Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2007 | Features

10 Reasons to Love Summer in Iowa

By Kathryn Howe

Blue skies, endless fields of waving corn, lightning bugs, and backyard barbecues. 'Tis the season for summer fun here in Iowa.

Across the state, people and communities make the most of these lazy, hazy days with events and activities as varied as the Midwestern weather. From music, art, and food festivals to the lure of a good museum or the Great Outdoors, Iowa has something for everyone to enjoy.

No doubt, you have your own favorites. Here are some of ours.

1) Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair draws hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to see its exhibits, concerts, infamous butter cow, livestock barns, and fried food stands. No wonder this national phenomenon appears in the travel guide 1,000 places to See Before You Die.


The (Des Moines) Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa takes some 10,000 bicycle enthusiasts on a weeklong trek from the Missouri to the Mississippi rivers.

3) Films

Films played on the sides of building and at Iowa's last remaining drive-ins add a special summertime ambiance to the movie-going experience. Iowa City presents a series of free Saturday night movies on the Pentacrest (pictured) through September, while families also flock to drive-in theaters in Newton, Maquoketa, Grand View, and Centerville.

4) Food festivals

Food festivals, such as the Cedar Rapids BBQ Roundup pictured here, celebrate the culinary perks of summer—when gardens burst abundant and everything tastes better on the grill. Other well-attended food fairs include Solon Beef Days, the West Point Sweet Corn Festival, and Ice Cream Days in LeMars.

5) The Iowa Speedway

The Iowa Speedway drew delighted fans, national media, and famous faces to the 2006 Iowa Corn Indy 250. The biggest event in state history featured competitors such as Dario Franchitti, winner of this year's Indianapolis 500, Marco Andretti (grandson of Mario), and Danica Patrick.

6) Arts festivals

Arts festivals, craft shows, bazaars, and flea markets throughout the state showcase artistic talents in every imaginable medium. Summer high points include the Des Moines Arts Festival, the Iowa Arts Festival in Iowa City, the Iowa Sculpture Festival in Newton, and Nordic Fest in Decorah.

7) Music festivals

At music festivals and concerts, Iowa's summer soundtrack covers jazz, blues, pop, and rock 'n' roll. Highlights include Iowa City's jazz festival on the Pentacrest (pictured) and the downtown Friday Night Concert Series, the Yankee Doodle Pops concert in Des Moines, and the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport. For a bit of twang, Avoca hosts the seven-day National Old-Time Country & Bluegrass Festival.

8) Nature

Nature in the shape of campsites, state parks, trail heads, and lakes beckons Iowans who love wild places and weekend adventures. The UI Division of Recreational Services' Touch the Earth Outdoor Rental Center offers tents, sleeping bags, kayaks, and other gear for excursions to Solon's Lake Macbride or the Coralville Resovoir. Lake Okoboji, Effigy Mounds National Monument, the Bridges of Madison County, and the Field of Dreams also welcome thousands of visitors each summer.

9) Outdoor sports

Take us out to the ballgame or get our hearts pumping in marathons and competitions. Each summer, the state's largest amateur sports contest, the Iowa Games in Ames, attracts thousands of athletes who compete in a variety of Olympic-style events. Many area youths also participate in the UI's summer sports camps, and The Bix road race in Davenport registers some 15,000 eager runners. For baseball fans, Iowa boasts several minor league baseball teams, including the Des Moines Iowa Cubs (pictured).

10) Museums

Museums such as the National Mississippi River Aquarium and Museum in Dubuque (pictured) offer welcome refuge on unbearably hot days. Other cultural gems include the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, the African American Historical Museum & Cultural Center in Cedar Rapids, and the Birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset.