weather gets colder and the holiday season approaches.
#27 – Tell Ghost Stories Around the Campfire
Gather up your friends and family for a camping trip. Spend the evening huddled around a campfire after the sun goes down telling ghost stories and making s’mores underneath the changing leaves.
#28 – Warm Up with a Bowl of Chili
Take the bite out of the air and warm up with a bowl of piping hot chili. One of our favorite times to enjoy a hearty bowl is before or after trick-or-treating.
#29 – Go Apple Picking
Bundle up and bring a basket to go apple picking at a Des Moines area orchard. U-pick apples are available from early September to the end of October. Gather the whole family and get ready to make new memories as you stock up on plenty of fresh, ripe finds right from the tree.
#30 – Take the Pumpkin Express
Get in the spirit of the season on Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad’s Pumpkin Express. Journey to the Railroad’s pumpkin patch and don’t forget to dress up for this once-a-year ride.
How does your family celebrate fall in Des Moines? We’d love to hear!