When it comes to state fairs, the biggest, craziest and most popular has to be the one that takes place each year for 11 days in August in Des Moines. Yes: The Iowa State Fair, which began back in 1854, has become the stuff of legends (and even a Broadway musical). The sprawling 445-acre fairgrounds welcomes more than 1 million visitors each year from across the world to enjoy the sites, sounds – and tastes – that have made the Iowa State Fair a must-see event. This year, the fun spans Aug. 8-18.
Rides, animals and more
While just walking through the fairgrounds is an adventure, there are plenty of rides to keep your kids busy. Youngsters can try out kiddy versions of the bigger rides, like the Peter Paul Dragon, Dizzy Dragons and other attractions (moms and dads, feel free to ride alongside). For thrill rides, there are over 20 rides that twist, turn and propel – sometimes all at once. Take a spin on the fair's famed double Ferris wheel that looks more like three wheels attached and stretching into the air. Riders can go on the top or bottom wheel before being hoisted in their seats to dizzying heights. Rides require three to five tickets; various ticket packs are available for purchase, including unlimited ride passes for $30.
Along with rides, make sure to save some time to walk through the livestock areas. The fair boasts the world's largest livestock shows, including stalls showcasing prized sheep, cows, horses, goats and even dogs.
Farm animals aren't the only ones showing off for the crowds. There are around 45 competitions for individuals. These quirky contests are another big draw for fair goers. Where else can you see competitions pitting one yodeler against another? Other contests feature hog calling, mother-daughter look-alikes, monster arm wrestling, outhouse races, and the youth rooster crowing contests – and this is just a sampling.
The fair includes four stages with free evening entertainment. You can jam with your kids to oldies pop, '80s rock, country music and even music sung a cappella. Over on the grandstand each night, find big-name musicians and events. For the country music fans in your family, check out the lineup, which includes Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith and Alan Jackson. Tweens and teens might be more interested in Victoria Justice of Nickelodeon's Victorious, singing Tuesday, Aug. 13, or Carly Rae Jepsen and The Wanted, performing Saturday, Aug. 17. Then again, the grandstand also features other acts like tractor pulls and demolition derbies.
Planning your stay
While there are nearby hotels to choose from, another option is to camp on-site. Non-registered camping fees start at $25 per day. Even though there are 160 acres for camping, sites do fill up quickly and are limited, so reserve yours as soon as possible.
Admission into the fair is $11 for adults (ages 12-plus) and $5 for children ages 6-11; children ages 5 and younger get in free. The fairgrounds are open daily 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Costs for food, rides and grandstand shows are additional.