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Iowa State Fair Fun

Updated on July 4, 2015

The Iowa State Fair is FUN!

Ok, so maybe I'm a little biased, but I think that the Iowa State Fair is the best state fair! I grew up going every year to the Iowa State Fair. It was a tradition, habit, something we HAD to do to get away from the farm! I started going to the fair when I was younger with my family and then when I entered high school, I went with my friends. Now that I don't live in Iowa anymore (or anywhere close to it!) I have come to appreciate the fair more than I did when I was growing up.

Let me take you on a tour of my favorite state fair - the Iowa State Fair. I encourage you to create a lens of your own on your favorite state fair!

2011 Update: We did it! We made it to the 2011 Iowa State Fair! We went for two days (and we still didn't get to see everything!).We took a break in between days so we could rest (a really good idea!). Our hope is to go next year and go to the fair 3 days. If I had a camper, we would just park in the campgrounds & stay the whole week!

Photo credits: Unless otherwise noted, all photos copyrighted LakeMom

Iowa Butter Cow - Yes, A Cow Made from Butter!


The Butter Cow is a tradition at the Iowa State Fair. There has been a butter cow at the fair since the early 1900s. There have only been 4 butter artists to create the butter cow. The current artist is Sarah Pratt. She has been sculpting the butter cow since 2006 after apprenticing with the previous sculptor for 15 years.

In addition to the cow, every year there is another butter "creation". In the past, there has been sculptures of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, Harry Potter, Superman and last year she created a sculpture of Shawn Johnson, who is a native Iowan.

The Midway at the Iowa State Fair

As with any fair, the Iowa State Fair has a midway. It is a good size, with lots of options for every member of the family. There are your typical games of chance in addition to the variety of rides available. Belle City Amusements offers 3 ways to enjoy the midway at the Iowa State Fair. Check out the official State Fair website for more details!

Photo: BeckyKP

Permanent Rides at the Iowa State Fair

Ye Old Mill & the Sky Glider

Two of my favorite rides at the Iowa State Fair are permanent fixtures to the fairgrounds. They are the Ye Old Mill and the Sky Glider.

Ye Old Mill is my favorite ride. It is kind of an old-fashioned Lover's Tunnel. You climb into a boat and "float" along. While you are floating you pass different dioramas in the tunnel. Riding on the Old Mill is a nice break out of the heat of the fairgrounds.

The Sky Glider was built in 1975. It provides a fun way to get from the center of the fairgrounds to Pioneer Village (which is at the top of a big hill!). It also provides a wonderful view of the fair from above.

There are now 2 Sky Gliders: One takes you from The Old Mill to Pioneer Village. The other Sky Glider takes you from the middle of the fairgrounds to the 4-H Building area - great if you are tired at the end of the day and you parked your car on that side of the fairgrounds!

Old Mill & Sky Glider Photos

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The Old Mill
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Animals at the Iowa State Fair


The main focus of any fair are the animals. The Iowa State Fair does not skimp in this area! Just about any animal that can be found on a fair is on the fairgrounds. They are judged by their looks, how they walk and even how much they weigh! There are horses, cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens. It is fun to watch some of the judging of these wonderful animals.

Iowa State Fair Videos

Free Entertainment at the Iowa State Fair - Bill Riley Stage & More!


Once you get onto the fairgrounds, there is a TON of free things to do and see. There are all kinds of demonstrations of just about anything you could imagine!

One of the most popular long-running entertainment is the Bill Riley Talent Search. The talent search began at the state fair in 1959. There are 2 levels - Sprouts (2-12) and the Seniors (13 - 21). The performances take place on the Ann and Bill Riley stage and are hosted by Bill Riley's son - Bill Riley Jr. These are a lot of fun to watch - a homegrown version of "Idol".

According to previous year's website - there have been over $500,000 worth of free entertainment available to the fairgoers. Now a lot of times when you tell someone there will be free entertainment - you might nod and say - "That's nice - now where are the rides!" You might also think - locals who aren't going anywhere but the local fair! But their selection of free entertainment has something for everyone - kids (magician and roping), pop, rock, blues, rap, Oldies, and Country.

Last year's list of free entertainment (2010) - included Davy Jones of the Monkees and Vanilla Ice.

Here is a short list of some of the free entertainment available for this year's (2011) Iowa State Fair (see the Iowa State Fair website for full details!): Oak Ridge Boys, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Confederate Railroad,The Lovin' Spoonful, The Band Perry, and more!

There really is something for everyone regarding free entertainment at the fair!

Bill Riley Stage Photos

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Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley StageButter sculpting contest on Bill Riley StageButter sculpting contest on Bill Riley StageButter sculpting contest on Bill Riley StageButter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage
Butter sculpting contest on Bill Riley Stage

Grandstand Entertainment at the Iowa State Fair

In addition to the free entertainment, there is the Grandstand entertainment that has an additional cost. In the past, the Grandstand has been host to Sonny & Cher, the Osmonds (I was there!), the Beach Boys, Jackson 5, Olivia Newton-John (I was there!), and Michael Bolton (I was even at that one!).

