Aug 25, 2023 - Things to Do

Where to vacation within two hours of Des Moines for Labor Day weekend

An aerial view of camper vans parked within Whiterock Conservancy.

Photo: Courtesy of Whiterock Conservancy

Did the fray of the start of school leave you without plans for Labor Day? Don't fret.

  • There are plenty of fun places within a short driving distance to help you disconnect from the metro next weekend.

Driving the news: We recently asked our readers to share some of their favorite spots in Iowa within a two-hour drive. Below are some suggestions:

Whiterock Conservancy

Whiterock is a 5,500-acre western Iowa conservancy donated by the Garst family, who spent generations farming the land and working on sustainable agriculture methods.

  • Today, a nonprofit organization manages the land and continues to practice sustainable agriculture, as well as offering recreational activities, camping and educational classes to the public.

Hidden gems: It's one of the darkest places in the state to go stargazing, staff member Misty Conrad tells Axios.

  • For reader Laura Belin, Whiterock is where she looks for wildflowers to photograph because there are several different habitats.

Be smart: Tent sites are first-come, first-served, so you still have time to snag your spot.

Where: A little over one hour west of Des Moines off Highway 141.

Clear Lake

Surf Ballroom
Surf Ballroom. Photo: Courtesy of Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce

This cute lake town north of Des Moines has plenty of outdoor recreation like bicycling, fishing and boating.

  • Clear Lake's most known for being the home of the Surf Ballroom — the last place Buddy Holly played before he died in a plane crash the next day, or "The Day the Music Died."

Hidden gems: There are three good breweries nearby: Lake Time Brewery, Mason City Brewing and Fat Hill Brewing.

  • If you're into shopping, reader Tracy Lepeltak recommends stopping by Main Avenue where there are some "unique, funky stores" and good restaurants.

Where: About 100 minutes north of Des Moines off 1-35 North.


bakery and a windmill
Jaarsma Bakery (left) and a windmill in downtown Pella. Photos: Linh Ta/Axios

In this scenic Dutch town of a little over 10,000 people, even the Walmart is painted green and old-timey.

Hidden gems: You may have already visited the must-stop shops during Tulip Time, but there's plenty to see just outside town, according to reader Susan Miller.

Plus: A good spot to stay overnight is the Royal Amsterdam Hotel on the canal, says reader BJ Stokesbary.

Where: 50 minutes southeast of Des Moines off IA-163 East.


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