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The 2024 Fun-Filled Council Bluffs Winter Guide

Council Bluffs is a city on the western edge of Iowa that’s full of history and bustling with cultural activities. From the thrill of go-kart racing to the creative buzz of the arts scene, Council Bluffs is a town that may seem quiet on the surface but is vibrant and alive with possibilities, even on the coldest of days. If you find yourself in the area on a winter day, you’ll find plenty to do no matter your interests.

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A boy in winter gear plays an instrument in the snow at the Dream Playground located at Lake Manawa State Park
Playground at Lake Manawa State Park

Enjoying arts and history in the winter

Union Pacific Railroad Museum is not just a museum; it’s a journey through America’s railroad history. As you move through the museum, you’ll see beautifully restored artifacts and interactive exhibits that bring the golden age of rail travel to life.

The museum mixes history with technology, featuring touch-screen displays and simulations that even the tech-savvy kids will love. Whether it’s learning about the Transcontinental Railroad or seeing how trains have evolved over the years, it’s a fascinating experience for all ages.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

It’s educational, engaging, and the best part? Admission is free, making it a perfect outing for budget-conscious families. 

The railroad museum is located in downtown Council Bluffs, as is this next stop: Historic General Dodge House. This Victorian mansion, once home to Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, is like a beautifully preserved slice of the 19th century. The house itself is an architectural marvel, with intricate woodwork and original furnishings that transport you back to the 1860s. Dodge was a key figure in developing the Transcontinental Railroad and a major player in American history. If you get the chance, take a guided tour. 

Related post: Want another historic place to visit in Council Bluffs? Arrange a tour of the Squirrel Cage Jail!

A hallway lined with artwork at Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center in downtown Council Bluffs
Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center

Taking a turn toward the arts, one of the newest hubs of activity in the Bluffs is the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center. Since it’s home to Chanticleer Theater, Bluffs Arts Council, American Midwest Ballet, Kanesville Symphony, and the Kitchen Council (to name just a few), there’s always something going on. 

The center hosts a variety of events, from art exhibitions and musical performances to theater productions. One weekend, you might catch a live concert, and the next, an art workshop or a cooking class. 

It’s a fantastic place to expose kids to different forms of art and culture. Check the calendar for classes and camps for kids. The atmosphere is always vibrant and welcoming, making it a perfect spot for families looking to indulge in a little culture.

The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College has been a steady presence in Council Bluffs for years. Known for its high-quality performances, it offers a variety of shows ranging from nationally-touring performances to college theatrical productions. 

Fun things to do indoors in Council Bluffs

If you’re looking for something active to do indoors, The Hub is the place to go on a cold winter day. It has a trampoline park, ninja warrior course and ax throwing area. And on some weekend nights, they have glow events that are perfect for teens. 

Joe’s Karting is a high-speed indoor go-kart racing venue that’s thrilling for both kids and adults. The karts are fast, the track is challenging, and the atmosphere is electric. 

A skeleton on a pirate ship inside Pirate Putt, an indoor mini golf place in Council Bluffs
Pirate Putt

Pirate Putt is not your average mini-golf course. As the name implies, it’s all-things pirate. Each hole offers a unique challenge, with cleverly designed obstacles in a setting that’s made for the high seas.

Located not far from Pirate Putt is an entertainment staple for the community: Thunderbowl. There are 32 lanes for bowling, as well as an arcade. Food and drinks are available. 

Free things to do in the winter

If you have young kids, don’t overlook taking them to Bass Pro Shops. The store has a stunningly large aquarium that features a wide variety of fish and aquatic life. The trophy displays of animals throughout the store are also interesting. There’s no cost to go to the store, of course.

Lake Manawa State Park is one of Iowa’s most popular state parks in the summer, and though it’s quieter in the winter, there are plenty of reasons for visiting. The park’s amazing playground is fun year-round (just bundle the kids up!). Admission is free for Iowa residents (and $5 for non-residents).

A snow day at Dream Playground at Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs
Playground at Lake Manawa State Park

The park is a prime spot for bird watching. Bald eagles are regularly spotted there. The park also has several paved and mountain bike trails. Bikers that are prepped for winter can take their fat-tire bikes out for a spin around the park. 

Winter activities near Council Bluffs

There are a couple fantastic winter activities just a short drive to the north of Council Bluffs. Mt. Crescent Ski Area, located in Crescent, offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing. They make their own snow, so even if it’s been a dry winter, the fun continues on the slopes there. Equipment rental is affordable.

Hitchcock Nature Center is not far from Mt. Crescent. You can rent snowshoes at the Visitor Center to explore the park’s many trails. Or, bring your sled and take a wild ride down one of the park’s steeper trails.

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