Low-Risk Iowa Activities to Enjoy the Holidays

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Looking for low-risk activities to celebrate the holidays safely within Iowa? Although Christmas and the holidays in Iowa will look different this year for everyone, there are still many ways to make it special and stay safe. The following list has compiled the most low-risk, low contact and fun activities within Iowa for the holidays.

Jolly Holiday Lights

Where: 3300 Adventureland Dr. Altoona, Iowa
When: 5:30 – 10:00PM November 27th through December 30th (Closed on Dec. 24 and Dec 25)
Price: $15 per car, price will increase after Nov 25th. Additional pricing available for limos, and busses on their website

Jolly Holiday Lights is a 2.5 mile drive through the summer theme park, Adventureland, through festive light displays that fund the Iowa Make-A-Wish foundation. Weekends can get pretty busy, so if you’re able to go on a weeknight, you won’t be waiting quite as long.

Whether you go to this light display or the next one on this list, bringing along these 3D light glasses would be a great way to up the fun if you’re bringing kids along. Once you put them on, they will transform the individual lights into different 3D images such as Christmas trees or snowflakes and will shift and move with your glasses. It’s something we used to do when we would go to Disney as a family and we got a big kick out of it as kids!

Santa’s Rock N Lights

Where: Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa
When: November 27th through January
Standard Hours:
Sunday to Thursday 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Friday and Saturday 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Christmas Week Hours:
December 23th-24th: 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM
December 25th: 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM
December 26th-27th: 4:50 PM to 10:00 PM
Price: Between $19.99 – $27.99 depending on what day you go

This drive through light display has over 700 feet of tunnels to look at, including their new techno rainbow tunnel, which looks incredible! And with both drive through light displays, you get to stay in the safety of your car the entire trip!

Christmas Tree Farms

Picking out your own Christmas tree has always been such a fun tradition for us. Every year after Thanksgiving there’s nothing quite like cutting and decorating your own live tree! The other best part, for most of them, is that there’s hardly any contact beyond netting the tree and payment, so it’s a low-risk activity for you and the family!

You may also like: How to Take Care of a Live Christmas Tree

Loading up our Christmas tee from Strautman Tree Farm

You are typically given a saw from the safety of your car (and it’s recommended to bring your own saw!), can cut your tree on your own tree away from others, have a worker bag/net it up for you, pay and you are on your way! Depending on how you need to pay, if it’s in an indoor setting, that might be the riskiest part of all of it, but some farms are finding ways to work with people.

Our personal favorite farm is Strautman Tree Farm, there’s a great variety of trees and sizes, and you even get a free annual wooden ornament with your tree purchase! I’ve documented our entire experience with another blog post all about Strautman Tree Farm.

Here’s also a list of Christmas Tree Farms in every location in Iowa that is very helpful in narrowing down where you should go.

Jingle Bell Stroll

Where: Gray’s Lake Park – Southeast Picnic Area
2101 Fleur Dr, Des Moines, IA 50315
When: December 5th, 10am – 2pm
Price: Free – registration required
Parking: Available in the Southeast Parking Lot
Standard registration opens: Nov 2, 2020 8am
Last day for standard registration: Dec 4, 2020 5pm
Internet registration opens: Nov 2, 2020 8am
Last day for Internet registration: Dec 4, 2020 5pm

This family-friendly event is designed for children 13 and under and gives them the opportunity enjoy a half-mile trail walk and end with taking your own socially-distanced photo with Santa Claus!

As this event is being put on by the Des Moines Parks and Rec, they are taking many precautions, such as requiring face coverings, maintaining distance on the trail, and no additional chatter with Santa, so remember to bring him a letter!

There will be festive music playing and each registrant will receive a Take and Make Pop Bottle Birdfeeder Kit to put together at home! Make sure to dress for the weather and enjoy a festive walk this season!


Where: Virtual Marketplace & Curbside Pickup at Principal Park, Des Moines, Iowa
When: Virtual Marketplace – Nov 9, 12:01AM – Nov 22 12:01AM
Curbside Pickup at Principal Park – Dec 3 – Dec 6, 2020
Price: Free to browse

I tried to not add too many shopping opportunities to this list, because I feel like we’re all targeted about that constantly. But this market supports a lot of local businesses and fun finds that were worth sharing.

According to their website, the Christkindlmarket, “is a German-inspired Christmas market whose goal is to educate and entertain the community by exposing them to European-style foods, products and activities.” This is a great way to try European goods and support local businesses within the state.

Because of the change to a virtual marketplace this year, you’ll be able to find unique gifts for the entire family (or yourself!) from the safety of your home!

