While there are many events in Iowa throughout the year, it is the Iowa State
Fair that is most famous nationwide and which draws the greatest number of visitors.
Held in Des Moines in August,
it draws more than a million attendees, and has been going strong since 1854.
Even back then, twenty years before America's great westward movements and when
pioneers arrived at the fair in covered wagons, it was estimated that seven
to eight thousand people attended. Total expenditure for that first fair was
The Iowa State Fair has come a long way since it was moved from Fairfield, a town located southeast of the capital city. Before it came to Des Moines, it was moved to a number of different cities, including Dubuque and Cedar Rapids. It was finally moved to its permanent location in Des Moines in 1879, and today more than one million visitors attend this most classic of all Iowa events each year.
The Iowa State Fair was the inspiration for the novel State Fair as well as three films and the classic Broadway musical. It is, in fact, the "classic" American state fair, as it continues to feature all the traditional agriculture, livestock and farming shows, exhibits, and competitions. The permanent fairgrounds site and the adjoining 160 acres of camping, with nearly 3,000 sites, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the permanent fair structures are pre-World War I and are masterpieces of exposition style architecture in America.
If you want to be part of one of the greatest fairs in Iowa (or the country, for that matter), then set aside eleven days in August. But don't despair, if when to go to Iowa for you is a different month, you will find that there are plenty of special Iowa events and festivals in Iowa to choose from. Among these are various county fairs in Iowa that are held primarily in the summer before the State Fair. They are scheduled in this manner so that local county event winners can move on to compete at the "big one."
Another of the festivals in Iowa is Winterfest. This is one of the premier state attractions that is held in one of the premier state attractions—the historic Amana Colonies—in January. There are a number of winter festivals in Iowa but this one combines a fabulous tourist destination full of history and charm with a lot of fun, including tours sampling the wares of local wineries.
As Des Moines is the capital and largest city, you'll find events in Iowa occurring here during just about every month of the year, from a multi-day series of concerts in July to an October world food festival in which scores of dining venues and organizations participate.
Many of the main tourist attractions also sponsor Iowa events throughout the
year. In the Great Lakes Region that includes Spirit
Lake and Lake Okoboji,
the emphasis is on outdoor recreation—sailboat races and fishing
competitions in the summer, skiing and winter games during cold weather. Additionally,
one of the county fairs in Iowa is held here. The Iowa Events Center in Des
Moines holds the Iowa Deer Classic in March, showcasing the newest hunting,
archery, and outdoor products and the convention center, and has an arena with
sports events, concerts, and more.
There are five regional Wine Trails in the state, and each sponsors festivals and events that honor the grape. Individual wineries and regional Chambers of Commerce sponsor and participate in these events in Iowa and may well have booths and exhibits at any given event you might be attending. Also, be sure to check out the local calendars wherever you may be staying, as you're bound to find a celebration of some sort nearby.