Monday, March 26, 2012

Alfresco RV Adventure: A Fresh Look at Des Moines

Though the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament has Iowa hitting headlines as of late, you don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate this Midwest state’s winning character. Many travelers elect to head to the capital city for its liberal outdoor offerings, from estate gardens and wineries to campgrounds and arboretums. So if you're looking for a fresh place to give your family a bit of alfresco adventure, consider Des Moines. Here are some of the hot spots that help this cool city -- which sits at the heart of the state where Interstates 80 and 35 intersect -- win the vote for one of the country's best RV vacation destinations.

Camping: RV parks and campgrounds are well represented throughout the Des Moines area, so choosing your favorite shouldn't be difficult. The wooded sites at Polk County Conservation's Yellow Banks Park, overlooking the Des Moines River from a high bluff, are top contenders if you want a rural feeling close to the city. For those in need of some family fun, Adventureland Amusement Park (just outside the capital in Altoona) also provides full-service hookups, recreational areas, and swimming seasonally.

Photo courtesy of the Greater Des Moines
Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Arts: Held on the State Capitol steps since 1947, Music Under the Stars has been instrumental in bringing classical, jazz, and chamber music to the masses. Or raise the tempo on Friday nights with hot local bands at Rendezvous on Riverview. Both series are free, family-friendly, and fabulous.

A couple miles west of the Capitol on Grand Avenue, you'll find the John & Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, filled with contemporary works by some of the world's most revered artists. This 4.4-acre urban green space is an ideal space to stretch your legs after a long drive.

Nature: You won't find elephants or donkeys at the Blank Park Zoo, but you will find nearly 104 other types of animals, including red pandas, snow leopards, Magellan penguins, and hissing cockroaches. In the warmer months, you'll also discover plenty of demonstrations and even have the chance to ride a camel and feed the giraffes.

Prefer flora to fauna? Head to the Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center to dig into 15,000 exotic plants, an interactive display greenhouse, a tropical conservatory, and formal outdoor gardens.

Sports: The nearby city of Indianola hosts the annual National Balloon Classic at the end of each July. This colorful festival is filled with rides, competitions, and plenty of high-flying entertainment.

Looking to go a bit faster than the wind can carry you? Step on the gas and head east on I-80 to Newton, home to the Rusty Wallace-designed Iowa Speedway. (You can also witness live horse racing just outside the capital at Prairie Meadows Racetrack.)

Food: Eating well can be just the ticket to a fulfilling getaway, so be sure to stop into the Downtown Farmers Market, which has a generous platform of fresh fruit, veggies, herbs, flowers, meats, and cheeses from local purveyors. (Ostrich, anyone?)

Then drink in the lush hills and rich flavors of St. Charles, situated slightly south of Des Moines, on the patio at the Madison County Winery and Twisted Vine Brewery.

Joe Laing, El Monte RV Rentals

(Joe is the marketing director for El Monte RV Rentals. You can see more RV vacation ideas in their Monty's Musings RV Travel Blog and check out RV Camping Pictures.)

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