Winter Wonderscape Holiday Light Show

Where: Reiman Gardens, 1407 S University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011
When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings
December 3,4,5; 10,11,12; 17,18,19; 24,26; 31,
January 1,2 from 5:00 p.m. to last ticket sold at 8:30 p.m. 
Price: $10 adult  (Tickets purchased online are at a discounted price)
$8 member adult 
$5 all children 2-12 
Under 2 free
COVID Precautions: Face coverings are required, paths mostly one directional, daily capacity will be limited to avoid overcrowded conditions. Thursday’s capacity will be further limited for those who desire increased physical distancing.

Reiman Gardens is a horticulture garden within the Iowa State University (right next to the football stadium, hard to miss!). This is the first year that Reiman Gardens is adding an outdoor walk-through holiday light show! There are a variety of light displays, tunnels and laser lights, and a 20′ foundation, talk about wow-factor!!

From their website they explain, “The kids will enjoy lighted sculptural forms including Peter Rabbit in the Edible Garden, the metamorphosis of the luna moth, penguins cavorting around the lake on skis, sleds and ice skates and the Campaniling kissing polar bears.”

Semi-Virtual Tour of Salisbury House and Gardens

Where: Virtual Tour and Salisbury House & Gardens – 4025 Tonawanda Drive, Des Moines, IA 50312
When: December 4 – December 30 both for the virtual tour and the limited in-person self-guided tours
Price: $20

The Salisbury House is a historic home built in the 1920s that was modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England. Each year the entire home is decorated for Christmas by local designers and retailers with each room having it’s own unique design elements and will provide lots of inspiration for your own home.

What makes this semi-virtual is that the ticket will provide you with the virtual tour of the home and other privately decorated homes for the entire month of December, then the first 250 tickets sold will include a one-time admittance to the house (not the other private homes) in the month of December.

You can certainly choose to only participate in the virtual tours, but the self-guided tours have specific time slots you sign up for with limited guest amounts of 20 and masks are required.

Self-Guided Candy Cane Hike

Where: Annett Nature Center – 15565 118th Avenue, Indianola, IA 50125
When: December 5, 1pm – 3pm (self-guided so you can participate at any time)
Price: Free, but Registration Required

Make sure to dress properly for this winter hike with the whole family to find the hidden candy canes! You can submit your guess for how many candy canes are on the trail for a prize as well.

What’s great is that this hike is self-guided and they have take many COVID precautions throughout (hand sanitizer stations, regular cleaning of bathrooms, and staff is required to mask), and you are able to participate at any time during the 2 hour window.

Person holding a candy cane in front of a Christmas tree that is has blurred lights on it

Live from the Temple: Winter Fantasia

Where: Virtual / Online
When: Thursday, December 7, 2020 at 7pm
Price: $20

This is a rare time where you can snuggle up on the couch to watch a live symphony performance, so definitely take advantage of this moment and support your local musicians! The Des Moines Symphony website (linked here) has all the pieces they will be playing listed out and includes short clips of each to give you a sampling of what you will be attending.

These aren’t your typical Sleigh Ride and Santa Claus songs you hear on the radio, but will provide a unique festive experience to enjoy.

Close up photo of a violin on a table

As an added bonus, you can elevate your experience to be a Dinner and a Show if you live within driving distance of Des Moines! You can add on a dinner box with a 3-course meal and wine pairings for additional prices from Django, a French restaurant in Des Moines. Talk about a great date night idea!

Winter Survival

Where: McFarland Park, 56461 180th Street, Ames, IA 50010
When: Wednesday, December 16, 2020, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Price: $10 per groups of 5 or less, deadline for registration is December 9 at 4pm

Maybe you’ve watched too many survival shows lately and you’ve decided you finally want to hack it yourself for once. This winter survival event being hosted by Story County Conservation gives you the opportunity to do that!

You’ll have the chance to build shelters, light fires and other outdoor survival challenges. They will provide fire starting tools, but make sure to dress properly for for the cold!

Outdoor fire made up of logs

Brenton Skating Plaza

Where: Brenton Skating Plaza, 520 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines, IA 50309
When: Season opens on November 20th – January 31 – Daily Schedule Skate Times
Price: Adult Admission: $9 plus a $1 service fee per admission = $10
Child (6 – 12 years old)/Military/Senior 62+ Admission: $5.50 plus a $1 service per admission = $6.50
Skate rentals are an additional $5

Nothing is quite as picturesque as outdoor ice skating during the holidays with loved ones. Brenton Skating Plaza has a lovely view of downtown Des Moines as it’s located along the Principal Riverwalk on the Des Moines River.

It’s understandable that this could be a higher risk activity than the others listed above, which is why I have it listed last, but still included because of the safety measures that the skating plaza has put in place. Check out the Brenton Skating Plaza FAQ Page for all the specific safety measures to make that decision for yourself.

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