Becoming parents has been our single biggest motivator to seek out fun things to do in Des Moines, particularly during the frigid winter months when outdoor time is limited. While winter in Iowa can feel like (and sometimes does) last six months, it doesn’t have to be boring. We have a handful of fun, easy and low cost activities that we like to rotate through with our son on a regular basis.
One of our go-tos on dreary weekends is the Des Moines Botanical Garden, located just north of I-235 and The East Village. The easiest way to get there is to exit 235 at East 6th Street, head south, and follow the signs. If you love plants and live in the Des Moines area or are visiting for the weekend, it is a must-see attraction.
It can be easy to forget about the Botanical Garden when there’s snow on the ground, the trees are bare, and the grass is brown. Of course, the exterior of the Garden is dormant in winter, like the rest of Iowa. But inside, it’s a completely different story. Lush tropical foliage grows high within the dome, the temperatures are reminiscent of summer, and the humidity is a balm for dry winter skin. Visiting is like escaping to Florida or California for a couple of hours.
Entertaining Your Kids at the Botanical Garden
I don’t want to exaggerate how long you can entertain your kids at the Botanical Garden in winter. We can fill a couple hours with a visit including our drive to and from. (In summer, we can easily add another hour wandering around outside.) The staff there are excellent with children, and there is always some kind of scavenger hunt to keep the kids entertained and moving along the paths. This year they had a gnome hunt with fifty gnomes of varying size scattered throughout. Finding the gnomes consumed a good amount of time and kept our son from complaining that he was bored. This is a genius idea in general and more public places should consider it.
In addition to the scavenger hunt, spotting the Koi fish swimming in the water features is always a big hit for Ashton. He likes exploring the different paths and climbing the stairs to experience the conservatory from different perspectives.
The website has a robust page full of downloadable activities and resources for kids of all ages for your visits and also at home. The Garden also offers a story time for younger children and camps for school age children during the summer and breaks.
The Gardeners Show House
The Gardeners Show House is my favorite area of the Botanical Garden. This smaller, more intimate greenhouse is divided into sections by paths and showcases a rich collection of tropical plants and houseplants. I love collecting houseplants, particularly begonias, and I gather so much inspiration from the Show House. I always snap a ton of photos as inspiration for my collection and reference materials for when I pick up my brushes and watercolor paints.
Winter Activities at the Des Moines Botanical Garden
I attended a two-day conference at the Garden in early February and noticed posters for their Sunday Blues series, which I’ve heard is highly attended. In addition to the concerts, they offer classes throughout the year. A few years ago, I did a “plein-air” painting class there one evening under the dome. The Dome after Dark is another winter event that takes place every Friday evening from around Thanksgiving through March and is free for members.
If you sign up for their newsletter or better yet, become a member, you’ll stay up to date on the schedule of classes and events through their mailing list.
The Outdoor Gardens During Winter
We did venture outside on our last trip because it was a clear sunny day with little wind. Although there aren’t any plants to look at outside and the waterfall isn’t running, it’s still nice to walk up and down the paths and take in the view of the river. Over the years, there have been different sculptures on exhibit which make for great photo opportunities. If you have active kids, they can work out some energy running around on the paths.
So bundle up, grab a coffee from your favorite Des Moines coffee shop, and head to the Botanical Garden for a winter escape. From the lush greenery of the tropical conservatory to the stunning orchids and textural houseplant collection, there is so much to see and do at this hidden gem in the heart of our city. Even during the bitter cold winter months, the Des Moines Botanical Garden offers a warm and welcoming retreat from the wind and snow as well as the stress of everyday life. Bring your kids and experience a couple of hours exploring, learning, and playing. With its seasonal events, beautiful gardens, and educational exhibits, Des Moines Botanical Garden is a must-visit destination for anyone looking for some winter fun and inspiration.