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Looking for Fun Things to Do in Ames, IA?

From hiking and biking to shopping and savoring the cuisine scene, you'll get your fill of fun and food in the Heart of Iowa.

By Rebecca Treon on June 13, 2022

High Trestle Trail Bridge in Iowa
Zuma Press Inc./Alamy.com

Residents of Boone and Story counties know they’re on to something good.

Locals have ready access to hiking and biking trails, world-class golf, unique retail and restaurants and entertainment spots. Couple those with the presence of Iowa State University and its nearly 31,000 students, and Ames is able to offer amenities you’d find in a bigger city, but with the charm and pace of a smaller town.

“Everybody who lives here loves it. It’s a safe place, you know your neighbors, it has a thriving, fabulous downtown,” says Maggie Wynja, who grew up and lives in Ames and now owns American Country Home Store, a furniture retailer. “You can go to the grocery store and run into a couple of people you know.”

Heart of Iowa Nature Trail
Story County Conservation

Stretch Your Legs

Ames and the other communities in the Heart of Iowa are surrounded by ample space that’s been dedicated as hiking and biking trails – favorite recreational activities locals love to take advantage of.

Rail trails, decommissioned railroads that have been redesigned and converted into multiuse trails for hiking and biking, are popular across the Midwest. Iowa has a network of trails spanning hundreds of miles, including those in the Ames area.

The Praeri Trail in McCallsburg spans 10.5 miles and is open to horseback riders and snowshoers, and offers opportunities to pick seasonal fruit. The Heart of Iowa Nature Trail in Collins traverses farmland, following the route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad.

Did You Know?

The High Trestle Trail and Bridge in Slater runs 25 miles and includes a trestle bridge with 41 lit frames representing coal mines.

At the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt in Maxwell, there are 8,388 acres of wetlands, prairie and woodlands to camp, picnic, canoe, fish, observe wildlife and hunt.

Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames features a paved path that runs around an expansive lake that’s open for boating and fishing. Outside of Boone, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy one of Iowa’s most historic and stunning nature destinations – Ledges State Park. The park offers a picturesque sandstone gorge and 4 miles of trails through wooded areas.

Get Your Shop On

When it comes to shopping, locals have everything they could want right here in Ames and Boone and Story counties. North Grand Mall in Ames covers all the bases, with national brands and locally-owned businesses, restaurants, fitness centers, a movie theater and an indoor farmers market.

Campustown, a historic neighborhood that borders the Iowa State campus, is home to more than 30 shops, boutiques, galleries, bars and restaurants. A magnet for students and alumni alike, this popular destination is the place to stock up on Cyclones paraphernalia.

Likewise, the historic Ames Main Street downtown district is home to everything from hair salons to jewelry stores, photography studios to bookstores. South Duff, located on the southeast side of town, is home to big box stores like Target, HomeGoods, Best Buy and Walmart.

The Mucky Duck in Ames, IA
Rick Lozier

The Beverage and Cuisine Scene

Every town in and around Ames has excellent dining and drinking options. In Zearing, gas station eatery The Oil Press is known for its barbecue and diner classics.

The IowaStater, inside the Gateway Hotel & Conference Center, offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. GI Jill’s in Roland has pub fare, live music, and trivia nights in a laid-back atmosphere. The Open Flame Steak & Lounge in Gilbert is a grill-your-own steak joint with a classic steakhouse vibe.

In Kelley, R Place Pub & Pizza has pool tables, pizza, and TVs to watch the game. Comfort Food in Huxley has all your favorite sandwiches. Jenny Oaks’ Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro in Collins serves mouthwatering baked goods.

Ready for an Evening Out?

The region around Ames has plenty of places to grab a drink. The Mucky Duck is a perennial favorite featuring craft beers (join the mug club for your personalized stein) and British fare.

Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (but especially pizza and burgers), Roosters Bar & Grill in Boone is always hopping. Swanee’s Pub in Story City is a classic watering hole. Nite Hawk Bar & Grill in Slater is the place to be if you’re a biker – a cyclist, that is, because of its location near so many of the town’s trails. In Zearing, The Hideout is a small town bar (according to them) and is also a hangout for bikers.

At The Tattered Toad in Cambridge, go for the game and play some bingo while you’re there. Far and wide, the region offers great independent places to dine and drink.

Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames, IA

And Don’t Fore-get Great Golf!

River Bend Golf Course in Story City, which opened in 1971, offers a player-friendly nine holes with trees and water throughout the course. Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames, owned and operated by Iowa State University, has been the host of the Iowa Masters since it opened in 1938. Twin Anchors Golf Course in Colo is a nine-hole public course that hosts community events like Fourth of July fireworks.

Cedar Pointe Golf Course in Boone is an 18-hole championship course. The original nine holes are believed to be among Iowa’s oldest.

Indian Creek Country Club in Nevada is a public nine-hole course with rolling hills and a clubhouse that serves lunch and dinner. At Ballard Golf & Country Club in Huxley, members can enjoy all the perks of club membership, along with a nine-hole course that accommodates all skill levels. The Back Nine Bar and Grill is open to the public for lunch and dinner.

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