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Hit The Road: 14 Fun Road Trips From Des Moines

There’s nothing better than a good road trip! And when you live in Des Moines, discovering a new place doesn’t mean you have to drive across the country. No matter the season, there are plenty of places within an easy drive for a fun getaway. To help plan your adventure, check out these incredible Midwest road trip destinations that are all about a three-hour drive or less from Des Moines. 

Note: This post was first published on Oh My! Omaha, and is republished here with permission for slight edits.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.

Road trips from Des Moines, Iowa

1. Perry, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 40 miles

Where to stay: Hotel Pattee

The lobby of the historic Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa

Located northwest of the Des Moines metro, Perry, Iowa is a fantastic place for a fun weekend away. With lots of bike trails, this small town is a popular destination for cyclists. Stay at the historic Hotel Pattee where every room has a different theme, from a clown room to a RAGBRAI themed room and more. 

In the winter, there’s a ski resort nearby.

Tip: Perry has a great classic theater, the Grand Theatre, where you can catch a movie during your visit.

2. Clear Lake, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 115 miles

Where to stay: Fairfield Inn or Best Western Holiday Lodge

The annual kite festival held in the winter in Clear Lake, Iowa

Clear Lake is the perfect quintessential lake town just a short drive from Des Moines. Off the lake there’s lots to do too. Shop along Main Street, eat at great restaurants like Starboard Market and visit the Surf Ballroom, the last place Buddy Holly played before he died. 

Tip: While Clear Lake is known as a lake town, it’s fun to visit all year long! If you’re looking for a winter adventure, consider the town’s annual kite festival held each February. 

3. Mason City, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 120 miles

Where to stay: Historic Park Inn

The Historic Park Inn, a hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, located in Mason City

Fans of The Music Man won’t want to miss a visit to Mason City! Not only is Mason City the hometown of famous playwright Meredith Willson but it was also his inspiration for River City in his musical, The Music Man. See his birthplace, visit Music Man Square and embrace the city’s love of this American classic. 

Tip: Snag a room at the Historic Park Inn Hotel, the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the world that still welcomes guests. 

4. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 128 miles

Where to stay: Hilton Garden Inn

A mural in Cedar Rapids

History lovers and foodies alike will have a blast with a visit to Cedar Rapids. Learn about local history at the National Czech and Slovak Museum or get creative at the Cedar Rapids Art Museum. Find a unique place to dine downtown or in the city’s New Bohemia neighborhood with countless breweries, award-winning restaurants, cozy coffeehouses and more. 

Tip: Don’t miss the NewBo City Market! This permanent market building is home to dozens of vendors who sell locally made foods and other handmade goods. 

5. Mount Vernon, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 130 miles

Where to stay: Many opt to stay at a nearby Cedar Rapids hotel, like Hilton Garden Inn

Home to Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa is what you get when you pair a college town with a charming small community. Grab coffee at Fuel, shop along the city’s main street, hike at Palisades-Kepler State Park and grab a cozy dinner at the Lincoln Wine Bar.

Tip: Mount Vernon has so many amazing town festivals. One of my favorites is the chalk festival, Chalk the Walk, which is held each May. 

6. Omaha, Nebraska

Distance from Des Moines: 135 miles

Where to stay: Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel in the Blackstone District

Children slide down the slides at Gene Leahy Mall in Omaha

From the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium to the Durham Museum and beyond, there is no shortage of fun things to do in Omaha. Catch a Storm Chasers baseball game, experience the Old Market and Gene Leahy Mall, or catch a bit of railroad history at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. 

Tip: Omaha has so many neighborhoods to explore! Plan your visit around a neighborhood outside the Old Market to see new parts of the city – like Little BohemiaBlackstone, or Benson

7. Van Buren County, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 150 miles

Bentonsport, a town located in Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo courtesy Travel Iowa

Home to the Villages of Van Buren, including Bentonsport, this southeastern Iowa county has so much to discover. From artisan shops to historic walking tours through small towns, there’s something for everyone here. Consider staying in the villages themselves at a bed and breakfast.

Tip: Grab a meal at Bonaparte’s Retreat, an incredible restaurant in a grist mill built in the 1870s. 

8. Burlington, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 175 miles

Where to stay: Holiday Inn Express Hotel or Fun City Resort Hotel (if you’re traveling with kids)

Experience the beauty of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway when you visit Burlington. Wander the Heritage Hill Historic District, explore the city’s downtown and come hungry to enjoy this surprising foodie destination. 

Tip: Don’t forget to visit the former crookedest street in America at Snake Alley!

9. Kansas City, Missouri

Distance from Des Moines: 195 miles

Where to stay: Hotel Kansas City or Fairfield Inn Kansas City Downtown/Union Hill

Visitor stroll a midway at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri

There’s something for everyone in Kansas City! Whether you’re a thrill seeker looking for coasters at Worlds of Fun, a history buff interested in the National World War I Memorial and Museum or an art lover excited to explore the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City won’t disappoint. 

And if you go to Kansas City with kids, you could spend a weekend and never be bored.

Tip: No trip to Kansas City is complete without barbecue (even vegetarian BBQ)! There’s many local options to choose from so do a little research, or better yet, ask a local during your visit for their favorite BBQ joint. 

10. Decorah, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 200 miles

Where to stay: Fairfield Inn and Suites

Kim riding a bike on Trout Run Trail in Decorah, Iowa

Located in Iowa’s driftless region, Decorah is a haven for nature lovers and craft beer enthusiasts alike. Explore the region’s beautiful natural areas and reward yourself afterward with a pint at the award-winning Toppling Goliath Brewery. 

Tip: If you’re planning a visit during the summer months, be sure to make a visit to Luna Valley Farm for one of their incredible pizza nights. 

11. Dubuque, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 202 miles

Where to stay: This historic Hotel Julien Dubuque or Grand Harbor Resort (if you have kids, this one has an indoor waterpark)

The historic Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque is a river town with lots to see and do. From delicious restaurants to interesting natural areas like the Crystal Lake Cave, you’re sure to have a fun weekend in this eastern Iowa city. Explore downtown, take in the city’s incredible public art scene, ride the historic Fenelon Place Elevator and visit the National Mississippi River Museum. 

Tip: If you’re a beer lover, Dubuque is the place for you. The city has a number of craft breweries both in and around downtown that make for a fun weekend of sampling. 

12. Okoboji, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 205 miles

Where to stay: The Oakwood Inn or Okoboji Commons Hotel

A sign at Barefoot Bar in Okoboji, Iowa

Okoboji is quite possibly one of Iowa’s most iconic summer destinations. Experience class thrills on rides at Arnolds Park, hit the beach, rent a boat to take out on the water, sip a local craft beer and so much more. 

Tip: If you’re in search of a swanky place to stay, The Inn Hotel is a dreamy art deco boutique hotel you won’t want to miss. Even if you don’t book a stay, the Beach Club Lounge is worth a visit for a cocktail or two. 

13. Galena, Illinois

Distance from Des Moines: 216 miles

Where to stay: Stoney Creek Inn or Goldmoor Inn & Resort

Main Street of Galena, Illinois
Photo courtesy Galena Visitors Bureau/Photo by Adam Alexander Photography 2016

Located along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, Galena, Ill.,is a fun weekend getaway from Des Moines. With rich history and lots of places to explore along Galena’s main street, there’s no shortage of things to do. Visit local wineries, breweries and distilleries, enjoy world-class dining, or grab tickets for a ghostly tour of this historic town. 

Tip: There are a number of resorts near Galena that are great places to ski and experience the outdoors even during the winter months. 

14. Le Mars, Iowa

Distance from Des Moines: 224 miles

Where to stay: Inn on Central

A sign for Blue Bunny Ice Cream in Le Mars, Iowa

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, an adventure to Le Mars, Iowa is for you. Known as the ice cream capital of the world, Le Mars is home to the ice cream maker Blue Bunny. Visit the Wells visitor center and ice cream parlor to learn about the city’s sweet past and sample some ice cream for yourself. 

Tip: Grab dinner at the iconic, James Beard Award-winning supper club, Archie’s Waeside (it’s a must-visit supper club). Be sure to get there early though! There’s typically a wait on the weekends. 

About the Guest Blogger

Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa.

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