As we all work together to flatten the curve, self-quarantine, and follow social distancing best practices, it doesn’t mean we can’t find fun, interesting, productive, and educational ways to stay engaged—even if we have to be a little more creative.
This list is for anyone living in or around the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Corridor area who is looking for ideas on how to not go stir crazy. As the situation is constantly evolving, please be sure to double check the provided links to ensure these facilities are still accessible and operating.
- Take short “themed” drives. These don’t have to be long, they just need to be interesting. If you have kids, add an educational component. Ask what the themes could be and make a list together. If they aren’t sure, here are a few ways to get them brainstorming. I.e. Have them Google “highest point in the city,” “oldest building in the city,” “biggest state park near me,” “largest body of water near me.” Once they have the answer, take a drive to that destination. If they are old enough, have them enter the information in an app such as Waze or Google Maps and help you navigate to the destination. Once there, talk about the history or the interesting things related to that place. Get out and explore. Then have them take a photo of the place to use later. Once you’re back home, gather around and have everyone try their hand at drawing “the place” and talking about what they liked or didn’t like about it.
- Get on your bikes and set off on a path you haven’t explored. If you don’t have a bike rack, just push off in any direction from home. If you have kids, ask them to take turns shouting out left or right as you come to places you could turn, creating a random, yet fun adventure. If you have bike racks, get out and find the dozens of trails and off the beaten track locations around you. Here’s a list of Cedar Rapids top trails. (See below for more information on Iowa City’s top trails.)
- Pick a park to visit once a week. F.W. Kent Park is located three miles west of Tiffin on Highway 6. It’s known for its beauty and its many open areas for people to explore more than nine miles of well-groomed, crushed rock trails across the park’s 1,052 acres. This is a premier place to view native Iowa tallgrass prairie, fish, or visit the bird blind that’s open year-round. The blind can be found on the eastern edge of the Conservation Education Center parking lot. The park also features seven historic county road bridges that were relocated to the park and are utilized on the trail around the 27-acre lake.
- Palisades-Kepler State Park is 4 miles east of Mount Vernon, Iowa. The 840-acre park lies along the Cedar River and has river bluffs, deep ravines, hardwood trees, a large variety of wildflowers and an abundance of wildlife. The park is also important for its prehistoric past. According to the website, a molar tooth of a mammoth was once found here and the exposed rocks along the Cedar River are laden with fossils of millions of years of history. The presence of Indian mounds indicates it was also a favorite place for Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Take your walking shoes, a blanket, and a picnic and make a day of it. P.S. Noted American poet Carl Sandburg was a yearly visitor to the “Palisades” during the 1920s and 1930s.
- Another wonderful destination is Backbone State Park, 1347 129th St. near Dundee, Iowa, just three miles south of Strawberry Point. The park has 21 miles of hiking and multi-use trails. The website says: “Backbone State Park was dedicated in 1920. It was Iowa’s first state park and remains one of the most significant. Backbone is named for its narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River. Folklore named this high ridge of rock the “Devil’s Backbone.” The park has great climbing and rappelling: the most popular areas to climb are located near the Backbone Trail. The great thing is there are many easily accessible trails, including a 600 foot Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concrete sidewalk and parking lot along the trout stream. Backbone is also well known for trout fishing. Richmond Springs, the source that feeds the stream, pumps out over 2,000 gallons per minute and is located near the north end of the park. As a whole, the park has 2,001 acres and is heavily wooded and serves as a wonderful refuge for a variety of wildlife including deer, raccoon, fox, turkeys, ruffed grouse and many species of songbirds.
- Have you visited the Iowa Raptor Center near Lake Macbride in Solon? While the center itself is closed, you can still check out their birds of prey (including eagles, vultures, hawks, owls and falcons) through their virtual programming.
- Don’t want to go far? Walk to your neighborhood park or school. Shoot baskets, play frisbee, hide objects for the kids to find. Play soccer, throw a football. Run sprints.
- Take a walk around Terry Trueblood in Iowa City at 579 McCollister Blvd. It’s 152 acres and makes a great walking/biking path. And, it’s located at the southern end of the Iowa River Corridor Trail. The six-mile trail is Iowa City’s longest and most heavily used. It’s great for walking or biking. The trail weaves its way from Iowa City’s southside near Terry Trueblood, past Big Grove Brewery, along the river and through the University of Iowa campus. Two recently constructed links in the trail network include the Iowa River Power Dam pedestrian bridge that links Coralville to Iowa City’s Peninsula Park where there is a great dog park. You can also take the trail to the Iowa River Landing and take in the beautiful Wetland Park behind the Marriott Hotel.
- Ready for something different? Find a historic or unique neighborhood in your town and the towns around you. For example, Iowa City has Goosetown, the Mormon Handcart Trail, Plum Grove, and many other places. Check out this amazing list for ideas. Here’s a great summary of Iowa City’s historic neighborhoods. Cedar Rapids has NewBo, West Branch has the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, the Amanas have great sidewalks that weave past the historic woolen mill or you can walk or bike miles of trails, including past Lily Lake. Here is a great list of things you can do outside in the Amanas. West Liberty has the historic Rock Island Depot. Drive past the buggy shop in Kalona, Iowa and then take a drive in and around Kalona and explore the world of the Amish.
- There are endless places to explore at Lake Macbride State Park and the Coralville Lake Reservoir. And few things beat the Devonian Fossil Gorge, which was created by the Flood of 1993 when the waters receded and the 375-million-year-old fossilized Devonian ocean floor was revealed.
- Visit the Iowa River Power Dam and Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park. You don’t need a dog to do this! The dam’s pedestrian bridge can be accessed from the parking lot at the Iowa River Power restaurant. Walk across the bridge, which covers the Iowa River. No matter the time of the year, you’ll get an amazing view. In the winter it’s surrounded by eagles sitting in the trees and diving for food. In the spring, the water is often higher, creating a powerful, and often mesmerizing experience as you watch thousands of gallons of water pour under your feet and over the dam. Cross the bridge and you are stepping into the Peninsula Neighborhood. Follow the walking path and you’ll see the dog park where you can walk and exercise your dog or just walk and enjoy other people’s dogs. The park also features a dog pond and dock for the adventurous pooches in your life. Here’s what YELP reviewers had to say about it.
- After the dog park, explore the larger walking path along the river. You’re just steps from the Peninsula Park Disc Golf Course. Check out these photos that show each of the 18 hole course.
- Ready for a slightly longer drive? Head to the Quad Cities, sit on the bluffs, enjoy a view of the Mississippi River, and watch barges go through the locks. Find out more here.
- Want to learn more about Iowa’s historic barns before you start a barn spotting tour? First, visit the Iowa Barn Foundation website. They have tons of great stories and information here. Then, if you’re still interested, the New York Times wrote this piece, which is a bit older but is a fun read. First stop? We vote for Secrest’s 1883 Octagonal Barn. It’s one of the oldest and largest round barns in the United States.
- Need more ideas about what to do if you just want to stay put at home? Check out this great article from USA Today on “100 things to do while stuck inside due to a pandemic.” Or these 150 educational shows highlighted by Netflix. Or, these virtual field trips!
We hope you enjoyed this list! If you are inclined, snap a photo and tag us on Facebook or Instagram. We’d love to see what sort of adventures you have been able to take with your family and friends.