15+ Fun, Safe Things to Do in the Iowa City Area This Winter

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s officially time to face the start of another Iowa winter – and the holiday season. 

As temperatures continue to drop, the possibilities of social distancing outside through walks, bike rides, and outdoor dining are greatly reduced. But even as the weather urges us indoors and the pandemic causes many of our favorite local holiday events to change, there are still plenty of ways to have fun in the Iowa City area! We’ve compiled a list of creative, social-distanced approved things to do this winter.

Winter Fun

Iowa winters are known for being harsh, but this time of year offers many fun activities, both indoors and out. 

  • Sledding. No winter activity list would be complete without this classic. The Iowa City area offers some great sledding locations, from the slopes at F.W. Kent Park in Oxford to the hills at City Park and Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City. As soon as it snows, be ready to break out your toboggans, tubes, and saucers!
  • Cross-country skiing. Some of our local parks lend themselves to cross-country skiing. Enjoy Iowa’s winter beauty as you ski your way through Lake Macbride State Park in Solon, F.W. Kent Park near Tiffin, or Squaw Creek Park in Marion. Other local go-tos for cross-country skiing include Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville, Ashton Cross Country Course in Iowa City, and Coralville Creekside Cross. Check out this article for a list of other great places to cross-country ski in Iowa. 
  • Winter hiking. Who said your nature walks had to end just because it’s winter? Hickory Hill in Iowa City, F.W. Kent Park west of Iowa City, and Squire Point Trail in North Liberty are great local places to take a winter hike, among others. If you’re looking for an adventure outside of the Corridor, check out this list of places in Iowa that are perfect for a winter hike. 
  • Snowshoeing. Want to make your hike more interesting? Try snapping on some snowshoes! Snowshoes distribute your weight over a greater surface, preventing you from sinking through the snow. (Not to mention it looks pretty cool!) It’s also a great way to mix up your workout routine with an outdoor winter workout.
  • Winter biking. If you’re one of the brave souls who don’t mind the cold, then the Corridor’s many bike trails await for some winter bike riding. Just make sure you’re prepared for the elements with the proper gear – for both you and your bike. For more tips and helpful information, check out the Iowa Bicycle Coalition’s free guide on winter bicycling in Iowa
  • Outdoor ice skating. Whether you’re a pro on the ice or tend to do more falling than skating, Terry Trueblood Recreation Area is the go-to place in Iowa City for outdoor skating. Be sure to visit www.icgov.org/rainoutline or call 319-356-5100 to make sure the ice is safe before strapping on your skates. If you’re located closer to North Liberty, check out the outdoor skating rink at Penn Meadows Park from January through March.
  • Cozy up to a fire – indoors or out. If you prefer the warmth to the cold, then it’s the perfect season to cozy up to a crackling fire. Bundle up next to a roaring fire outside or crank up your living room fireplace. Don’t have a fireplace or outdoor fire pit? Turn your TV into a fireplace using Netflix’s virtual fire. It has all the crackling coziness of a fire with none of the smoke. Bonus: some of them even have festive music in the background! 
  • Take a trip to the farm and hang out with some alpacas. No, we’re not kidding! If you’re looking for an activity that’s out of the box, check out Frerichs Alpaca Farm in West Branch, where you can spend an afternoon meeting and petting their alpacas! Farm visits are by appointment only. 
  • Make an obstacle course. Struggling to entertain the kids at home? Make an obstacle course in your living room using household objects or outside in the snow! It’s like American Ninja Warrior, only in your backyard. 
  • Unleash your inner artist. What better time to hone (or discover) your artistic abilities, and maybe even make some of your own seasonal decor along the way? Many local shops are offering at-home art kits for adults and children. Take a virtual paint class at Brush and Barrel, pick up an art kit for the kids from Board and Brush, or try your hand at pottery with art-to-go kits from Renee’s Ceramic Cafe. You can even try your hand at cupcake art with Molly’s Cupcakes’ at-home cupcake decorating kits! 
  • Get your game night on. Card games, board games, online games, apps – however you play, games are a great way to pass the time. Want to play with people outside your household? Do so safely with a virtual game night! Need new games and puzzles? Support local by ordering from places such as the Hobby Corner in Iowa City or Geek City Games in North Liberty.
  • Cocoa concoctions. Branch outside of dry hot cocoa mix this season by whipping up some delicious, homemade hot drinks. Check out this article for 30 delicious and unique hot chocolate recipes – for you and for the kids! If you want to take things to the next level, try jumping in on the viral cocoa bomb trend. You can even make your own at home!


