Historical Field Trips in Des Moines

Even though Des Moines is not the original capitol of the state of Iowa there is ample opportunity to study history in the metro. 

Iowa Trivia: Iowa City hosted the first State Capitol that housed the new government for ten years before Des Moines was declared the center of Iowa and a new building was erected in 1857.

Load up the family vehicle, organize your class, and visit these places.


Ten Educational Historical Experiences in Des Moines

Iowa State Capitol

Either during the legislative session or the quiet summer hours, the Iowa State Capitol building is a must see for Iowa students. Find out where to park for free, which door to enter and how to meet with your legislator. Get in on a guided tour for a trip to the top dome and all the unique aspects of the building.

Terrace Hill Governor’s Residence

While learning about Iowa’s government, visit Terrace Hill, which has been called home by five Iowa governors and their families. The Terrace Hill Governor’s Residence is recognized as one of the most accessible governors homes in the country.  Take your students on a tour to learn about the fascinating history and peek into this stunning mansion.

A school tour in the gardens at Terrace Hill


Salisbury House & Gardens

Another impressive home is Salisbury House & Gardens inspired from English castles with architectural features that reflect elements from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Guests will find an impressive collection of artifacts, art work and furniture displayed throughout the tour. 

Salisbury House & Gardens front stairway with kngihts armor suit and art work


State Historical Museum of Iowa

The State Historical Museum of Iowa is a wonderful complement for many different areas of study highlighting early geological state history through current affairs. Admission to the museum and parking are both free. A younger children’s play area makes this stop perfect for all ages.

State Historical Museum of Iowa native home


Living History Farms

One of the most unique historical hands-on experiences in the metro is Living History Farms, where volunteers and staff reenact everyday life from the 1700’s Ioway Indian farm to the 1875 town of Walnut Hill. 


Jordan House

James Jordan and his family moved to West Des Moines in 1848. He became a prominent Iowa leader and the “chief conductor” of the Underground Railroad in Polk County. A one hour guided tour of his family’s home showcases their humble beginnings with a dirt floor dugout home, their connection with the Underground Railroad, and the story of their family history. 


Wells Fargo History Museum

Wells Fargo History Museum offers over a dozen interactive hands-on displays that will keep visitors busy for more than an hour. A noteworthy museum not to miss.

The most famous display is the interactive stage coach. Children can dress up in period costumes, ride inside the coach while watching a video about 1800’s travel, or try their hand at holding leather reins and driving.

Stage Coach at Wells Fargo History Museum Des Moines Iowa.


Renaissance Faire at Sleepy Hollow

The Renaissance Faire at Sleepy Hollow runs for three weekends each September and features a different theme each weekend. Knight fights, a Viking Camp, Royal Court, the fine arts, and more!

A cluster of tents give a peak into daily life in the 1500’s. Try on a knight’s helmet, watch blacksmiths work or learn about rope making. The living history camp is ongoing daily during the ren faire.

Joust match at the Renaissance Faire at Sleepy Hollow


The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

The Iowa Gold Star Military museum houses an impressive collection of retired military vehicles, a large gun display room and several hands-on activities dating back from our country’s earliest wars. Staffed by some of our finest veterans, students can gain inside information during a guided tour.

Des Moines Art Center

Explore history through the arts at the Des Moines Art Center. Permanent collection examples include works from Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jean Dubuffet, Francis Bacon, Frank Stella, and Richard Diebenkorn.

Des Moines Art Center

Other Recommendations

Iowa Hall of Pride “offers a unique, educational experience at a state-of-the-art facility.  The interactive excitement at the Iowa Hall of Pride allows your students to immerse themselves in the history of Iowa’s athletics, academics, and arts. ” Plan your class fieldtrip this year.

State Fair Museum Complex houses the Ronald and Margaret Kenyon Gallery, Pioneer Hall, and
the Ralph H. Deets Historical Museum. The Richard L Easter Museum Complex featuring the Ralph H. Deets Historical Museum and Richard O. Jacobson Hall is open daily during Fair time only.

Noteworthy museums in the metro include community historical societies. Find a complete list here on the Iowa Museum Association website for Altoona, Ankeny, Big Creek, Clive, Des Moines, Johnston, Runnells, West Des Moines, and more.

Don’t overlook smaller museums. I find that when visiting a smaller museum, the children learn more because there is a specific focus. Instead of spending a lot of time running around trying to “see everything” that some larger museums offer, the children spend more time on a few high quality exhibits.

For more information, visit Teaching Iowa History, which is a repository of lesson plans and links to other educational resources.

With over ten educational historical experiences in the Des Moines Metro, it’s easy to plan your next class field trip or family excursion.

Wanting to study science? Visit Ten Science Field Trips in Des Moines for more ideas. 

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