The Pioneer Village at the Iowa State Fair


Pioneer Village is located at the top of a hill and contains the history of farming and other antiques. This area appeals to the older crowd. Don't worry, the fair board doesn't make the older fairgoers struggle up the hill - there is the Sky Glider for the ambitious or there is a shuttle service (free) that will take people up and down the hill. There is also food and entertainment available at the village. It's a nice place to visit to slow down your visit to the fair. It is also close to the campgrounds.

Photo: Virtual Farm Boy

Pioneer Hall Photos

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The Varied Industries Building at the Iowa State Fair


The Varied Industries Building is a great place to get out of the direct heat of the day on the fairgrounds. It is where the commercial businesses set up booths and show off their newest products. Even if you're not interested in buying anything - it's fun to walk through and see what is out there. One of my favorite booths is the Culligan water booth. I was always fascinated by the water coming from the faucet from "nowhere".

There also used to be a booth that had an enormous scale - I think it was the Agricultural booth - and you could get on the scale and weigh yourself. That was fun when I was in high school - I'm thinking I wouldn't think it was so much fun these days!

Around the outside of the building there used to be vendors that would "evaluate" your handwriting. I loved doing this when I was in high school. I'm not sure how accurate it was, but it was a lot of fun!

Varied Industries Building Photos

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Culligan Water boothCollection of tattoos from the Varied Industries Building!Iowa SpeedwayThe "I Can" projectThe "I Can" project
Culligan Water booth
Culligan Water booth
Collection of tattoos from the Varied Industries Building!
Collection of tattoos from the Varied Industries Building!
Iowa Speedway
Iowa Speedway
The "I Can" project
The "I Can" project
The "I Can" project
The "I Can" project

How to Get to the Iowa State Fair!

A markerEast 30th St. and University Ave, Des Moines, IA -
East 30th St. and University Ave, Des Moines, IA
get directions

The Ag Building at the Iowa State Fair

Another fun building to go into when the Iowa August heat begins to melt your brain is the Horticultural Building. This is the building that houses the flower, vegetable, and honey competition. It is also where the Butter Cow lives. On one video that I saw from a previous year, they said the line to see the Butter Cow could take 2 hours. It really is worth it to see a cow (and the other creation) made of butter. It is really art!

Ag Building Photos

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Camping at the Iowa State Fair


For those families that enjoy living in a tight space with their entire family - camping at the fairgrounds would be a perfect choice for them. In fact, it is a tradition for some families to camp at the fairgrounds every year. For families that live a distance from Des Moines, this is a great option. If you choose to camp at the fair, you must bring your campers onto the campgrounds before the fair begins. Your equipment is then on the campgrounds for the entire run of the fair. You can choose to stay the entire time or come and go as you please. The rate for the works for 2011 is $375 (includes electricity & sewer). This sounds like a great deal to me for 15 days. You don't have to pay for a hotel room and you can cook in your camper. This is for the serious fairgoer!

Favorite State Fair?

What is your favorite state fair?

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Have You Ever Been to the Iowa State Fair? Let me know what you think! - If you haven't been to the Iowa State Fair - what state fair have you been to?

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    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Went many times in my younger days. Some family members there still do, of course. Thanks for sharing. I'll be including this as a reference in my Iowa Heritage Tourism lens! ;-)

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 5 years ago from Florida

      I've never been to a state fair, but you've made it look like a lot of fun! I just came across your lens since I just finished a lens on Iowa for Teachers & Travelers https://hubpages.com/education/learning-about-iowa . Liked.

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image

      JoyfulReviewer 5 years ago

      It's been a long time since I've been to the Iowa State Fair. My high school band used to perform each year. Thanks for the memories.

    • KateHonebrink profile image

      KateHonebrink 5 years ago

      I have not been to the Iowa State Fair, but have a friend who has had a lemonade stand at the Iowa State Fair for years and years.

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 5 years ago from USA

      I love the fair!

    • emmaklarkins profile image

      emmaklarkins 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this great information! Makes me wish I lived closer to Iowa. Blessed :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yep! I'm a native Iowan, still living in my home state. You've done a great job in showing off our State Fair for others to see! Congratulations :)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      It's been many years since I have been to the South Carolina State Fair. The Iowa State Fair looks like so much fun.

    • profile image

      mockingbird999 6 years ago

      Looks like a lot of fun.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Great introduction to the Iowa State Fair - made me want to visit!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Stopping back by to give you a SquidAngel blessing.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 8 years ago from Minnesota

      I haven't ever been to the Iowa State Fair but I'm certain that it's every bit as much fun as you say it is!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 8 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      State Fair's are always fun ...I've never been to Iowa's though. Have to try that some time. 5*

    • seashell2 profile image

      seashell2 8 years ago

      Great lens! Those butter sculptures are something else!

    • MsSnow4 profile image

      Carol Goss 8 years ago

      Very nice lens I will have to go visit some time

    • MsSnow4 profile image

      Carol Goss 8 years ago

      Very nice lens I will have to go visit some time

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Great State Fair lens. Even though everything there is so overpriced, it sure is fun!