Holiday Fun

Whether you’ve had your tree up for weeks already or are just now getting festive, there’s no doubt this holiday season will look different from most. Here’s how to get into the holiday spirit safely this year. 

  • Have a bake-off. Remember the phase of quarantine where we were all obsessed with making homemade bread? It’s time to restart that obsession – but this time, with a holiday twist. From gingerbread house competitions to seasonal pies, now’s the time to get creative in the kitchen. Bonus: you get to eat the end result! To up the ante (and the fun) try turning it into a competition among members of your household. Elect someone to be the judge!
  • Decorate cookies at home. ‘Tis the season to test your frosting abilities. Gingerbread men, snowmen, trees, mistletoe, candy canes, stockings, reindeer, snowflakes – this season undoubtedly has the most cookie cutter shapes devoted to it. Want to skip the baking and go straight to the decorating? Order seasonal decorating kits from local favorites like The Pink Umbrella Bakery. The cookie is your canvas!
  • Paint your own ornaments. Some plain ornaments + a few supplies from a local arts and crafts store = hours of entertainment. Paint, glitter, markers, stickers – however you decide to decorate, you can make them your own. Create them as a gift for someone special in your family, or hang them on your own tree.
  • Take a drive and enjoy the holiday lights. This time of year, 6:00 p.m. feels more like 10:00 p.m. But there’s an upside to these dark evenings! Use them as an opportunity to drive around and take in the festive light displays. Get into the holiday spirit by sipping hot cocoa as you tour the best light displays the Iowa City area has to offer. Places like Rita Lyn Court in Iowa City and 12th Avenue in Coralville are great places to start. And don’t miss out on Coralville’s Aisle of Lights luminaria display, a decades old tradition. On Sunday, December 13, thousands of white paper sacks will line the streets for miles, each filled with a candle to create a magical spectacle. 
  • Visit with Santa – virtually! The kids may not be able to sit on Santa’s lap this year, but they can still tell him what they want for Christmas face-to-face. Now through January 7, 2021, The Coral Ridge Mall is offering virtual visits with Santa. Reserve a time to chat with ol’ Kris Kringle, or attend a virtual storytime with a reading from Santa and Mrs. Claus. 
  • Treat yourself with an online ladies night in. On December 3, Vue Rooftop is hosting a virtual Wine and Wreaths Ladies Night In. Attendees get a bottle of wine and a wreath-making kit from Beno’s Flowers. Sip your wine as you learn (virtually) how to assemble and decorate your wreath. Then hang your final product on your front door!
  • Take part in West Branch’s Santa Claus Cruise. This year, West Branch is altering their annual Christmas Past event so you can still have some magical holiday fun (from a distance, of course)! On December 5, West Branch’s historic Main Street will be transformed into a drive-thru parade filled with holiday cheer. Families will stay in their cars as they cruise the parade route, collecting holiday craft kits, cookie kits, and hot cocoa along the way. The route ends in a visit with Santa – from your car! 
  • Keep an eye out for more virtual happenings. Local businesses are working hard to adapt their normal holiday plans. Places like Iowa City Downtown District, Think Iowa City, and City of Iowa City have comprehensive lists of all the happenings in the area. Browse these sites to see if there are any events you or your family can partake in from home while supporting local!


Looking for somewhere new to call home this winter? Get in touch with one of our REALTORS®. We’ll help you find the perfect home for you to cozy up in.  

Wondering how to prep your home for the cold weather? Learn more about protecting your family from radon exposure by getting your home tested for radon this winter

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