Avoid cabin fever by exploring Iowa winter outdoor activities

Blue whale inflatable kite over lake
Kites at the Color the Wind festival in Clear Lake come in all shapes and sizes. When was the last time a whale was spotted in North Iowa?

Who says there’s nothing to do in Iowa after snow covers the ground and the thermostat hits 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or colder)? Just dress a little warmer and head out for the slopes, lakes, or even use your eagle eyes to view – what else? – eagles. As the calendar hits winter, Iowa’s outdoors are just warming up.

Here is our take on fun outdoor activities to try this winter around the Hawkeye State.

Ski path with a lot of people skiing and walking about.
More than 100,000 people have learned to ski at Mt. Crescent Ski. Photo courtesy Council Bluffs Tourism

Mt. Crescent Ski Area

If you see vehicles with snow skis on their roofs heading into Iowa, think nothing of it, they’re just likely headed for a little skiing. In Iowa? Located about 15 miles northeast of Omaha in the historic Loess Bluffs, Mt. Crescent Ski Area is one of Iowa’s premier winter skiing resorts. With runs serving both experienced and new skiers – the longest ski run is about 2,400 feet long (about the size of seven football fields) – there is something for everyone. Ski lifts transport people from the base to the top of the runs.

Open since 1961, the resort – now owned by the City of Council Bluffs  – uses some of the best snow-making machines in the industry to ensure its runs are always open. With more than 100,000 people having learned to ski there, Mt. Crescent is an excellent spot for a ski outing.

Night skiing is available on lighted runs. Visitors can rent boots and skis. Afterward, relax with a drink at the Swiss-style lodge.

While skiing may be its main draw, Mt. Crescent is an outstanding sledding spot, with its longest route running about 1,000 feet.

Eagles in a tree on the river
Volunteers help people located bald eagles during Keokuk’s Bald Eagle Appreciation Days. Photo by Martha Lemon courtesy Keokuk Area Tourism

Bald Eagle Appreciation Days

Combining indoor activities with eagle watching along the Mississippi River, Bald Eagle Appreciation Days honor an American symbol while celebrating the country’s uniqueness. The event is hosted in Keokuk and Montrose Jan. 21-22.

Experts will be located along the Mississippi River to help people view eagles in their natural habitats. The majestic birds often gather near the Keokuk lock and dam site during winter.

First-day activities at First Christian Church include Native American dances, as well as educational talks about culture, history and traditions. Other attractions feature a wildlife sanctuary and an insect zoo.

The second day’s activities switch to nearby Montrose, with eagle viewing at the landing as the top attraction. Historical exhibits week be available at Hunold Heritage Center.

Amana Colonies Winterfest

Is there anything better than a winter run or walk? The Amana Colonies Winterfest on Jan.21 kicks off with a 5K run/walk from Amana to East Amana. Afterward, participate in fun events such as the ham put toss and wreath toss.

Disclaimer: This article is a joint venture between Travel Iowa and us. However, as always, all opinions and views are ours.

A wine and beer walk highlights activities. Purchase a punch card for $5 and head off to enjoy a few drinks throughout the day. Turn in a completed card for a free wine glass with the Winterfest logo.

Amana Winterfest Ice Sculptor

An ice sculptor creating original pieces with a chainsaw entertains festivalgoers at the Market Barn while they shop. While there, check out the best beard competition. You can find more Winterfest activities here.

Pikes Peak State Park

Winter is an excellent time to visit Pikes Peak State Park. Walk along a half-mile boardwalk leading to Bridal Veil Falls and explore Bear Mound—an effigy built by woodlands Native Americans hundreds of years ago (respect culture and don’t walk on it).

A four-mile hike along trails takes you to Point Ann, with views overlooking the Mississippi River. Bring along a pair of snow shoes and explore off-trail spaces safely. You may see wildlife, such as deer, roaming in the park.

Two guys playing broomball with a ball on the ice
Broomball was the original sport played at the first Okoboji Winter Games more than 40 years ago. Photo courtesy Okoboji Winter Games

Okoboji Winter Games

Starting as a broomball tournament in 1981 as a way of getting people outdoors from cabin fever, the University of Okoboji Winter Games has grown into a major event, sponsoring several sports and activities. This year’s Games are scheduled for Jan. 26-29.

Among the outdoor activities, this year are boats in the ice show, open ice skating, and a kite festival. Other activities include a beer keg toss on the ice, a bean bag toss tournament, and a 5K run.

The Winter Games feature a flag football tournament, softball action, and, of course, the vaunted broomball competition.

Other outdoor activities include human dog sled races, quad/motorcycle competitions and a polar plunge.

Indoor activities feature bartender contests, skeeball tournaments and live music.

The Winter Games’ Saturday events conclude with a fireworks show at Arnolds Park.

Fish near ice fishing hole
Ice fishing is popular in North Iowa. Photo by Tima Miroshnichen

Ice fishing

Drive by any frozen lake in Iowa and chances are you’ll see tents or portable cabins scattered on them. It’s the joy of ice fishing. Anglers enjoy winter because it often results in more fish being caught than during summer outings.

North Iowa seems to be an outstanding area for winter fishing. Brushy Creek (a lake) near Fort Dodge is known for crappie and walleye. Trees that protrude from the water helps provide a nice habitat for the fish. At Clear Lake, less than 30 minutes from the Minnesota state line, you’ll see hundreds of anglers with their fishing lines in holes drilled through the ice. You’ll find plenty of walleye in the water at Storm Lake. Whether or not you’re a hardcore angler, ice fishing (with an experienced person) is definitely a winter activity one should try.

Kites fly over Clear Lake
Hundreds of kites take to the ice each year at Clear Lake’s Color the Wind festival.

Color the Wind kite festival

Hundreds of giant inflatable kites rise above the frozen water of Clear Lake every February. Color the Wind kite festival – Feb. 18 – attracts kite enthusiasts and fans from all over the Midwest. Often braving temperatures below freezing, kite fliers head out on the ice, looking for the perfect spot to fly kites that stretch more than 30 feet long. Color the Wind offers breathtaking views of the huge kites, some resembling hot air balloons. While the festival runs 11 a.m.-4 p.m., feel free to explore downtown Clear Lake, with its cute shops, restaurants and soda fountain. Perhaps, stop by the famous Surf Ballroom and see where Rock and Roll legends performed. Festival onlookers should dress for the weather, including galoshes.

So, if cabin fever is getting to you, consider heading out to Iowa’s fun outdoor activities and events. Spring will be here soon enough, but, in the meantime, enjoy Iowa’s outdoors.