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How to Have Fun and Stay Fit in Iowa

Countless recreation activities allow residents to stay active year-round.

By Laura Hill on January 12, 2022

Elkader Whitewater Park in Elkader
Bill Nellans

Staying active is key to maintaining one’s health, and the outdoor activities in Iowa offer residents a number of entertaining ways to get moving, from scampering down walking trails in urban parks to manning a kayak on the water.

Get Outside

“During the pandemic, people figured out that this healthy lifestyle is good for us,” says Tom Hazelton, CEO of Iowa’s County Conservation System. “They went camping, hit the hiking trails and went out and purchased a lot of outdoor equipment.”

Iowans are still putting those items to good use. The state offers residents limitless possibilities for participatory sports, from golf and disc golf to skiing and ice skating.

“For people who think Iowa is corn and hogs, well, we are,
but what we do with the rest of our land and
our water trails is just amazing.”

Tom Hazelton | Iowa’s County Conservation System

Hit the Water

For those who love water, Iowa’s waterways await – think quiet ponds for paddleboarding and 3,000-acre lakes to enjoy boating, swimming, fishing and waterskiing. Here, locals can dip their toes, their paddle and even their sailboat rudder in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Plus, for those looking for an adventure, Manchester Whitewater Park is open around the clock all year, offering six 18-inch drops as it leads to the Maquoketa River.

Charles City’s whitewater park on the Cedar River, also free and accessible year-round, has an adjacent play area, a disc golf course, picnic shelters and more, and exploring the Turkey River at Elkader’s whitewater park is a must.

Up, Up and Away

Thrilling adventures await at Sky Tours at YMCA Union Park Camp in Dubuque, where fun can be had on the nine zip lines available. In Ankeny, Urban Air Trampoline & Adventure Park keeps kids jumping with trampolines, ropes courses, obstacle courses and bumper cars. The park also offers a climbing wall, as does Climb Iowa in Grimes. While not up in the air – most of the time – try riding a motocross bike at the Farm MX in Indianola or at the Oak Ridge MX Track in Garwin.

And when it gets cold, Iowa is still open for fun. The Brenton Skating Plaza in Des Moines is the first open-air skating facility in the state, and Sundown Mountain Resort in Dubuque proves you don’t need the Rockies to enjoy skiing.

“I think we are a hidden gem when it comes to outdoor activities that are available to people,” says Jami Haberl, executive director of the Healthiest State Initiative, which seeks to help Iowans become the healthiest people in the nation. “People think they need to go pump iron or run a marathon to stay fit, but it has been proven time and time again how walking improves your health and your emotional and social well-being.”

Stellar Health Care in Iowa

Iowans enjoy access to high-quality health care. Here’s a sample:
University of Iowa Health Care
Includes the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, a college
of medicine, children’s hospital and physicians group.
Mercy Iowa City
A 194-bed acute care hospital that offers 24-hour emergency care
and numerous specialties.
MercyOne
A system that includes more than 420 clinics, medical centers,
hospitals and other care locations.
Mary Greeley Medical Center
A 220-bed facility in Ames that covers 13 central Iowa counties.
UnityPoint Health-Des Moines
Includes multiple hospitals, a cancer clinic and dozens
of specialties, from substance abuse to wound care.

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